LOS ANGELES - A barrage of racial epithets unleashed by former "Seinfeld" star Michael Richards during a stand-up comedy routine drew condemnation from Richards' industry colleagues.
Comedian Paul Rodriguez, who was at the Laugh Factory in West Hollywood on Friday when Richards responded to two black hecklers with the "n" word and profanities, said he was shocked by Richards' remarks.
"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," Rodriguez told CNN. "Freedom of speech has its limitations and I think Michael Richards found those limitations."
Jerry Seinfeld issued a statement saying he was "sick over this."
"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 of Richards, 57, who played eccentric Kramer on the hit 1989-98 sitcom and whose major credit since was the failed 2000 comedy series, "The Michael Richards Show."
Calls to Richards' representatives were not returned Monday.
His Laugh Factory tirade began after the two clubgoers shouted at him that he wasn't funny. A videotape of the incident was posted on TMZ.com.
Richards retorted: "Shut up! Fifty years ago we'd have you upside down with a f------ fork up your a--."
He then paced 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.
Moderating his tone at one point, Richards tells the audience: "It shocks you. It shocks you" and refers to "what lays buried."
While there is some chuckling in the audience throughout the outburst, someone can be heard gasping "Oh my God" and people respond with "ooh" after Richards uses the n-word.
Eventually someone calls out: "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.
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 that he thought Richards' lack of stand-up experience may have been a factor.
"The question is 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."
Associated Press Writer Jacob Adelman contributed to this report.