Neurotic humor is Richard Lewis's style, as the series Anything But Love and Curb Your Enthusiasm, his many late-night-TV appearances, film roles, and cable specials, and his book, The Other Great Depression, all attest. This Friday, he comes to the Wilbur Theatre (on a double bill with Curb Your Enthusiasm co-star J.B. Smoove) to do what he has loved most for more than 40 years: stand-up comedy. Lewis improvises, riffs, jousts. Every show counts, as he explains.
“When I walked off stage [at Carnegie Hall] that night, I thought, ‘Everything else is dessert,’ not knowing I had five more years of trying to kill myself with drugs and alcohol.”
ARE YOU ON THE WEST COAST?
Yeah, I'm in LA. I've been off the road for a while. I've been doing a film. I finish Curb Your Enthusiasm's eighth year tomorrow. Every show is important to me. Since I don't have an "act," every show is so different. I never know what's gonna happen. I've prepared hours and hours, hundreds of hours, before I hit the road for any city, then I fine-tune for where I'm playing. If there's 15 or 20 friends [coming], they say, "Let's have dinner, then come over and play with the kids, and then we'll go to an amusement park." They don't understand. It's all about the show. It's all I care about. It sounds selfish or self-centered, but that's why I've been doing this for 41 years. I care so much about the show. I just sort of hole up and focus on the concert.
WHAT WAS IT LIKE MAKING YOUR TV DEBUT ONTHE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JOHNNY CARSON IN 1974?
The first shot I did in my middle 20s, when The Tonight Show was still 90 minutes and the new comedian was on at five or six minutes to 1 [am]. I had followed George Peppard, who later passed away of lung cancer. He was literally talking about cancer. The audience was so bummed out that I came out, looked at the 400 people in the audience, and it was like playing a nightclub with a few people and you had to get 'em back. Forgetting the camera doesn't move and that there's eight or nine million people watching you who are far more important than the 400 people in the audience, I was way too physical. Carson suggested I fine-tune my television work before I came back. I was sent to "Carson Siberia" for six, seven months. When I came back, that was it, I never stopped doing the show. He was right. When I saw the shot, I was running around like a peacock. I was running around the stage, and I was playing it like a nightclub. Johnny was absolutely right. I'm glad I had those six months to think about it
WHAT'S IT LIKE WORKING ONCURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM WITH LARRY DAVID?
I have to blend into the scenes of that show. I've somehow pulled it off, and Larry's happy about it. Certainly the relationship that Larry and I have as friends is absolutely almost spot-on.
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