RICHARD LEWIS IS MY THERAPIST

By Paul Freeman (June 2010)

Who needs Paxil? if youíre feeling down, just expose yourself to Richard Lewis. No, no, keep your genitals in your pants. I mean, grab yourself one of Lewisí stand-up DVDs or catch his appearances on ďCurb Your Enthusiasm.Ē Paroxysms of laughter will quickly cure your blues.

This comedy icon reflects the qualities of his own idols - Lenny Bruceís daring and audacity, Woody Allenís hilarious panorama of neuroses and Jimi Hendrixís infinite inventiveness.

The man who introduced the phrase ďthe ____ from hellĒ into the lexicon has turned many lives around with his funny and poignant autobiography, ďThe Other Great Depression.Ē It unsparingly, insightfully recounts his recovery from substance abuse.

In his frenzied sets, Lewis spills his guts, vents his spleen and takes psyche-spelunkers on an expedition into the spider-covered caverns of his mind. Fears, frustrations, insecurities, compulsions... Who knew low self-esteem could be such fun?

Comedy Central named him one of the 50 greatest stand-up comics of all time. Weíd say top 5.

As I picked up the phone for our early morning interview, I had a rasp in my voice. Lewis immediately declared me to be deeply depressed and embarked on a therapy session. As the conversation wended its way through a crazy collection of subjects, he had me in tears... from a gaggle of guffaws. If humor is the best medicine, Lewis is a doctor without peer.

He slays not only on TV and on the stage, but on the phone, as well. Once he gets on a roll, the wit crackles in a hypnotic rhythm. His lightning-fast mind can send him careening onto a sharp tangent, mid-sentence, even mid-word.

Lewis makes angst seem positively orgasmic. As we spoke, he had plenty of reasons to be cheery. He has been happily married to wife Joyce for five years. The return of ďCurbĒ for an eighth season has just been announced. Reruns of the series have begun on the TV Guide Network. And heís about to play a four-night engagement at Cobbís Comedy Club in San Francisco. [July 15-18, 2010; 415-928-4320 or LiveNation.com for info]

Throughout our conversation, Lewis revisited my mental health, determined to keep me from pulling my own plug (which, if it doesnít kill you, can make you go blind). Next time we chat, Iíll be ready, reclining on a couch.

At the end of the interview, keep reading... and laughing, as weíve included a couple of our past encounters with the once and future Prince of Pain.

POP CULTURE CLASSICS:
How are you?

RICHARD

LEWIS:

USA! USA! USA!

PCC:
Oh, no, not football? Youíre watching the World Cup?

LEWIS:
Well, look. I know very about it, but I woke up, put on the thing, then my wife, who knows nothing about football or soccer or whatever, she came up, put a bandana on her head. I said, ĎWait a minute!í I donít know. Look, for the world in chaos, a winning goal is a good thing.

PCC:
This is true. We all need diversions.

LEWIS:
You sound extraordinarily unhappy to hear me today.

PCC:
[Laughs]

LEWIS:
Iíve never heard... This is the most depressing journalist tone Iíve heard... in 40 years... Really. This is how I sound on stage.

PCC:
[Laughs] I was counting on you to cheer me up, actually.

LEWIS:
Iím sorry. Obviously, this is going to be a nightmare

PCC:
For you, maybe. For me, itís going to be a delight.

LEWIS:
No, it wonít be a delight. Somethingís going on... Itís a family thing... a thing... whatever it is. Now you go, ĎOh, now Iíve got to call this guy. Weíre supposed to talk... but who cares? I donít want to hear about Larry David, ĎCurb.í I donít want to hear about anything. I donít care about the soccer Cup. McChrystal. The President might fire this guy from Afghanistan. Why are we even there?í Youíre bringing in all of your life stuff... and itís unfair.

All of this is about a little nightclub engagement in San Francisco. I have no children. Iíve devoted myself to the arts. Maybe, do you want to take a swim? Do you have pools up there?

PCC:
Not in my place, no.

