"Uncle Hollywood from New York": A Q&A(&A) with the Court Jester, Richard Lewis

Categories: Arts, Events
richardlewis.jpg
William Claxton
Stand-up comic Richard Lewis has made a career out of airing his neuroses during an act he began nearly 40 years ago. His routine isn't so much a series of jokes as it is a stream-of-consciousness rant that veers wildly from subject to subject as he recalls annoyances he has to get off his chest.

Even at 7:30 on a Sunday morning, he was a verbal torrent during an interview with Unfair Park. Perhaps "interview" isn't the right word. His way of answering a question is like putting out a birthday candle with a fire hose -- his answer to "How are you?" lasted a good five minutes. Unfair Park managed to ask about the upcoming season of Curb Your Enthusiasm and tried to find out if he's taken up any hobbies since his friend and Curb co-star Larry David expressed concern to the Dallas Observer in 2001 about Lewis' lack of recreational activities.

You can catch him tonight through Sunday at the Addison Improv -- which he helped start, as he'll let you know.

How are you?

I'm OK, except for this thing with my shoulder. Any time I have a health problem, even when I get something typical, like an ankle or something that's in another part of the body, I go immediately into death. I tweaked my shoulder, and until I see my doctor tomorrow, I will be in death mode, sadly. My wife is not happy about it. I'll try to get out of it and stay on line for you.

That's great, thanks. Of course ...

I feel I owe it to the media. Also, I haven't had 18 children yesterday. If I see that any more -- I don't know why they don't feel more for the children than that woman. Every time I turn on the television, this woman with 14 children -- it's beautiful to have children, but what about the children?
Yeah, they're getting a fourteenth of Mom's attention.

It's the children! These kids, if you divide 14 into how many hours in the day, she only has time to go, 'Hey, how's it going.' It's just, you know -- I'm more concerned about the babies. There's no joke here. It just baffles me, all the stuff going on in the world, not to mention the economy, and God knows, and we're concerned with this woman with the lips that look a little like Ms. Jolie's, and quite frankly, you know, if there was a beauty contest, I don't think there's really much of a contest. The whole thing is insanity to me. That's why I'm still a comedian, I might add.

Fortunately, I have -- not all of it is worth anything -- about 20 hours of stuff that I constantly put into my laptop, which I'll bring to Dallas. And when I hit the stage, I have no idea what I'll be talking about, short of stuff I've been looking at that day, scrolling in my hotel and things that are going on in the world and my marriage and my shoulder, and hopefully I'll turn it into something entertaining. I've been working that way a long time now, and it keeps me performing without a wire. As long as the audience laughs, and it gets them out of their head for the time I'm on, that's my goal. Particularly in times like this. Everybody's so stressed out, more than I've ever seen it, and I feel it's urgent for people to chill out a little bit. These court jesters, comedians, have more of an important role than ever, and I'm proud to be one.

Did the woman with 14 kids make you think about having any of your own?

No. Oh,God, no. I got married four years ago, and before that had about a three- or four-year window with my wife. And I just couldn't. After I turned 60 a year ago, I said, 'This would have been it.' Six or seven years from now, I would have to have gone to arts and crafts and make-believe that I cared that my little Artie made a perfect ashtray, when I was in an oxygen bubble. If I had done it the right way, like 99 percent of my friends -- have kids in their late 20s and then having the divorce, and going through all the crap with the divorce but still having their kids -- that probably would have made more sense. But I waited for the right woman. ... As far as I'm concerned, I'm lucky -- for me, at least. I don't preach about this, but I'm lucky I got sober, I'm lucky I found the right woman at the right time. And I've got four nephews and nieces, and they got 10 kids, so I've got 14 kids, in a way. I feel that I've got a great family.

I'm Uncle Hollywood from New York, which is fine with me. As long as they don't keep asking me for tickets, for people whose names I don't even know. That makes me feel old. All these Disney characters. They automatically think that since I've lived out here since I'm in my 20s, that I can just pick up the phone and call -- what's that woman? Is it Miley Cyrus?

