Mel Brooks put it best when he said,
“Richard Lewis may just be the Franz Kafka of modern day comedy.”
Lewis has taken his lifelong therapy fodder and carved it into a commanding, compelling art
form. His early career as a standup brought him to the top of his ranks. Over time and through a variety of mediums, he broadened his exposure and more and more came on board to appreciate his brilliantly warped world.
The NY Times said, “This renowned comedian, often considered to be the heir to Lenny Bruce, is a master of long form storytelling who turns his endless neurotic energy into brilliant comedy.” Comedy Central has recognized Mr. Lewis as one of the top 50 stand-up comedians of all time and he was charted on GQ Magazine’s list of the ’20th Century’s Most Influential Humorists’. In December of 1989, Lewis achieved a very personal goal…he performed at Carnegie Hall to a standing room only audience.
Lewis played the role of Walter Blunt’s (Patrick Stewart) Freudian analyst in the first season of the Starz series “Blunt Talk”. Of his recurring guest star role he noted, “Having been given the opportunity to sit on the other side of the couch for once, and with such a great cast, was an undeniable joy.”
In May, his book “Reflections From Hell: ‘Richard Lewis’ Guide on How Not to Live”, was published by PowerHouse. He collaborated with longtime friend and patron of his, the extraordinary NY artist, Carl Nicholas Titolo, who put his artistic imagery to Lewis’s wildly warped and often profound musings, which turned into a dream team of “poignant craziness.” Larry David, Lewis’ lifelong friend and also a patron to the artist, contributed a mind-blowing Foreword.
His 2 DVD package box set, “A Bundle of Nerves” is a collective creative cross section spanning 40 years. It includes a vintage 1997 HBO comedy special, “Magical Misery Tour”; the dramatic television film “Diary of a Young Comic” in which he starred and co-wrote, aired in 1979 in the SNL time slot; and his documentary, “House of a Lifetime”, where Lewis takes the viewer on a tour of his home with its collection of artifacts and art from generations of those who have inspired him.
loved being part of HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” The eight season series had SAG nominate Lewis for his work in the ensemble category for his recurring guest star role, playing true-to-life as one of Larry David’s closest friends in “CYE.” The show has garnered many awards to include 39 Emmy nominations and much high praise. Vanity Fair stated, “The supporting cast of Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm is a murderer’s row of stand-up comedians–Jeff Garlin, Susie Essman, Richard Lewis–cutting loose in character roles with killer instinct.”
Through the years Richard has received much kudos for his work alongside his buddy, Larry David. The New York Times commented that, “…not nearly enough of Richard Lewis, whose job is the hardest of all because his character must truly suffer and endure in a context where feelings are as anathema as M&M’s in a dentist’s office. Never upsetting the show’s distinct tenor of emotional apathy, Mr. Lewis here showcases his particular genius through a bout with kidney failure. He needs a new one, and oh, by the way, guess who isn’t donating?” The Los Angeles Times added, …”But it’s comedian Richard Lewis– himself famous for an act built on despair–who memorably sulks his way through a pair of early episodes as one of the few people in the business who can match David hang-up for hang-up, neurosis for neurosis…David and Lewis reluctantly help a blind man move furniture in his new apartment. It’s a classic.”
after all these years, Lewis remains addicted to performing before live audiences and is on a continuous “Tracks of My Fears” stand up tour. In live performance he is often compared to a jazz musician for his wild riffs that fly out into space but always find a way to float back into rhythm as they splatter recurring themes against a spiraling, lyrical backdrop. Howard Reich of the Chicago Tribune recently noted, in a piece comparing comedy and jazz, “In Lenny Bruce’s fantasy, celebrated writers would say: “This guy is the greatest jazz sound in the world – he’s so hip, his name is Lenny Bruce.’ “To this day, Bruce’s foremost heir — comedian Richard Lewis — conveys the lightning energy of a solo by bebop icon Charlie Parker.” A N.Y. Post article noted; “Richard Lewis built the strongest stand-up comedy career on a blazing trail of neuroses since Woody Allen.”