LEWIS:
[Laughs] Oh, see now youíre going to start talking about you lost out on the mortgage thing. Everything I say... Youíre blaming me for the economy, recession, for going to Iraq in the first place... instead of going to Bora Bora... Itís not my fault!

PCC:
[Laughs] Well, I did look at you as a savior, so the failure to actually make all those things right, I have to hold against you... just a little bit... But, hey, weíre looking forward to your return to San Francisco.

LEWIS:
Well, Iíve been performing there for almost 35 years. Thereís really two cities that were always crucial to me, historically. San Francisco and Chicago. Both of them were legendarily important. It was far more important than New York City. Those were the cities where all of the giants had to go through, the famous little clubs, The Purple Onion, all of them. And, if you couldnít make it in those clubs, you were sort of out. So I always sort of focused on San Francisco, and Chicago, as well. But itís really brought me a lot of good luck. Iíve performed at most of the venues up there, already. And this nightclub has gone through a lot of changes. Itís pretty cool. Itís a really pretty venue.

Iím just in the middle of a road trip now. You want to start whining... I was just 90 miles outside of Seattle in a Native American casino... which is fine. I mean, they got so shafted. Look at what they gave away - Manhattan for... a harmonica and a pie. So I hope they have as many casinos as possible.

But just getting to the casino... I was driving by, just passing silos and nuclear waste plants. I said to the driver, ĎWho comes to this place? Where are they?í Apparently, they come up from underground... But not San Francisco. Thatís very different. In the heart of the action...

Iím always rambling and saying nothing, first of all, because I feel that you might take your life, honestly.

PCC:
[Laughs] I would wait until after the call.

LEWIS:
Would you really?

PCC:
Of course. That would be only professional.

LEWIS:
I hope so, because ... [distracted by the TV] God, Lawrence Taylor indicted on charges of rape, criminal sexual act and sexual... You know, itís just unbelievable. I even put on the Cartoon Network and...

PCC:
Boomerang! You could watch Boomerang.

LEWIS:
What is Boomerang? I donít have kids.

PCC:
They have the old cartoons, Huckleberry Hound and...

LEWIS:
Oh, it does?! Iíll never find it. You know, I looked yesterday, I had 12,400 channels and Iím only stuck on fi... You know what I mean?

Thatís why, I swear to God, when I go on stage now, everyone is so full of fear - most people - that I just tell them, every problem, I say, ĎLook, just forget about it, man. Just forget about everything for an hour and vicariously lose yourself in my absolute whirling dervish of dysfunction, which I really do have. I mean, Iím a recovering drug addict and all that stuff for years now. But I still canít shake about 99 percent of the things that got me into my addictions. So, fortunately, I have people...

If it wasnít for performing, Iíd probably have no friends [Laughs], because they really canít stand it. My wife has like a three or four-minute time limit with me. Like a beeper goes off - All right, Iíll see you in an hour.

Residents of the North Star State who are facing drug addiction issues would do well to find a detox program in Minnesota that will get them started on the way to full rehabilitation.

PCC:
So thatís how she deals?

LEWIS:
Yeah, well, we came up with a compromise. Otherwise... I mean, if I lost her, Iíd be sunk. I got married five years ago. I mean, I know her for like 12 years. But I... Thereís something... Itís like that old Groucho Marx thing, you know, about, ĎI wouldnít want to be a member of a club that has me...Ď Thereís something about trusting this marriage, which I never will, because she said ĎI do.í

Iím convinced under breath it was, ĎUh, ah, um... Maybe.í She murmured something else.

PCC:
But did you get the sense that it was finally right time, right woman? Or did you think, ĎWhy didnít I do this years ago?í

LEWIS:
No, first of all, let me just say this again. I care more about your mental health. This is like talking to a man waiting to go to the gallows. Iím so sorry your life has taken a bad turn today.

PCC:
[Laughs]

LEWIS:
I donít care about this nightclub engagement. I care more about you.

