UHF: Michael Richards nearly played his role with a case of Bell’s palsy

Michael Richards was struck with a case of Bell's palsy when preparing for UHF, and Weird Al encouraged him to report to set anyway
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Michael Richards was struck with a case of Bell’s palsy when preparing for UHF, and Weird Al encouraged him to report to set anyway

UHF: Michael Richards nearly played his role with a case of Bell’s palsy

The same year he was cast to play the iconic character Kramer on the sitcom Seinfeld, Michael Richards could also be seen on the big screen in the comedy UHF – which was a financial disappointment at the time of its release in the summer of 1989, but has gone on to gather a huge cult following over the years. Musician “Weird Al” Yankovic plays the lead role of George Newman, who is put in charge of the UHF television channel Channel 62, with Richards in the supporting role of janitor-turned-host Stanley Spadowski… and for a while, it looked like Richards would be playing Stanley while dealing with a case of Bell’s palsy.

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As Richards writes in his memoir Entrances and Exits, “Before the Seinfeld pilot, I star in three pilots: Herndon (1983), Help (1984), and Slickers (1985). All three are offered to me. The second pilot, Help, is retooled and called Marblehead Manor, and NBC airs twenty-four episodes in the 1987-1988 season. Though I didn’t find my niche in the pilots, I am able to do some physical comedy in Marblehead Manor. The producers welcome it, and the writers serve me well. The work I do provides a segue into the character of Stanley Spadowski in Weird Al’s film UHF.

It’s summer 1988, and I’m set to head for Tulsa, Oklahoma, for the next six weeks of shooting when out of the blue half my face freezes up with Bell’s palsy. What causes this kind of paralysis is a mystery, but it looks like I’ll have to back out of the film. I call Weird Al, and his response is classic. “Now you can play Stanley with half your face not working. You’ll be funny. It’ll be great.”

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Right. It’s all part of the character now.

When I get to Tulsa for the shoot, Al is eager to see my face, but the palsy has gone away. He’s actually disappointed. Then, he lights up. “Maybe it’ll come back!”

I’m sure Richards didn’t share Weird Al’s disappointment that his Bell’s palsy facial paralysis had gone away, but it’s nice to know that Al was supportive and encouraged Richards to report to set while he was dealing with the medical condition.

Directed by Jay Levey, who wrote the screenplay with Weird Al, UHF has the following synopsis: After losing yet another job, George wonders if there is any career that can handle his outrageous personality. When George’s uncle hands him the deed to a local TV station, George creates a series of television shows based on social satire and hyperactive humor, with the help of his best friend, Bob. However, a rival station’s bitter CEO tries to destroy George’s wacky programming, forcing him to fight back.

Weird Al and Michael Richards were joined in the cast by David Bowe, Fran Drescher, Kevin McCarthy, Victoria Jackson, Stanley Brock, Sue Ane Langdon, Anthony Geary, Billy Barty, Trinidad Silva, Gedde Watanabe, Vance Colvig Jr., David Proval, John Paragon, Belinda Bauer, Dr. Demento, Emo Philips, Patrick Thomas O’Brien, John Cadenhead, and the Kipper Kids.

Are you a fan of UHF? What do you think of Michael Richards’ story of Bell’s palsy and Weird Al? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

UHF Michael Richards Weird Al
UHF: Michael Richards nearly played his role with a case of Bell’s palsy

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