For Jamie Masada, it was a Sitrick moment.
Not that the Laugh Factory impresario actually dialed up the famous crises PR firm for help, but Michael Richards’ racial epithet-laden outburst on Masada’s stage in November — and the massive press coverage it received — certainly had him in damage-control mode.
“It was a harsh, harsh time I went through,” concedes Masada, who says he was in the lobby of his West Hollywood comedy club on that infamous Friday night when Richards blew up at several African-American hecklers. “I ran upstairs to turn the microphone off. It was the only way to get him off the stage.”
As Masada explains, “The tragedy happened afterwards.”
With the video of the event quickly finding an audience online, Masada says the media crush started the next morning with a call from a CNN producer.
“Everybody was calling,” he recalls. “What could I do?”
As Masada explains it, not only did he feel he had to apologize for the Laugh Factory — standing alongside de facto club spokesman Paul Rodriguez the following Monday, Masada offered refunds to the Friday-night patrons while promising to permanently ban Richards — he also felt the need to defend the standup comedy biz.
“I was defending all comedians at that point,” he says. “I was being asked, ‘Are all comedians prejudiced? Are they skinheads?’ ”
Masada adds that he visited civil rights leaders in South Central Los Angeles to address their concerns over the incident. “It was like a bomb ready to blow up,” he claims.
His next move was to also ban from his stage the word that got Richards in trouble in the first place (hint: starts with an “n”), a decision that irritated the Factory’s laugh manufacturers.
“It got worse and worse,” he says. “I found myself in this horrible situation. First I’m defending all comedians, then I’m taking the First Amendment away.”
But how about all that publicity? Did some good come out of this?
“I don’t see any positives,” Masada says. “I got really stressed out. I lost weight.”