PCC:
Youíre a mensch.

LEWIS:
Iím a spiritual guy; Iím not an organized religion guy. But right now, youíre so riddled with fear and anger and self-loathing, I feel so narcissistic mentioning, ĎHey, yeah, tell them about the date and Frisco. I have a lot of friends up there. I love the gig. And I go to my favorite restaurant... Ď I canít do that. First of all, I never even sound that way. That was a fake. With you, Iím going to go on the internet every minute, when I hang up from here, to see that youíre alive. My goal is to see that you donít die before I close Sunday night.

PCC:
That is so noble.

LEWIS:
Well, it is. Hey, Iíve done everything. Really, I have done... I was telling someone yesterday, probably an agent or a manager, I wanted something done ... I said, ĎLook, Iíve done this for 40 year... this is not a boast. I donít boast, but Iíve hung out in the Oval Office with Clinton, I hang out with The Stones. Iíve met every f--kiní icon I ever admired as a young kid. Jonathan is so very much alive. And weíre like best friends. We speak every day for the last five years. I go visit. Mel Brooks. All of them. I sold out Carnegie Hall. This is just Ghandi-esque of me.

PCC:
[Laughs]

LEWIS:
But now Iím transcending it. Now I donít even care about the gig as much as a journalistís peace of mind. Iím going to be worried about you. And I donít even know you that well. I mean, weíve spoken a few times. Iím going to have to go on line. Iím going to have to get a police caricature. ĎI think he looks like this, based on some statements he made.í And now you probably look like Gumby with a black hood over yourself.

PCC:
Well, you see, you should be doing self-help books.

LEWIS:
I did write a self-help... I wrote a book about eight or nine years ago, which was based on... it was sort of a dyslexic self-help book. It was like, ĎHereís how screwed-up I am. Just go the other direction.í

But I will say this, though. I will say one positive thing about myself. But since youíve been hogging this entire interview with your depression...

PCC:
[Laughs]

LEWIS:
... Is that ĎCurb Your Enthusiasmí now is on the TV Guide Network. In the fall, weíll be on 19 other syndicated networks. I donít get a big taste out of this. And itís fine with me. Iím just thrilled that billions of people... I had no idea how worldwide this is, because of the DVDs. I mean, I think Iím big in North Korea now.

The cool thing about this, honestly, is after 40 years... and even though Larry David, L.D., spread this out over a decade, and weíre just starting the eighth year... But I now walk down the streets and people.... 16-year-olds, people who were like four or five when ĎCurbí started, are fans. And that doesnít happen very often, particularly to someone like myself, who never gave up stand-up, but even went into it with more passion, more furiously than ever, which I have.

Iíve never enjoyed the art form more than I have the last few years. And itís clearly because there are that many more millions of people that know who I am... and thereís more pressure on me. And I love pressure. My parents... everyone in my family was so judgmental. Itís ironic that I chose a job where, every night, like ĎIím a piece of crap. Judge me. Hi, how are you?í And try to win their affection. Iím certain thatís one of the reasons I became a comedian. But now, Iíve had enough success to feel confident enough that I can wail about my dysfunction and that people will get something out of it.

And hopefully they will in San Francisco... assuming Iím not at your funeral. This is the thing thatís bugging me more than anything.

PCC:
[Laughs] So the positive audience reactions actually allay the low self-esteem issues?

LEWIS:
No, no. It just, it makes the low self-esteem more valuable. Itís just basically like, my stock went up. My low self-esteem stock has gone through the roof. I mean, it was hovering for a while and then ĎCurbí came and after it caught on, all of a sudden, people started buying more stocks in me again. And now, Iím a blue chip nut. [Laughs] I laughed, but that was a stupid thing. Iím now doing cornball jokes, just so you can take that gun away from your head.

PCC:
[Laughs] Thank you. Were you surprised by the return of ĎCurbí for another season?

