The Comic with 'Curb' Appeal; for Four Decades, Neuroses and Anxieties Have Sustained Richard Lewis' Stand-Up Shtick

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), August 19, 2011 | Go to article overview

The Comic with 'Curb' Appeal; for Four Decades, Neuroses and Anxieties Have Sustained Richard Lewis' Stand-Up Shtick


Byline: Patrick Hruby, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Here's the thing about Richard Lewis: He can talk. Particularly about himself, his anxieties and his four-plus decades in comedy, all of which are intertwined. Indeed, revealing riffs long have been a staple for the 64-year-old comic, currently enjoying a career resurgence that includes roles in the HBO series Curb Your Enthusiasm and the upcoming vampire-themed romantic comedy film - hey, it was bound to happen - Vamps.

We decided to let the voluble Mr. Lewis do the talking in advance of his stand-up performances tonight and Saturday at the Synetic Theater in Arlington's Crystal City neighborhood:

Q: You once were labeled comedy's Prince of Pain. Are you finally happy?

Richard Lewis: I will always have this cloak of - not resentment anymore - but anxiety. But I'm at the point in my life that I feel like I have bouts of happiness. At my age - being fairly healthy, a recovering drug addict and alcoholic for 17 years, being married for six years to someone who has my back, and I have hers, as far as the arts go I act, I write, I just finished a TV script, I'll probably try to do another stand-up special - I would be a fool to not be grateful. What it comes down to is that I'm screwed up, but in a much healthier fashion.

Q: But doesn't most comedy - especially yours - come from being something less than well-adjusted?

RL: Most of the comedians I like - and the great ones - were totally twisted. Riddled with pain and phobias and dysfunctions. Give me Richard Pryor talking about setting himself on fire, and you have a pretty funny and real and exquisite routine.

Everything that strikes me as funny generally has to do with something that is bothering me. I'm close friends with [comedian] Jonathan Winters. We're both recovering alcoholics. We were both raised in families that were like being raised by wolves. Actually, wolves would have done better. We have a lot in common. The majority of comedians use comedy to vent their frustrations and feel less alone on stage. When people laugh about my fears, bad ex-girlfriends, it helps.

Q: You've famously been in therapy for decades. Can stand-up be therapeutic?

RL: My mother and I had sort of a crummy relationship. My family wasn't the most nourishing nest to go out into the world from. Never did I realize that I would be holding onto these emotional abuses forever. But I did. When that microphone goes on, I feel obligated to be the messenger for people who have gone through these feelings. The scar tissue just opens up, and it pours out of me. I need an audience almost more than they need me.

Q: Can stand-up be therapeutic for your audience?

RL: After shows, people come over to me and thank me for being miserable. We shake hands. I take a picture with their camera. And I feel so good. It's like that old joke about standing next to a fat person, and you feel thinner. My audiences feel much better off when they come out of the theater.

I'm so self-deprecating by nature. But with a mic, it's like being in Yankee Stadium. And my talking about recovery has helped effect change. I'll tell drug horror stories and see a wife in the audience give an elbow to her husband. I know exactly what is going down: You're a fan of Richard's. He's made a change, why can't you? I know this happens because people tell me. I want people to know that I'm an alcoholic. There are billions of them. And if they're fans of mine, I might push them to a point to take another road.

Q: In your autobiographical book The Other Great Depression, you wrote about addictions, neuroses and anxieties. …

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