After 40 Years in Comedy, Richard Lewis is Still Insane

Posted on 18 June 2014

 

Comedian Richard Lewis will perform at Bay Street Theater Saturday, June 21.

Comedian Richard Lewis will perform at Bay Street Theater Saturday, June 21.

By Tessa Raebeck

Richard Lewis’s inflection never changes. He doesn’t stray from his monotone; whether the topic is murder or birthday cake, he rambles on in the same raspy, somewhat disengaged tone. Yet everything he says is hilarious.

A veteran comic best known for his role playing his somewhat disengaged self alongside his longtime friend Larry David on HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” Mr. Lewis is returning to Sag Harbor on Saturday, June 21, to perform his stand-up comedy act at Bay Street Theater.

“It’s really lovely,” Mr. Lewis said of Bay Street in a phone interview Thursday, June 12. “It’s like a little theater. It’s almost like if Carnegie Hall gave birth to a child—it sort of popped out.”

Mr. Lewis has been recognized by Comedy Central as one of the top 50 stand-up comedians of all time and made it on GQ Magazine’s list of the “20th Century’s Most Influential Humorists.”

Within minutes, he’ll go from speaking about working with Jennifer Aniston to his lifetime love/hate friendship with Larry David to a story of how his acquaintance Bruce Springsteen sent him a letter telling him how he would stay in bed with his wife and watch an entire season of a show in one sitting.

In the four decades since Mr. Lewis began performing comedy in the early 1970s, his show has evolved into a nightly ad-libbed, off-the-cuff masterpiece.

“People should know that I don’t even know what’s going to happen when I get out there, so I think I need a couple of mercy laughs the first few minutes to bolster my confidence,” he said. “It’s pathetic, I know. I’m a pathetic human being.”

“But I’m looking forward to coming up there, it’s so beautiful up there,” he said of Sag Harbor. “Even though I live in LA, I’m a New Yorker, so it’s good to come back East.”

Like all good artists, Mr. Lewis is comfortable with his insanity.

He recently wrapped production on “Squirrels To The Nuts,” a movie directed by Peter Bogdanovich set to be released in 2015, in which he acts alongside Jennifer Aniston, Owen Wilson, Imogen Poots and Cybil Shepherd, to name a few members of the star-studded cast.unnamed-7

Mr. Lewis got a call from Mr. Bogdanovich some six months ago, asking him to be in the film alongside “a whole load of A-List actors.” The script was great, he said, but he had just three days to get to New York to film.

He immediately flew East with just four pairs of black underwear, four black socks and four presumably black shirts.  “It didn’t give me much time to get anxious. I got anxious after I finished,” he said.

“I was to play sort of a moronic redneck guy and I thought, Jews can’t be rednecks,” he said. “You know, when you’re walking around in boots and underwear and a cowboy hat, I don’t look like a cantor or a rabbi. So, I’m going to get either high marks for being so different or I’m going to have to quit the business and walk around in a disguise so I don’t embarrass my wife.”

Mr. Lewis has been married since 2005 to Joyce Lapinsky, a board co-chair and program development consultant for Urban Farming, a not-for-profit dedicated to helping people in need create gardens on unused land and space.

The two almost met in the early ’90s, but Ms. Lapinsky’s better judgment got in the way.

A mutual friend told her they could try to fix her up with Mr. Lewis “and she shudders,” the comedian recalled of his now wife. “She says, ‘He’s too nuts for me.’ She’s never even met me and she said that. But actually, I was pretty nuts back then—on a personal level… so I guess it worked out for the best.”

Today, Mr. Lewis is weeks shy of being 20 years sober and the two are happily married.

“But it turned out that I did find the right woman, I fell in love immediately. It’s uh…I recommend it to people,” he said.

Another pivotal person in Mr. Lewis’s life is his longtime friend and collaborator Larry David, who was likewise hesitant to get to know him at first. The two were both born at Brooklyn Jewish Hospital, since closed, in the spring of 1947.

“I was a preemie, so I came out and then he came out a few days later, out of the toaster,” Mr. Lewis said. “We started arguing even then. We didn’t even get along as little babies and then we were at camp together and I didn’t know who he was—I didn’t recognize him from one hour old, but we hated each other then.”

“Hate’s a strong word,” he admitted, adding, “But we discovered once that we were the same teenagers that despised one another at this camp 15 years before. We were only about 12 then and then 12 years later… I mean, you change so much, obviously, from 8 to 9 to whatever the hell age I was, 12 years old to 25.”

His math may be a little off, but he remembers the loathing.

“It really freaked us out in the beginning, but then we realized that we were quite a connection,” he added.

“I had dinner over at his house a couple days ago and it was impossible,” Mr. Lewis said of going over to Mr. David’s to watch the Los Angeles Kings play the New York Rangers in the Stanley Cup finals.

When they were broke kids and got to go to games, Mr. David would be on a constant hunt for better seats, “so we’d always wind up missing the game,” Mr. Lewis said.

“And this time, I go to his beautiful home with a pretty ample size television screen and as soon as the Kings scored a goal, he accused me of hexing the Stanley Cup and he turned off the TV and I left,” he said, before adding, “I love the guy, he’s that eccentric.”

“He’s twisted in the nicest sort of way, that would be the best way to put it,” Mr. Lewis said.

“We had to have been in the same baby ward and I’m sure we were arguing… it’s sort of spooky in a way…I hope it doesn’t turn into a Chucky kind of murder mystery,” he said. “It sounds like a bad Lifetime movie, two guys who always wound up with each other, until one of them turned on the other one. I could probably sell that, that’s how stupid that is.”

If there’s one thing he can always sell, it’s Richard Lewis.

“I mean, I’ve tasted property and I’ve tasted a lot of money and I’ve tasted being in the middle and I’ve tasted frustration and you know, my only goal is to be authentic and just be myself. And they can steal my jokes, but they can’t steal my soul and my personality… I have been really ripped off a lot, but in the end, they can’t think like I do—they’re lucky—they don’t have my wacky brain, so I don’t need an insurance policy on my persona. I dare them to be better than me on a Richard Lewis-like takeoff, I’ll beat them,” he said, adding, “Not that you were asking, but…”

Richard Lewis is performing Saturday, June 21, at 8 p.m. at Bay Street Theater, located on the corner of Bay and Main Streets in Sag Harbor. Tickets are $65 for side seats, $75 for center seats and $125 to see the show and attend a reception with Mr. Lewis beforehand. For tickets and information, call the box office at (631) 725-9500 or visit baystreet.org.

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- who has written 436 posts on The Sag Harbor Express.

Arts Editor and Education Reporter for the Sag Harbor Express. Covering the East End with a focus on arts, education and the police blotter. Twitter: @TessaRaebeck

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