LEWIS:
Let me put it to you this way. I know Larry David. I know him since Iím 12. We met and we hated one another. Then we met again 13 years after, not knowing that we were the same guys who had gone to this sports camp together. It was a billion-to-one shot. But he is really... Heís like... I know him half a century, since Iím a little boy. And I remember two years ago, I was in New York, doing a gig, and we went out for breakfast. And he was starring in one of Woodyís movies. [ďWhatever WorksĒ]

Now, as young comedians, that would never have been on our plate, that that would happen. So I was excited... Well, I donít know how he is...I mean, I met him at his hotel and I said, ĎIím not going to ask him one thing about Woody, see what happens.í And he doesnít mention the film, okay? And the brunch - a brunch, you know, with all the things you open up, ĎOh, look, a half an elk! Want some deer with some potatoes, honey?í Families. When a brunch like that lasts five minutes, you know heís not comfortable in those settings, okay?

And a few months ago, he said, ĎGee, I havenít see you in a while.í This is after I guess he made... I never asked him whether the showís coming back. I find out. So I e-mail him and I said, ĎHey, I went online... and I saw some site out of Algeria... that you might be thinking...í I wasnít lying. There was some kind of weird European news service that said, ĎLarry Davidís thinking of coming back.í And he would have known it. He just doesnít tell me. And I donít ask him... which is cool. He likes it that way. I find out eventually how many shows Iím in. I have no clue what the arc is. And I wonít know what Iím doing until, if Iím lucky, the day of or the day before. Well, the day of, I have to, at least before they say, ĎAction.í

But like a few months ago, he said he wanted to go to dinner. He hadnít seen me in about a year, I think. I mean, we were best of friends. But, you know, L.A. is also a crummy place for friendships, because everything is so far away. You get invitations for parties - R.S.V.P. - itís like a year from Tuesday. And then they give you maps and Google Search. If itís some of these show biz parties, people say, ĎIf you have a helicopter... Ď Helicopter?!... I know Iím rambling now... just to save you from taking your life.

PCC:
[Laughs]

LEWIS:
When youíre a celebrity... and I am. But I have no idea... it means nothing to me . But I am. Itís like when tour buses are out in Hollywood, ĎRichard!í Families are waving. And all Iím doing is trying to buy an enema at a drug store. Youíre a celebrity. Otherwise, I would just be trying to buy a Fleet enema and go home. But now I have to buy a Fleet enema and wave to people when Iím cramped. Itís not fun. Itís not all itís cut out to be. Really. ĎIím going to the drug store, Honey. I need to buy a Fleet enema... Iíll be home... youíd better leave the house for about an hour.í But no, Iíve got to wave, sign autographs. You know? Itís a nightmare.

So anyways, Larry, I met him at this posh restaurant, which he wanted to go to. Iíd been to this place. And it was Chinese. I said, ĎWhat time do you want to meet?í Literally... none of this is made up, because heís pretty eccentric. He said, Ď4:30.í I said, ĎI just had lunch. Iím not meeting you in an hour-and-a-half for dinner.í And then I had to negotiate a time... for an hour. And I got it up to 5:45. I went, ĎTheyíre not even ready to... Ď ĎYeah, yeah, theyíll be ready.í

So I get there at 5:30, purposely, to give the maitre dí my credit card, because, look, I can afford to treat him... Just because he has funny money doesnít mean he has to always treat. And he does a lot. So maybe it was an ego thing. I got there and I said, ĎHey, listen, just give me the check, please.í Itís not a big deal. Itís not like Iím paying for a wedding. I never will. I just have little cloth puppets. Oneís in rehab. And oneís in jail. It doesnít matter.

