Johnny Cash might be known as the "Man in Black," but Richard Lewis could definitely take over that same title. Now famous for being Larry David's beloved frenemey on Curb Your Enthusiasm, the monochromatic comic has been deep in the comedy biz since the '70s. After a recent five month hiatus to give his brain a break, Lewis is back where he started: on the standup circuit.
Lewis isn't your basic punchline laden comedy artist. He's too anxious for that. Even after decades as a comic, he still doesn't know what words are going to come out of his mouth. He is the king of rambling for no reason and wouldn't have it any other way. When we chatted with Lewis, all it took was a simple hello for him to break into a full eight minute rant describing his current emotional state that ended with an abrupt, "And I don't know if Curb is coming back." Once we got him used to the idea that there would indeed be questions, Lewis cracked wise about everything from playing himself to being the only Jew on the set of 7th Heaven.
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New Times: I saw you in the Hyundai Elantra Super Bowl Commercial. How did that come up? Were you looking to do a commercial or did they come to you?
Richard Lewis: They called me and asked me to do it, and and then I asked them what it was, because I'm not going to dress up like a hamburger. I saw the storyboard and [Johnny Galecki] is cool. He's on a huge show all over the world. I figured how bad could it be? It's a day's work and pays some of the mortgage, and I knew I could be myself. All they wanted me to do was complain. So I complained for 3 hours and they used one of the lines.
Two years ago I did a commercial with Roseanne -- a snickers commercial. They are fun to do. I don't do a lot of them, but if they ask me, and I can keep my persona and not do anything that would be embarrassing or against my integrity as a comedian, I'll do it. Nothing wrong with being seen by 150 million people in 30 seconds.
Like you said, the commercial focuses on your being a rambler and complainer. Are you sick of people wanting to see you in that role or do you want to keep it that way forever?
I'm not sick of it, it's just what I do. I free associate. My brain works really fast. That's what I do on stage. I ad-lib half the show. Audiences, if they are into me, they will love it. If they are not, they won't. But I can't change who I am, that's my style. I am the same offstage as I am on. I just ramble. I don't know why it happens.
In doing some research, I came across something I had forgotten about. You played the rabbi on 7th Heaven.
Yeah, that was a trippy ting. I didn't realize at the time anything about the show. When they asked me, all I said was, Would you mind if I ad-lib a little bit?" I was the first Jew to step on that show. Even the dogs started biting me. I had a great time doing it. I got an audience that I certainly wouldn't have had normally. I go through airports and non-Jewish little girls scream, "There's the Jew." A rabbi, I played a rabbi, don't call me a Jew. It was a blast and it is still on now. I will be Rabbi Glass forever. It was one of the nicest family shows every written, I thought and I was proud to be a part of it. It's the opposite of Curb.
What's it like for you to play yourself on Curb Your Enthusiasm? Do you try to do it as bare bones as possible, or are you playing a version of yourself?
It is a very surreal experience to play me. Larry asked me about if I minded because I do like acting, and I do like playing other characters from time to time. My persona knocks me out of a lot of chances but that's okay. Nevertheless, when I would go on set, it was literally being how Larry and I are in person. Of course we want it to be funny and entertaining, but it was exactly how we are. So there is a weird sense of, I'm acting and I'm not acting. So my wife would ask me 'How did it go?' and I would get a little cranky. What do you mean how did it go? We argued over who was paying the check and went home. It could happen tomorrow when we have dinner.
I wasn't acting and neither was he and it was pretty cool. I will never experience anything like that again unless he comes back for a ninth season, which of course I don't know.
What's your favorite kind of sandwich?
My favorite sandwich would probably have to be, if it was really fantastic, a gigantic pastrami sandwich with coleslaw and mustard on rye bread.
Richard Lewis, Fort Lauderdale Improv, February 27 to March 1. Tickets cost $25 plus fees Two drink minumum. Visit improvftl.com for times and to purchase tickets.