Michael Richards said Monday he spewed racial epithets during a stand-up comedy routine because he lost his cool while being heckled and not because he's a bigot.
"For me to be at a comedy club and flip out and say this crap, I'm deeply, deeply sorry," the former "Seinfeld" co-star said during a satellite appearance for David Letterman's "Late Show."
"I'm not a racist. That's what's so insane about this," Richards said, his tone becoming angry and frustrated as he defended himself in a clip from the show played on CBS before "Late Show" aired Monday night.
Richards described himself as going into "a rage" over the two audience members who interrupted his act Friday at the Laugh Factory in West Hollywood. Richards responded to the black hecklers with repeated use of the "n word" and profanities.
Jerry Seinfeld, who had issued a statement saying he was "sick over this horrible, horrible mistake" and calling it offensive, was scheduled as a Letterman guest Monday. He encouraged Richards to make a satellite appearance to talk about the incident, a CBS publicist said.
"I'm sure Michael is also sick over this horrible, horrible mistake. It is so extremely offensive. I feel terrible for all the people who have been hurt," Seinfeld said in a statement.
Richards, 57, who played Seinfeld's eccentric neighbor Kramer on the hit 1989-98 sitcom and whose major credit since was a failed 2000 comedy, hadn't spoken publicly about his remarks before the "Late Show." Calls to his representatives were not returned Monday.
A video posted on TMZ.com shows Richards launching into the tirade after two black audience members started shouting at him that he wasn't funny.(Watch Michael Richards spew racial epithets to the audience at the Laugh Factory )
Richards retorts: "Shut up! Fifty years ago we'd have you upside down with a f------ fork up your a--."
He then paces across the stage taunting the men for interrupting his show, peppering his speech with racial slurs and profanities.
"You can talk, you can talk, you're brave now mother------. Throw his a-- out. He's a n-----!" Richards shouts before repeating the racial epithet over and over again.(Watch Harvey Levin of TMZ.com talk about the incident )
While there is some chuckling in the audience throughout the outburst, someone can be heard gasping "Oh my God" and various people "ooh" after Richards uses the n-word.
Eventually someone says: "It's not funny. That's why you're a reject, never had no shows, never had no movies. `Seinfeld,' that's it."
On Monday, about a half-dozen community activists gathered at the club to denounce Richards' remarks and demand an apology.
"These kind of comments hurt all of us," said protester Lita Sister Herron of the Youth Advocacy Coalition. She called Richards' comments "hate speech."
The protesters also demanded an apology from the Laugh Factory. At a news conference a short time later, club owner Jamie Masada expressed remorse and said Richards will not be back at the club until he says he's sorry.
"This is one thing we don't tolerate. ... I personally apologize. I apologize from my heart," Masada said Monday.
Richards did appear at the club Saturday, without incident, but that was because he had told the club he intended to apologize, according to a Laugh Factory statement Monday.
Calls to Richards' representatives were not returned Monday.
He refused to comment on-camera when reached by CNN, but the network reported he said off-camera he felt sorry for what had happened and had made amends.
Comic Paul Rodriguez, who was at the club, said he thought Richards' remarks crossed the line.
"Once the word comes out of your mouth and you don't happen to be African-American, then you have a whole lot of explaining," he said. "Freedom of speech has its limitations and I think Michael Richards found those limitations."
Rodriguez, also at the news conference, said: "I kept expecting a punch line. It didn't come."
Veteran publicist Michael Levine, whose clients have included famed comedians George Carlin, Sam Kinison and Rodney Dangerfield, called Richards' remarks inexcusable. Comics often face hecklers without losing their cool, he said.
"It's never seen anything like this is my life," Levine said Monday. "I think it's a career ruiner for him. ... It's going to be a long road back for him, if at all."
Daryl Pitts, a Laugh Factory audience member interviewed by CNN, compared the incident to another recent celebrity controversy.
"You think about Mel Gibson and what he said, and put that in the context of this, it's very upsetting," Pitts said, referring to Gibson's anti-Semitic outburst during his arrest for drunken driving.
Scrutiny of Richards' remarks likely will continue but won't match the level prompted by Gibson's behavior because Richards is far less famous, Levine said.
Comedian George Lopez told Los Angeles television station KTLA he thought Richards' lack of stand-up experience may have been a factor.
"You have an actor who is trying to be a comedian who doesn't know what to do when an audience is disruptive," Lopez said. "He's an actor whose show has been off the air, he shouldn't ever be on a stand-up gig."