No Laughing Matter

It was no laughing matter to the black community when actor-comedian Michael Richards launched into a racial tirade against black hecklers at a Los Angeles comedy club late last week.

To repair the damage, Richards on Wednesday hired legendary PR and image consultant Howard Rubenstein.

Rubenstein quickly contacted two of the biggest leaders in the African-American community, the Reverends Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson.

"I've known those men for years," Rubenstein told The Associated Press.

Sharpton's press secretary Rachel Noerdlinger told ABC News that while Sharpton did have a conversation with Richards, he did not forgive the comedian.

"He said it was not his place to accept an apology because this affected the entire black community, and if he was sincere he would do more to heal the gap," said Noerdlinger.

Noerdlinger went on to say that during the conversation, Sharpton suggested that the two meet in Harlem next week with other leaders of the African-American community to discuss not just Richards' problem but the more serious problem of racism in America.

"More than an apology, he would like to see Richards, physically, tanglibly do some healing work in the community," Nordlinger told ABC News.

Also on Wednesday, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People issued a statement calling Richards' apology "indicative of the type of denial that too often accompanies racist rhetoric."

"I just think he bugged out. And I think that the only way he knew how to respond to those folks, who happened to be African-American, was to say something harmful and impactful," said Nordlinger. "He could have said anything, but he went for something that he knew would hit hard."

Richards, who played Jerry Seinfeld's neighbor on the hit TV show "Seinfeld," lashed out against two hecklers last week during a performance at West Hollywood's Laugh Factory. His rant was filled with racial slurs and profanity.

Richards subsequently appeared on David Letterman's "Late Show" and said his remarks were fueled by anger, not bigotry.

Dealing with high-profile clients is nothing new for Howard Rubenstein. His New York-based public relations firm, Rubenstein Associates Inc., represents a number of the city's powerbrokers, including Rupert Murdoch and New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner.

Rubenstein is quoted in a September 2005 issue of PR Week magazine as saying that there is a very big plus in representing big-name clients. "It helps you establish your name and create a wider recognition than if you were handling relatively unknown individuals."

With Rubenstein's help, Richards might be taking cues from actor Hugh Grant, who was caught consorting with a prostitute in 1995.

"Most stars go into seclusion and don't talk and get angry and attack the media," Rubenstein said of Grant at the time. "He did the reverse. He apologized right away. He went on every talk show possible. He apologized to his girlfriend, and the public applauded him."