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Ego Can Destroy You The Way It Destroyed Michael Richards

Ego Can Destroy You The Way It Destroyed Michael Richards

In this week’s Success Newsletter, I would like to share the lesson about ego learned by the downfall of comedian Michael Richards.

First a quick update:

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Now, let’s talk about the lesson around ego learned by the downfall of comedian Michael Richards.

Ego is the word we use to describe everything that makes us different – that sets us apart – it’s our personal identity.

Ego also refers to our self-esteem and self-importance.

We create a particular self-image, and then we become attached to it, and we’re willing to protect it at all costs.

This is what Michael Richards did in 2006, and it destroyed his career.

The actor and comedian, famous for his role as Cosmo Kramer on Seinfeld which, won him three Emmys, destroyed his career in a matter of minutes when he gave into his ego.

Michael Richards was doing a stand-up comedy routine in Los Angeles when he was heckled by number of people and one person shouted, “My friend doesn’t think you’re funny.”

At that point Michael Richards proceeded to make multiple, repeated racial slurs at the hecklers and referenced the lynching of black people as he went into a rage:

“Well, you interrupted me, pal. That’s what happens when you interrupt the white man, don’t you know?…Ohh, I guess you got me there. He’s absolutely right. I’m just a wash up. Gotta stand on the stage.”

The controversy quickly turned into a debate about whether or not Michael Richards is a racist. That was not the point, though.

What occurred here was that Michael Richards’ ego was attacked, and because the ego is so fragile, it wants to lash back; the ego wants to be superior.

Michael Richards was simply looking for a way to hurt those people the way he had felt hurt by their attacks and criticism.

The ego almost always seeks out to be right; it is focused on self-preservation – the obsessive desire to protect the holy and fragile self-image.

The ego almost always seeks out to be right; it is focused on self-preservation – the obsessive desire to protect the holy and fragile self-image.

Later, Michael Richards himself was completely dumbfounded by what he had done and he himself could not even explain why he reacted the way he did believing quite sincerely that he is not a racist:

“For me to be at a comedy club and flip out and say this crap, I’m deeply, deeply sorry. … I’m not a racist, that’s what’s so insane about this!”

In that moment, on the stage, Michael Richards was focused on his self-image, on his ego and he had forgotten the reason he was really there – to make people laugh.

If in that one moment, Michael Richards could have separated himself from his ego, he could have saved his entire career – he has never had a major role in film or television since that night and has never done standup comedy again either.

This is the same challenge that faces us all:
Who is more powerful you or your ego; you or your self-image?

To what lengths will you go to protect your self-image and ego?

The same challenge was presented to me many years ago when my then girlfriend had cheated on me, and like anyone who has been hurt and whose image is attacked, I was faced with the desire to hurt back.

Because she was traveling at the time she had asked me and given me direct access to her email. There was so many ways that I could have lashed out in revenge and hurt her.

Now, I, too, was faced with a battle between my ego and conscience.

Of course, it would have felt momentarily exhilarating, empowering and vindicating to have done something to hurt her in the same way that Richards did to his hecklers. However, I was able to step back from my ego which wanted me to be right, and instead focus on doing the right thing.

I paused and asked myself “Whatever I do now, how will I feel about it in five or ten years’ time? Will I regret this action in five or ten years’ time?”

By separating myself from my ego, from the desire to be right, and the desire to protect my self-image, I was able to stop myself from doing something that would ultimately also hurt me.

In 2013, Michael Richards was a guest Jerry Seinfeld’s series “Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee”:

“Sometimes I look back at the show [Seinfeld] and I think I should have enjoyed myself more.”

‘Michael, I could say that myself. But that was not our job. Our job is not for us to enjoy it; it’s to make sure they enjoy it. And that’s what we did.’

“You know that’s beautiful. That’s beautiful because I think I worked selfishly and not selflessly. It’s not about me; it’s about them. Now that’s the lesson I learned 7 years ago when I blew it in the comedy club…lost my temper because somebody interrupted my act and said some things that hurt me, and I lashed out at them in anger. I should have been working selflessly that evening.”

Of course, in 2006, Michael Richards was in the burning heat of the moment, and it is only with conscious and deliberate practice that a person can instantly cool down the rage of the ego when it is really needed by focusing on others and not just on protecting our fragile ego and self-image.

That’s the lesson for us all!

If you need personal help to overcome the past, release the need to be right or forgive someone – book a one-on-one session with me.

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I wish you the best and remind you “Believe in yourself -You deserve the best!”

Patrick Wanis Ph.D.
Celebrity Life Coach, Human Behavior & Relationship Expert & SRTT Therapist

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