So I get to the restaurant... by the way, Iím just doing this rant to get you to rethink your suicide attempt. But I get there, honestly, heís late. I give the maitre dí my credit card. He comes a half-hour late. Doesnít apologize. Iím already in a bad mood. And I go, ĎLetís get a menu.í He goes, ĎDonít embarrass me.í I go, ĎI what do mean, embarrass you?í He said, ĎNo, the chef likes to bring out what he likes.í I went, ĎI donít care what the chef likes!í I said, ĎRemember we used to go the Chinese restaurant, weíd all buy one or two things and then share?í ĎNo, no, let the chef bring out... I know the guy...í I go ĎFine.í

They bring out like 18 entrees on a Lazy... one of these turntable things, Lazy Susan, whatever theyíre called... and I said, ĎWhoís going to eat all this stuff?í And we donít even start eating it. And weíre only there about three minutes. And his cell rings. And itís Steve Martin, the comedian. And he says, ĎOh, my God, sorry!í Closes the cell. Gets up, without an apology, goes, ĎPoker night. I forgot.í And leaves. Leaves me with 20 entrees, about a $720 bill.

I leave pretty fast. And then he calls me. Him and Martin, Steve, call me. I have my speaker on. Begging me to come and play poker. Now, first of all, I really missed Larry and not having a chance to have an hour dinner with him, thatís really... I didnít feel like playing poker. Two, I donít play poker that often. I donít even know how to play that well. Can you imagine? I had like $70 in my wallet. Going to play with Larry David and Steve Martin? Itíd be like ĎThe Cincinnati Kid.í ĎThatís 10 grand.í ĎYeah.í ĎYou little baby.í And ĎA hundred grand.í I would have needed Monopoly money.

The whole thing was a nightmare. So, to answer your question, no. I donít ask him anything. I show up on set and the only get-even I have... and I love the guy, I have his back. He knows it. Heís got mine. But the only get-even I have is when thereís actors on the set who have never done the show, like guest stars or something, I walk over purposely, so the new person whoís there just for one day will hear me say the worst, the most horrific rumors that I make up about him and what he did, I canít believe he did this... a gun? Who knew you had a gun? But I really act. I should get Emmys for this. I act. And he starts laughing. And just to see the faces of these actors... I mean, Iím exploiting these actors, unfortunately. But thereís nothing I can do to get even with this guy.

And thereís nothing to get even with. He really gave me a second breath, like 12 years ago. I love the guy. The guyís a genius. And it couldnít have happened to a more worthy guy, because heís a true artist. I mean, hereís a guy who was a brilliant stand-up, who never did the traditional route, like all of us wanted, most of us, anyway. I wanted to go on the road. I wanted to open up for superstars. Then I wanted to headline. Then I wanted to do Carnegie Hall. And I wanted to do specials. And all the rest. Iíve done all of that.

And he never got out of the gate, because an audience member would talk or whisper, heíd walk off. He was so much about the craft, he didnít think audiences were part of the mix. It was insane. Itís pretty insane. But thatís what happened with him. Fortunately, Seinfeld knew that he had gold. And they were a great team.

But, interestingly enough, this show is like, to me, Seinfeld Unplugged and has been for a long time. Itís the rawest sitcom Iíve ever seen. Not to mention, thereís no script, which is a dream come true for a comedian, for sure. Itís funny to see some of the actors come on, the first day. Ted Danson said something really interesting to me once - heís a really nice guy -He said, ĎYou watch a really strong episode of ĎCurb Your Enthusiasm,í really strong episode and then you watch like the most well written sitcom right after it, that other show will seem so unnatural and almost phony.í I know what he meant. And in a lot of ways, itís true, because that art form the way heís done the show, I think it really worked out.

A few people probably know this. Itís sort of ĎInside Baseball,í but a couple years ago, I mean heís won a Lifetime Achievement Award from The Writers Guild and everything, but one year, he won Best Writer for a situation comedy and there are no scripts. So that shows how important every frame is, from the first frame to the last frame, in 10 episodes. Because if they donít match up, from the right exposition standpoint, the show would just crumble. It wouldnít have lasted more than a month.

Thatís why writing these outlines takes him so long. Theyíre only about seven or eight pages, but writing the stories are so intense and so difficult. Thatís why he takes so long, coming up with an idea of whether he wants to do it again. Plus he doesnít need the bread. But I think he likes to see himself on billboards. And I donít blame him.