Yeah, that's right.

Yeah. "Can you call Miley and ask her to send some jewelry that we can wear to the prom?" Now, wait a minute, are you out of your mind? I really do get these calls.

I never dreamed I would be talking to a stand-up comic at -- what is it, 7:30 your time? Have you always been an early riser?

Yeah. My wife used to be in the record business as a publisher. Now she works for a charity, urbanfarming.org, which helps feed the poor and beautifies the inner cities. I'm on the board of the charity. Sometimes I'm -- she might even come to Texas, I don't know yet, because this is worldwide. So yeah, I get up early.

At this point, a question about the historic election and inauguration prompts an uninterrupted five-minute rant veering from his lifelong support of the Democratic Party to his disgust with McCain's campaign to how put out he is by talent agencies.

When I was in New York, the agents used to work for the artist, but then I get to Hollywood and it's the opposite. They're like, "You're working for us now." It's this Hollywood attitude that I don't buy into at all. The artists are killing themselves. Like, I'm working really hard right now on a lot of projects, and the Improv, which is one of the clubs I started. I started the Improv in Los Angeles over 30 years ago. I love playing at night clubs. I played a town hall in New York a couple weeks ago, and I'll play at a casino. People are people. Where ever they want to sit is fine with me. And the Dallas Improv is a great club, and I'm proud to play the Improv because I was one of the founders, really. And, uh, so it makes me feel good, and ... I don't really know why I went into that area. In fact, I heard you fall off your chair and collapse when I went into that segue. I scared myself with that segue. ... I'm not trying to be a control freak. It is early, and some people just pop right up and start talking. I'm the opposite of some people, who wake up and they're yawning. When I wake up, it's almost like it's 6 o'clock at night for me.

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HBO
Larry David and Richard Lewis, curbing their enthusiasm
What can you tell us about the upcoming season of Curb Your Enthusiasm?

I hardly know a darn thing until the day I get to the set, and I don't know a thing about the episodes that I'm not in. It's the most thrilling and honest job I've ever had. It's certainly one of the most authentic sitcoms ever. Working with someone I've known since I'm 12 years old, playing ourselves on camera and having a very similar relationship to what we have in real life. We're very argumentative, we're great friends. We hardly see each other because we argue all the time, but we have the kind of friendship where we forget it in a second because our feelings aren't important -- we just need to get our points across, and then five seconds later it's like, "Let's go to a ball game."

My wife, who adores Larry, I'll come back from the set -- and it's all ad-libbed, and I have no idea how he's gonna edit it. So she'll say, "How did it go?" And I get a little cranky, I go, "I don't know! Look, I yelled at him, he yelled at me, and I went home. And now I've got to wash the make-up off my face, if you don't mind. Let's go to dinner." I really don't know how it went, because it just like hanging out with Larry. It's really odd. I don't know if it's acting. I'm not sure what it is. All I know is there's gonna be a seventh season, which'll start in a few months, I guess. I think they're almost done shooting.

Larry has not changed, other than becoming a mogul. He's always been this way, even being a stand-up. It's unfortunate more people didn't see his stand-up, but he couldn't handle the things that come with being a stand-up, like an audience. People would order a drink, and he would storm off. It was a joke!

I love ... it's almost like being a great assist guy in hockey. I love annoying him.

I read an interview from 2001 in the Dallas Observer with Robert Wilonsky--

With who? With whom, I'm sorry.

Robert Wilonsky, with the Dallas Observer. Anyway, he asked Larry David about you, and Larry was worried that you didn't have any hobbies, any recreational activities. So I was curious if you've taken up any hobbies since then.

First of all, I'm shocked that Larry was concerned about my well-being, other than that I'm not drinking any more. That's the first I've heard of it. It was a good question from your colleague, but I don't believe a word of it, that Larry was concerned. I do know that I love films. To me, sitting home and watching seven or eight great films, or trying to get through books that I know I should have read before it's over, to me, are hobbies enough. And spending quality time with great friends and seeing relatives that I know might not attack me -- those are hobbies enough.

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