Earlier this month, fellow Current writer Bryan Rindfuss and I enjoyed a running joke based on two upcoming celebrity interviews: Bryan’s was with Peaches, the fantastically graphic feminist rapper `read it online at sacurrent.com`, and mine was to be with Richard Lewis, the standup comedy legend. We decided I’d ask the nowhere-on-the-gaydar Mr. Lewis some of the more flamboyant gay-idol questions Bryan asked Peaches. I even aired our joke in a blog post.
Well, Richard Lewis not only read said blog post ahead of the interview, but left me a voicemail stating in part, “Do you plan to mock me? I happen to be straight, not that it matters. I think you asked your readers for questions about my homosexual tryst fantasies? Well, listen, I’ve got them, and I’m ready to go. Of course, they’re all involving straight people.”
In short, I was ill-prepared for the level of funny Richard Lewis would bring to this phone interview. Topics about which Richard Lewis was unstoppably hilarious: politics, Armageddon, addiction, the River Walk, and Chinese food. This is but a wee excerpt, really, a tiny sampling of a longer conversation, which was hard to get down because listening to him on the audio recording made me laugh too hard to type. To get the full dosage of Richard Lewis, you’ll just have to catch him at Laugh Out Loud while he’s in town this week. Be prepared.
`Back story: There was opening chitchat about a bar in NYC called “Max Fish,” and the spelling of my last name.`
I’m surprised I don’t know that bar. I knew every bar in America at one time. In North America.
It’s a relatively recent bar, though, like 2000. You’ve been sober for —
It may have been a pickle shop or something back then.
It wouldn’t have mattered. I would have turned the pickles into wine.
Did `alcoholism` ever actually effect your ability to
Oh, yeah. What finally kicked `my sobriety` off was that I appeared on Larry King, and when I watched it afterwards, I repeated a joke, and I slurred. Calls started coming in, “Man, are you drinking?” And of course I said “no,” and of course I knew “yes,” but I guess it was a cool thing I saw it and realized … hey, this is a pretty heavy topic to start off an interview with!
So you do a lot of improvisation in your stand-up, you’re always writing.
Yeah, I always have ideas; coming up with stuff is never a problem. What I do is, I write down every single thought I have that makes me laugh. I always have. And if it’s about a heavy issue, you know, relationships, depression, you might think people wouldn’t find it funny, but —
They find it relatable.
Incredibly relatable! So I write all the stuff down, I don’t censor … back before computers where you could store all this stuff, I used to keep notebooks in a safe-
Like, in a bank?
The bank was in Beverly Hills, where the safe-deposit box was. I’d go in there, people would be putting in tiaras, I’d be putting in jokes about yeast infections.
So was Larry David a good stand-up? I’ve heard he was more of a writer type —
Larry, no. Larry is a great writer, and what happened with Seinfeld was a coming-together of Larry’s genius, and of course Curb, too, and he’s hysterical in that. But back then, no, Larry was … you know, he wanted all the attention in the room; in a comedy club that’s just not possible. He got hostile. Somebody would be ordering in the back of the room `voice in a low murmur`, “Yes, we’d like the shrimp cocktail and two whiskey sours,” and Larry would yell “EXCUSE ME, YOU’RE NOT LISTENING!”
Do you hang out, aside from the show?
No, never. Well, that’s not true. A few months ago he calls me and says, “Lewis, let’s get together for dinner.” … At first, I had to talk him `up from` 4:45. I said, “4:45, they’re still taking the chairs down from the tables, we can’t.” So, fine, we decide to meet at 6. I get there a little early, you know, because I wanna pay for dinner. I’m not broke, I can pay for dinner! We’re at this `Chinese restaurant` and I get there early and give the
maître d’ my credit card to pay. And, first of all, `David` is late. He’s late, and I’m sitting there. Then he shows up, and we get ready to order something, and he calls the maître d’ over and says `to me` “… let him order everything, he’ll bring the best.” … And he says, “That’s how they do it here,” and I’m thinking, “I’ve eaten here before, asshole.” So the waiters come and they’re bringing dishes and dishes of this and that and special things — I’m talking 20 dishes. And I say, “Who’s gonna eat all this? It’s just you and me!”
And then his phone rings, and it’s Steve Martin. And Steve Martin tells him his chair is open at their poker night; `David` forgot, apparently. And he says, “Oh my God, I can’t let my seat stay open, I’ve gotta get over there!” And he leaves. He leaves me sitting there with the check for $5,000 and 18 pounds of Chinese food. … Later, I’m in my car and he and Steve Martin are calling, saying, “Come over, come over and play poker!” And I know Steve a little bit, we’re not close friends … and I like to play poker, maybe one-dollar ante, maybe two dollars. I’m not gonna play poker with Larry David and Steve Martin, where it’s `booming voice` “I see your $5,000 and raise you another 10!” I haven’t actually spoken to him since; that was weeks ago.
When will you see him next?
On set. I’ll give him shit about it, and it’ll be fine. I mean, that’s how we are.
OK, final question. This is the gay one. `At this point, various members of the Current editorial staff are giggling like crazy in the other room.`
Fine, OK, you think this will bother me? Listen … I’ve got a gay following. You don’t think I do, but I do. My gay following … it’s three elderly Hasidic men. They’re quiet about it, because homosexuality, the Hasidim, they’re not supposed to. But they’re devoted. But you had a specific question?
OK, this is what we asked Peaches. If given a choice for a “girls’ night out … ”
… between Rachel Maddow …
I love Rachel, but she’s a lesbian, no? She wouldn’t want me.
Sandra Bernhard …
I love Sandra, I’ve known her for many years. Also, she’s gay. Listen, I want somebody I stand a chance with.
Shit, I don’t have the blog post open on my computer! Also I think there was
Bryan Rindfuss `poking his head into the room`: Grace Jones!
OK, how about Grace Jones?
Oh, Grace Jones! She’s so stunning. I don’t know what she’s into, but I would say, “Grace Jones, I don’t know if you’d even be interested, but I’d like to make love to you, and I’d like to bring a team with me.”
Bryan Rindfuss: And Donna Summer!
And disco diva Donna Summer.
Oh, Donna Summer. See, she’s the one I would definitely be the most comfortable with, because … she’s heterosexual. I would make love to Donna Summer while playing her music. And I would let my gay following, the three old men, watch. •
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