Another time Reich reflected on his history with Lewis. “Nearly 20 years ago… I headed for Zanies and witnessed the most audacious comic wordsmith this side of Lenny Bruce: a young neurotic comedian named Richard Lewis. Ever since that revelatory evening, I’ve followed Richard’s ascent as perhaps the most gifted comedian of his generation.” Indeed, others agree. The Baltimore Jewish Times said, “Lewis is oftentimes compared to the late Lenny Bruce, the prolific, dissenting comedic voice of the ’60’s. And the two share many things in common– Judaism, an uncommon intelligence and irreverence for topics considered untouchable. Like Bruce, Mr. Lewis lays his soul bare on the stage, with fearlessness and many times, recklessness…” City Weekly of Salt Lake City concurred, “Nowhere will you find an entertainer so committed to his craft as comedian Richard Lewis…. His ability to keep people laughing at his self-loathing and dark views on every aspect of his life is what keeps him one of the greatest comedians of all time.”
At Mort Sahl’s 80th birthday tribute in 2007, featuring a who’s who of comic genius, Mark Groubert writing for Crooksandliars.com, commented: “But this Night at the Opera belonged to none other than Richard Lewis who has hit his comic stride entering the free form worlds of both Lenny Bruce and the under-appreciated Lord Buckley. Groovin’ high, and dressed in a zippered black suit possibly designed by the mistress of the Dali Lama, the ‘Prince of Pain’ came to compete. Melting the house and forcing grown men to weep openly Richard Lewis bombarded the crowd from one obtuse comedy angle after another. If this was the comedy World Series, Lewis was the King in his Court. For nearly twenty minutes he induced non-stop howling by every living, breathing thing in the house.”
Not only is he one of the undisputed masters of postmodern comedy, but also to incurable, self- loathing neurotics he is a patron saint who deserves to be canonized.
Vintage Lewis is available in the box set of his “Concerts from Hell” (The Vintage Years), containing three comedy specials: HBO originally aired “I’m Exhausted,” earning him an ACE nomination for Best Stand-Up Comedy Special and “I’m Doomed”, his second for HBO, also earned an Ace nomination. His cable-special debut, “I’m In Pain” had aired on Showtime. Playboy says, “Kvetching is elevated to surreal art in these great comedy performances. The titles say it all. Don’t miss.”
Lewis has been a contributing writer for Playboy Magazine, writing numerous pieces over the years and has penned many articles for numerous publications over the years.
He has been featured, mentioned and has contributed to countless books and most recently, “I’m Dying Up Here,” which chronicles the collective coming of age of the standup comedians who defined American humor during the past three decades: Letterman, Leno, Robin Williams, Andy Kaufman, Richard Lewis and Garry Shandling among others, by author William Knoedelseder.
His first defining film role was with his appearance in “Leaving Las Vegas,” which set the stage and led to his first major dramatic role as the lead character, Jimmy Epstein, an addict fighting for his life in the indie film, “Drunks,” along with a brilliant cast that includes Dianne Weist, Faye Dunaway and Amanda Plummer. Built around an AA meeting, he received rave reviews. He also starred in the multi-generationally beloved “Robin Hood Men In Tights.”
With scores of diverse guest acting appearances in TV series and films, media junkies in general are familiar with his frequent guest appearances. He may hold title to having the most late-night appearances, chalking up well hundreds of appearances with Fallon, Seth Meyer, Charlie Rose, Letterman, Leno, Conan, Jon Stewart, Stern, Ferguson and Bill Maher.
Regarded by his peers as a ‘comic’s comic’, Lewis’ neuroses have become a part of our vernacular as in the now iconic, “I had a date from Hell!” He finally got his due when Yale’s Book of Quotations attributed the
now-common phrase, “the [blank] from hell” to Mr. Lewis in 2006. In Richard’s own words –”I go on a long tour and make people happy that they’re not me and go home.”