Because hereís a guy who never followed through on stand-up, because of his allergy to audiences. And now heís really able to show the people who he was as a comedian. And he really was incredible.

My goal really is just to show up. In fact, Iíve had many fights with my wife... and we have a pretty good marriage... but when I come back - and she adores Larry - but she says, ĎHow did it go?í I go, ĎWhat do you mean, how did it go? I went there. I was me. He was him. We had a fight. Iím home. I have makeup on. I have to take a shower. And heís going to edit it. I donít know whatís going to happen.í And I donít. And itís the most surreal gig Iíve ever had. I literally show up as me. Heís him. He tells me what the exposition is - ĎAction!í And we start screaming and yelling. And we would have done the same screaming and yelling in real life. Do I deserve an Emmy nomination for this?

PCC:
Absolutely. No one could play you better.

LEWIS:
Well, I donít think itís going to happen. Not that I would care. Well, I mean, it would be... I donít know if they give Emmys to people... Itís not easy playing yourself, by the way. I mean, forget about an Emmy nomination. I was joking about that. But it really isnít easy playing yourself on ĎAction!í and making it look real. Sometimes itís easier hiding... If I was the Hunchback of Notre Dame, and I got the posture for the role, by the way. That might be my swan s... my limelight, that might be it. The Hunchback of Notre Dame... a funny version.

PCC:
A Jewish version.

LEWIS:
Yeah, yeah. He could be Jewish. Fine.

PCC:
No?

LEWIS:
Yeah. So, youíre sounding a little better.

PCC:
Yes, youíre working your magic.

LEWIS:
[Laughs]

PCC:
You sound so upbeat.

LEWIS:
No, no, because I was... a recovering drug addict, alcoholic... Iíve been to dark places. And I called you and I hear... ĎI... uhhhhh-uhhhhh...í It was like calling my family.

PCC:
You're making me feel so guilty!

LEWIS:
No! Listen, youíre a human being. Youíre a writer. Writers have deadlines. Itís a nightmare! It wasnít a big deal to call you. Plus youíre promoting an engagement in one of the greatest cities in the world, in one of my favorite clubs in the world. But I didnít expect to have someone with suicidal thoughts talking to me. I was like a 9-... like an emergency hotline. My wife, in college was on a suicide hotline and she told me some stories. And believe it or not, I put some of those tricks out on this phone call, unbeknownst to you.

PCC:
[Laughs]

LEWIS:
I just walked you off the ledge, my friend.

PCC:
Does your wifeís background in suicide prevention help her deal with you?

LEWIS:
No, unfortunately, Iím going to have a downer after I hang up. Because, helping other people, in the moment, like on stage, Iím full of life. After the show, I want to jump into just some hot oil. That clichť has come true. Unfortunately, whatever makes up an artist and someone who performs live, for me at least, itís true, on that stage, it is like Iím in a vacuum, man. It is pretty much the happiest I am... for most of my life. And Iím not sure why. I donít go to therapy anymore. I make a pit stop once a year, just to see if my therapist is all right. Thatís the kind of guy I am. She gave 19 years of her life to me. I ruined this woman.

PCC:
And the woman youíre currently ruining, your wife, is she...

LEWIS:
No, I think sheís an extraterrestrial. Thereís no other explanation. She has great friends. Sheís from Minnesota, number one. So, you know, sheís a Jewish woman from Minnesota.

PCC:
I didnít know there were any.

LEWIS:
Yes, There are plenty. They just get very conflicted. I know itís a stereotype and I donít care. She doesnít know whether to fish or go to Barneyís and buy, because the sale is ending at noon.

But we had... we did have... weíre trying to unload it... We have this cabin, 90 miles outside of Hollywood where we live. And I went there once. And I took a... I walked with her once... and I saw a small, but yet, a snake... Okay? And it was... I said, ĎLook, it wasnít my idea to have a cabin... Ď And then I kicked a rock and an insect I couldnít recognize... Itís in the mountains... ĎIím never leaving the cabin. Are you happy about this investment.í So sheíd go hiking. We had no friends up there. I go, ĎWeíre to be like the Donner party. This is frightening!í I said Iíll only go with you down to the... they had like one little store to buy like nuts and raisins.

