"I'm in a really, really cool, weird zone." Well no shit, Richard Lewis.
I'm on the phone, talking, but mostly listening, to the veteran comedian, long-time stand-up and favorite on Larry David's Curb Your Enthusiasm. I can feel the self-loathing through the speaker, and if I'm not laughing, I'm nodding. He never slows down and bounces from one thing to the next. We start talking about his tour and end up at the current state of the education system in America (he's not a fan).
After decades on the road, he says still loves live performances above all else. His shows are totally unplanned, not a crib sheet in sight. "Since I don't have an act, I am the act," he says. "I just want to riff. I go on stage to get validation that I'm not insane. ... It feels really fake to not tell people how I feel in that moment."
His never-ending tour, "The Tracks of My Fears," takes him all over the U.S. This weekend, he'll be at the Addison Improv. He's a bit freaked out about his age (he's in his 60s), and he's handling it in typical Richard Lewis fashion. "I'm just taking it a day at a time now," he says. "I'm happy on one hand and freaked on the other. On stage, I'm absolutely a hurricane out of control. Cause deep down I'm thinking, maybe this is the last show. One more Diet Coke in the dressing room, and that's it."
I feel warmer inside. How about you?
Often pictured with his hands in his hair, an exasperated look on his face, Lewis has made a career out of comedic therapy. The audience is his shrink, and he never holds back.
"My only goal is to have people get out of their heads for an hour and laugh," he says. "And if it's at me, even better. If that makes them feel better about themselves, good! Maybe I'm the Messiah."
Halfway through the interview, his wife comes home.
"My wife's so concerned about everything," he says, half to me and half to her. "She's carrying the dog right now. Isn't the dog supposed to walk around?"
He starts telling me about the dog and keeps calling her The Rescue. She's a Maltese mix and weighs about 15 pounds. He's absolutely terrified of her. But on Twitter, the truth comes out.
"The more I love Luna Bella the less I hate myself," he tweeted a couple weeks ago, along with a picture of the dog sleeping on the couch, almost lost between the cushions. "She was on the kill list, and I was killing myself." A long-time drug addict, he's sober now, doing better than ever. Though he's the last to admit it.
He says he enjoys Twitter (@TheRichardLewis). "If I post something really funny and, god forbid, thought-provoking, I get lots of retweets," he says. "But I say one thing political or religious, and all of a sudden it's, 'You Jew bastard, I hate you!' And these are the same people!"
Some of my favorite tweets of his:
"I live each day like it is someone else's last so I have a better shot at joy."
"I'm suffering from a mid-grave crisis."
"I needed 'Homeland Security' while I was being raised by my family."
"I'm glad that some people don't get me," he says. "The people that don't get me are my family. I never wanted to be understood. That fuels me."
I mention his show in Addison this weekend, and he says he really likes performing in Texas. He's had some really interesting shows here.
"If I make any promises to my audience in Addison," he begins, "it's ...oh, that reminds me of a point I was making earlier." And he's off. Typical. Guess you'll have to see him to find out where he was going with that.
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