The final episode—for now, at least—of “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” went up yesterday evening. As was teased in the show’s trailer a few months back, the final guest is host Jerry Seinfeld’s longtime Seinfeld co-star, Michael Richards. Comedy fans can hardly help but be riveted: We haven’t seen much of Richards since the night at the Laugh Factory seven years ago when, during a stand-up set, Richards responded to a heckler with a racist tirade that effectively destroyed his career, already stalled following the end of Seinfeld.
“Those were good days,” Richards says to his old colleague about their years taping that show. “You gave me the role of my lifetime.” They’re in “a 1962 VW split-window double-cab bus in dove blue, primer gray, and rust. The interior,” Seinfeld tells us, “is gray vinyl and duct tape.” Showing the car to Richards he says, “This is you, Michael.”
It’s not the last broken-down metaphor. Zipping down a California highway Richards points to the crumbling Getty Villa. “It’s all coming down,” he says. “Just a slight tilt in the axis, and it’s bubbly time. You’re under the sea.” Later, Richards explains that he dons a disguise to go out in public—a blond wig and sunglasses, which he puts on before the two get their titular beverages—and Seinfeld scoffs. “We’re just raindrops on a windshield, Michael,” he says. “I want to know who’s wiping me off,” Richards replies.
When they’re having those drinks the conversation finally turns—after a great Richards anecdote about chess—to that stand-up set seven years ago. Richards brings it up, after reflecting again on their experience with Seinfeld. “Sometimes I look back at the show,” he says, “and I think I should have enjoyed myself more.” “That was not our job,” Seinfeld tells him. “Our job was not to enjoy it. Our job was to make sure they enjoyed it.” Richards likes this, and connects it with the lesson he says he learned after his racist outburst, about not being so selfish on stage.
“I busted up after that event seven years ago,” he says. “It broke me down.” When he says that “it still kicks me around,” Seinfeld, every bit the showbiz guru, tells him, “That’s up to you, to say, ‘I’ve been carrying this bag long enough. I’m going to put it down.’ ”
We then see Richards and Seinfeld out in the parking lot, and Richards is undisguised this time—no goofy blond wig, no sunglasses. They’re recognized, of course, and they snap photos with a family of fans, hamming it up and no doubt making someone’s day. “I hope that you do consider using your instrument again,” Seinfeld tells Richards, back in the car, “because it’s the most beautiful instrument I’ve ever seen.” “Oh, Jerry,” Richards replies. “Thanks, buddy.”
I suppose a cynic might see a disgraced star rehabbing his image and a past-his-peak celebrity milking an old friend’s tragedy for dramatic reward. And I suppose others might simply consider Richards’ 2005 rant unforgiveable. But these are two great comics who have clearly long been friends, and nothing they say here seems to me untrue.
By the way, if you haven’t already watched the previous episode, in which Seinfeld eats takeout in front of the TV with Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner, make time for that one, too.