Richard Lewis shouldn't be interviewed, he should be listened to. With a career that has spanned decades, his stories and experiences read like a novel. It would seem like this self-deprecating comic has no reason to be blue when it comes to his career and yet, he's been hugely successful by doing just that.These days, most people probably recognize Lewis as an actor who plays himself on HBO's, “Curb Your Enthusiasm.“ We got Lewis on the phone recently before his stop at the Irvine Improv this weekend to talk about hanging with comic royalty, occasionally playing himself on TV and his childhood rivalry with Larry David.
OC Weekly (Ali Lerman): Jewish parents pretty much know what they want you to be when you grow up. My grandma still wants me to become a pharmacist. I am guessing you dealt with that?
Richard Lewis: I would have loved for you to be a pharmacist twenty-five years ago! I'd still be in the drugstore now! [Laughs.] I popped out a Jew, I could have popped out anything so once I studied the history of the Jews, it impacted me in many ways. I'm really proud of our heritage and I understand why the parents wanted us to make it the best life we could. It should be important for every religion and race for that matter. Making people laugh is important as a humorist. It's as important to me as being a doctor. You know, I'm a recovering alcoholic and drug addict for over 18 years now and I didn't have the greatest upbringing. Comedy was always my escape and I was hell-bent of making a career out of it. Then it became an escape from reality for me.
You hang with the best of the best which must mean that you are one of the best. Have you come to grips in seeing that?
Well I had dinner the other night with one of the most famous comedians that ever lived who'll be 90-years-old soon, Sid Caesar. I used to watch him at home when I was a little boy. He was like the Marlon Brando of variety comedy. Jeffrey Ross, Carl Reiner, and Mel Brooks were there too. I said to Jeffery, there are four generations of comedians here and I really appreciate the fact that you can come over just to sit around. It's just basically saying that Sid was the king. It was real important for me to see Jeffery Ross there. I'm glad that he understands how important [Caesar] is. The journey that I've been on means more to me now than it did when I was starting. Who would ever think? I saw myself sitting there with this linage and I've accepted it. It also shows how fucking old I am.
I love seeing you on Curb Your Enthusiasm. Is the relationship that you have with Larry David on the show pretty similar in real life?
Larry came to my house in 2000 and said, “Would you mind playing yourself?” I mean, no one knew the show would be so great. People love it, and I love Larry. I didn't always love him though. We went to the same sports camp when we were twelve and we were archrivals. I despised the guy and he hated me. I thought the last person I'd ever want to see again after that summer was him. He just got me so annoyed. It was like “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” but at twelve. Although now I don't find him annoying, I find him as a real ethical guy. At any rate, I never saw him again until I was doing comedy for a year and he became a fan of my work. Then he became a stand-up and he was brilliant. We became inseparable best friends, we were about 25. I didn't have a better friend at that point in my life other than him. It was great, he was just the greatest friend you could ever have. I thought I was a pretty great friend too. The deal is, we then traced our childhoods and then it hit me like a ton of bricks! I was like, “Ohhhh you're Larry David from that camp!” The odds that we would become best friends was so unique and so crazy, it bonded us forever. You can see that on “Curb Your Enthusiasm”. Ninety-nine percent is me fighting with him because we do it in real life anyways. I mean, we love each other but I annoy him and he annoys me. Whether the show comes back or not, I don't know. My feeling is that if he has the ideas, and he has a bottomless pit of brilliance, it will come back because it's so much fun to do the show. I got a whole new audience because of Curb.
I think we are all hoping it'll come back! So do you think your show in Irvine will appeal to both young and old crowds?
I'm excited to play the Irvine Improv. It's not so much the venue but the people who are going to shower hours before, show up, and put money down to be entertained. The audience is the single most important thing. I really appreciated what you said about Irvine being glad to see me and blah blah…Irvine is as important to me as anywhere. It's all about the people in the seats and I hope they come. There are a lot of people who don't get me but for those who do and who are fans of mine, they'll really get it. I yammer a lot as you can tell. I don't really have an act, I am the act. I'll be as funny as I can be.
Follow Richard Lewis on Twitter @TheRichardLewis and check out future tour dates or buy his book and DVD's at www.richardlewisonline.com. Get tickets to see Richard in Irvine this Thursday through Sunday (7/26-7/29) at www.Improv.com or by calling 949-854-5455. The Improv is located at 71 Fortune Drive Irvine, CA 92618.