Michael Richards Breaks Down in Tears Discussing 2006 Racist Rant: 'I Don't Want Any Pity' (Exclusive)

'Seinfeld' star Michael Richards spoke with ET about his viral racist rant and stepping back from public life in the aftermath.

Michael Richards won three Emmy Awards for his portrayal of zany neighbor Cosmo Kramer on Seinfeld. But that gilded comedic legacy was tarnished one night in November 2006.

The actor and comedian sat down with ET's Nischelle Turner this week to open up about the infamous night at the Laugh Factory, where he responded to a heckler with a racist tirade, going so far as to repeatedly yell, "He's a n****r! He's a n****r!" at the audience member.

The incident initially flew under the radar for several days, until TMZ obtained cell phone video of Richards' tirade. Public backlash ensued, and Richards writes in his new memoir, Entrances and Exits, that he made the decision to "cancel himself" in the wake of the outburst.

"I took myself out. You don't need to take me out, I'll take myself out -- I'll save you the trouble," he says of his choice to step back from public life and live performances. "I'm pulling back from the community...I need to get into soul work, OK? I need to get into myself more to know thyself, so I'm taking myself out of the situation."

The incident at the Laugh Factory, Richards explains, set him on a path of self-discovery that ultimately led him towards writing the memoir.

"After that club incident I withdrew, and I needed to view that kind of behavior -- what the heck is behind all this?" he shares. "Losing it the way I lost it... it was a catalyst, it took me deeper into myself, my life, my family, the world."

"I've been so reclusive for so, so many years -- [the book is] just a way of coming out and saying, 'Hey, this is what I've been about, what I'm doing, where I've been,'" he adds.  

In reflecting on the viral incident, Richards says he believes it stemmed from anger, noting that in the past he's felt "possessed by rage." 

"The anger, it opens you up. I mean, I needed to be shattered," he explains. "I know that sounds odd, but the way anger is upon all of us... I mean, it goes all the way to the nature of war -- that's all driven by anger."

"That night," he says of the racist rant, "I was at war with another person, and that's the way in which it came about -- through language, the way we were talking to one another. It was just very bad language."

The actor adds that his overblown emotions on stage came from "a crazy place of insecurity and inferiority, noting that he was trying to land as low a blow as possible in the altercation.

"Trash talk, that's what I called it two days later, when I appeared on the Letterman show," he recounts. "Lot of trash talk -- two guys trying to pull each other down. But it's all my fault in that I let it get that way, you see? What does it mean, because I'm really yelling at myself in a sense, if I believe, and I do, that we're interconnected."

Michael Richards' memoir, 'Entrances and Exits,' is out now. - Permuted Press

In the wake of the public backlash, Richards retreated from the spotlight, taking time to study his own emotions as well as research the history of racism and the destructive nature of anger.

"The work for me is to find out, well, look, if I'm gonna get all upset because someone says I'm not funny late at night, what's going on with me? How insecure am I feeling in front of an audience for somebody to come at me with that kind of a heckle?" he continues.

In his book, Richards also opens up about his difficult upbringing and how that shaped the person he grew to become. His grandmother, he says, was diagnosed with schizophrenia, but did her best to control her symptoms around her young grandson, giving him the love he craved from his distant mother.

Richards also writes that he was a product of rape, adding that his mother initially planned to have an abortion or put him up for adoption, leaving him with a perpetual feeling of "unwantedness."

"When I went into the work after the club incident, I think my rage was connected to being unwanted," he notes. "When I was rejected late at night in that club, this open pronouncement that the whole room heard and kind of stopped. You're not funny, we don't want you, next!"

"I wasn't sure where I stood after the Seinfeld show," he says of his internal turmoil. "I was so typecast, I was being passed over for a lot of things.... There's always this prevailing insecurity in Hollywood for all actors -- I don't care how big whatever, you don't know what your next part's gonna be."

Michael Richards starred as Cosmo Kramer throughout 'Seinfeld's nine seasons. - Wayne Williams/NBCU Photo Bank

Over the years, Richards has been supported by his Seinfeld family -- particularly Jerry Seinfeld himself, who wrote the introduction for Entrances and Exits. But he says he regrets putting his co-stars in a position where they had to answer for his words. 

"I didn't want anybody to carry it for me, I wanted to carry it," he notes of the public scorn following the incident. "It's a calling, it's almost a privilege to have to attend to one's shadow and to find the light, to get to an understanding where you're moving toward being a better person because you're simply more conscious."

And Richards insists that by sharing his story, he's not trying to make any excuses for what happened that night in 2006.

"I don't want any pity, you know?" he says of his book. "Opening up the way I am, I think it's part of the apology. It's one thing to say you're sorry, but I think it's important -- and I've said this in the flap of my book -- when it affects so many people, I think then you do have to come out and say, what the hell happened? And show us where you're going with this."

Richards' memoir, Entrances and Exits, is out now.