Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Are you who you think you are?

In the latest bizarre twist in the Michael Richards story, the embattled comedian — who recently spewed racial invective at a couple of African-Americans who heckled him at L.A.'s Laugh Factory comedy club — apparently made similarly insensitive and bigoted comments about Jews during a performance in April.

"But that was okay," Richards assures us, "because I'm Jewish."

Except... he isn't.

According to Richards's publicist, Howard Rubenstein, Richards "really thinks of himself as Jewish." This despite the fact that neither of the comedian's parents are Jewish, and that he himself has never converted to Judaism. (Rubenstein, on the other hand, actually is Jewish, and ought to know better.)

Personally, I think this is just a big misunderstanding. I don't believe Richards meant that he thinks of himself as Jewish — that is, as a person who is a Jew. I think he meant that he thinks of himself as Jew-"ish" — that is, as sorta kinda like a Jew. You know, like when a woman says in her Yahoo! Personals ad that she's "thirty-ish," when she's actually 43.

That, or Richards figured this ploy had a better chance of success than him saying, "Of course, I used the N-word. But it's okay, because I think of myself as black."

Although I once met a man who did exactly that.

For many years here in Sonoma County, one of our most beloved local citizens has been Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member Johnny Otis. Johnny, who was born and raised just east of here in Vallejo but now lives around the corner in Sebastopol, made his first impact on the national music scene in 1945, when his big band recorded the beloved jazz standard "Harlem Nocturne." In 1957, Johnny released his classic R&B hit, "Willie and the Hand Jive." Along the way, he also enjoyed success as a promoter and A&R (artists and repertory) man for various record companies — discovering such future music legends as Etta James, the Coasters, and Jackie Wilson; as a popular radio disc jockey; as a political operative (he served as chief of staff for a Congressman named Mervyn Dymally, who later became Lietenant Governor of California); as well as a popular performer.

Johnny Otis was born Ioannis Veliotes, and is of Greek heritage. But he has always thought of himself as black, as do most of the people who know him. As was the case with Bob "Wolfman Jack" Smith, the late radio personality, many people who know Johnny Otis only by his music and reputation are often surprised upon meeting him to discover that he is, in fact, Caucasian. I know I was.

It works for Johnny Otis. For Michael Richards, not so much.

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4 insisted on sticking two cents in:

Blogger Mr. Fabulous offered these pearls of wisdom...

From now on I consider myself Eskimo.

I better learn all those words for snow...

3:57 PM  
Anonymous Eugene Finerman offered these pearls of wisdom...

Michael Richards and Julia Louis-Dreyfus apparently exchanged ancestry. She wants to be Gentile--although she will have to avoid mirrors--and Richards thought that 4000 years of persecution might make him funnier.

Eugene (who can tell you how fun the Crusades were)

8:37 AM  
Blogger SwanShadow offered these pearls of wisdom...

Mr. Fab: You'd also better learn to think of yourself as Inuit. That's the name by which the people we hotlanders call "Eskimo" identify themselves.

Eugene: I think Mr. Richards may at last be understanding exactly what persecution feels like.

8:49 AM  
Blogger Janet offered these pearls of wisdom...

I know I'm in the minority here, but I never saw Michael Richards talent, even in Seinfeld days. To me his whole schtick was clearly taken from Christopher Lloyd's stint on Taxi. Now I hear he's really not all that funny and that might have really fueled his anger? Shocker.

9:01 PM  

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