Allan L. Casalou, 32°
Grand Lodge of California
1111 California Street, San Francisco, California 94108

In this interview with Bro. Allan L. Casalou, 32°, Managing Editor of the California Freemason, Ill. Michael A. Richards, 33°, a.k.a "Kramer" on Seinfeld, shares his thoughts on Freemasonry, his decision to join the Craft, the influence of Red Skelton, and what will keep the Fraternity vibrant for future generations.

Upon his initiation, an Entered Apprentice is informed that it is the internal and not the external qualities of a man that determine his compatibility with our Fraternity and its ancient customs and teachings. An afternoon with Ill. Michael A. Richards, 33°, may cause the thoughtful Mason to wonder if it is not also the internal qualities of Masonry that should guide the future of the organization and its members.

Michael Richards is well read, articulate, and insatiably curious. Having studied the arts, nature, philosophy, and religions of the world, his quest for further knowledge led him to the door of Freemasonry.

Early Impressions

The first time Richards remembers meeting a Mason was at age 12. "My mother had a friend who was a Mason," he recalls. "I didn't have a father, but he was like a father to me. He was very charitable with his time. On Friday nights he would take me to the American Legion Hall where some of the best vaudeville acts in the country were performed." Through this experience, Brother Richards developed an interest in physical comedy, and, in fact, some of his material today is based on what he saw and learned then.

Red Skelton

"Red Skelton was a great knockabout clown," says Richards. "One of the greatest in the world." In his early teens, Richards watched The Red Skelton Show every week. "All the characters, all of his wonderful physical comedy and mime work, that was big stuff for me as a kid."

Reflecting on Skelton's show, Richards says, "He was like a child playing and falling down and making people laugh, and, then, at the end of the show, he would bless you. Like a Pope, he would give you a blessing. That says so much, doesn't it? Indeed, Red Skelton was a great comic with a tremendous love for humanity."

Skelton once said, "I personally believe we were put here to build and not destroy. So if by chance someday you're not feeling well and you should remember some silly thing I've done or said, and it brings back a smile to your face or a chuckle to your heart, then my purpose as your clown has been fulfilled."

In 1969, Red Skelton recited his now famous "Pledge of Allegiance." At the end of the performance, he made what would become a prophetic remark. "Since I was a small boy, two states have been added to our country, and two words to the Pledge of Allegiance-under God. Wouldn't it be a pity if someone said that is a prayer and this would be removed from our schools too?"

"You see," Richards explains to me, "behind the clown and the blessing at the end of the show, behind the mask, was a great heart."

Richards would meet his long-time comedic idol in 1996 when he had the honor to induct Red Skelton into the Comedy Hall of Fame in Lake Tahoe.

"Red and I had a chance to meet and talk in Lake Tahoe. It was then," Richards says, "I learned he was a 33° Scottish Rite Mason."

Richards Becomes A Mason

After reflecting upon his experience with Skelton, Richards wanted to learn more about Free-masonry. He read what he could, but decided the best way to learn would be to experience it firsthand. "I decided to call Red," he says. "I was going to petition Freemasonry through him. But before I could, he passed away."

Indeed, Richard "Red" Skelton died on September 17, 1997, but Michael Richards' interest in pursuing Masonry did not. Exactly 15 months later, on December 17, 1998, Michael Richards was initiated in Riviera Lodge No. 780 in Pacific Palisades, California.

Without Red Skelton to assist him, Richards went to some length to find out how to petition a Lodge and where one even existed. He was finally successful through a call to the California Grand Lodge office. He spoke with Grand Secretary John L. Cooper III and was directed to Riviera Lodge. "I was curious. I had questions. I knocked. They answered," he says.

Richards was passed on March 25, 1999, and raised a Master Mason on May 20, 1999. He affiliated with Culver City-Foshay Lodge No. 467 in Culver City, California, in 1999 and gave his Third Degree proficiency later that year.

Future Generations

Since becoming a Mason, Richards has pursued a greater understanding of it. During the interview we discussed how Masonry fits in modern society and contemplated its future relevance.

Not only did his hit television series, Seinfeld, appeal especially to a younger adult audience, Richards is also a father of a young adult and understands the struggles of their generation. "Young people today need a handrail, and for some young men, Masonry could give them that support."

With regards to future generations, Richards believes, "Masons must understand symbol and psychology, individuation, and what constitutes self-awareness."

Indeed, Masonry uses ceremonies and symbols to impart knowledge to its members. Richards' point is that a greater emphasis on Masonic philosophy and the sacred teachings of all ages could be key to the future existence of the Fraternity.

Beyond The Symbols

Just as it is important to look behind the mask of a comedian like Red Skelton and to see the heart of a great man, Richards says of Masonry, "We must look behind the symbols to see the heart of their meaning. What does a symbol stand for? How do I translate that idea into my life?"

Like Jacques Cousteau diving in the sea, Richards says, "Masons must search the deepest parts of themselves, within any organization, to discover the uniqueness of their life unfolding."

Richards is not alone in his convictions. Past Grand Master Jack Levitt recently wrote: "Freemasonry's truths are covered with symbolism and its insights with allegory. It is necessary to look behind the fact to see the truth and beyond the symbol to see the reality."

And as Richards would say, the reality is you. "A Freemason is a man building up himself, coming into his own to highlight the individual that he is," he says.

When I ask Richards what symbol in Freemasonry strikes him as being especially important, he says, "When you go into our Lodge, on the back of the Tiler's chair are the words 'Know Thyself.' That's important. That is the ultimate message to all Freemasons; to truly know who you are."

The above article is reprinted with permission from the California Freemason (Spring 2003).