This is a joke! I cannot wait to sell this thing. Iím haunted by it, even, I live in Hollywood. And I dream of the cabin. You know what it reminds me of? That view, that poster of ĎPsycho.í

PCC:
Up on the hill?

LEWIS:
Thatís me, looking up at the cabin. I should have made... I might, before we sell it, do a picture and just mimic that shot. I actually, because Jamie Leeís mom [The mother of Lewisí ďAnything But LoveĒ compatriot, Jamie Lee Curtis, is ĎPsychoí star Janet Leigh] gave me a poster from the theatre. One of those, I forget, poster cards, billboard cards, from the theatre...I forget the real name of it.

PCC:
Lobby cards?

LEWIS:
Lobby cards. Right. Thanks. Hey, youíre cominí back, pal!

PCC:
[Laughs]

LEWIS:
That was a trick, by the way. I knew what a lobby card was. Iíve got some from Buster Keatonís movies. You schmuck, I f--kiní hoodwinked you. You fell for that. Oh, man!

PCC:
[Laughs] That makes me even more depressed.

LEWIS:
Oh, no. Donít say that to me. You know, this movie, Iím looking at this ad... ĎInceptioní How far can it go? You know, I think about, so I wonder, maybe I can stop all this and write the darkest, craziest, like all of a sudden, a finger becomes a squid. And the squid is God. And then God is hell. And then hell is Jesus. And then Jesus becomes your sock. Itís just... These stories are so ridiculous. I mean, itís just unbearable.

PCC:
Interesting mindset.

LEWIS:
No, I just suckered you into this. I was playing with you, man. You know...

PCC:
Toying with my emotions...

LEWIS:
No, I wasnít playing with your feelings. I was just trying to save you. But I used ev... I was desperate in the beginning. And I said, ĎIím going to get this guy to laugh, if it kills me. Thatís the kind of guy I am. Youíre not even family.

PCC:
Thatís kind of your philosophy of life, actually, isnít it?

LEWIS:
Yes it is, actually. If you can work that into a decent quote, Iíll put it on the website.

PCC:
Youíre the Mother Theresa of comics.

LEWIS:
Ab.. Well, I actually feel more... I mean, If you want to make me bisexual... or transsexual. I donít even know the difference anymore. Iím so confused.

PCC:
Are you saying that Mother Theresa was a man?

LEWIS:
No, no. Mother Theresaís a woman, but Iím straight and Iím a guy. I prefer to be called maybe ĎThe Gandhi of Comedy.í

PCC:
[Laughing] Okay, Iím sorry.

LEWIS:
... Only because... I mean... Believe me, Iím a liberal... but Iím just saying. Iím not homophobic. But I would prefer to be... you know... Why make me a woman... for no reason? If I wanted to be a woman, I would... I know some people who have become women. Itís pretty freaky.

PCC:
It must be hard to know how to react.

LEWIS:
Well, I donít see them. They live out of my comfort zone.

PCC:
[Laughing] Yeah.

LEWIS:
Well, no, Iím happy for them. But Iíve made up some excuses Iím not happy about. ĎI canít, my kidís going to graduate.í I just canít show up and make believe that John, who is now Jeanine, and is wearing a gown...Itís a big step to change your gender. And I know why... And Iím proud of these men and women... I donít even know what theyíre called anymore. Iím so confused by the whole deal. I mean, I was confused... just sexually, straight, heterosexual sex, I get confused.

So, you know, you can imagine... He had a breast... now itís a testicle... but it might be a vagina... Itís just too much. Itís too much for me.

PCC:
[Laughing] But you have always been who you are.

LEWIS:
What does that mean? Thatís a putdown!

PCC:
No! Youíve had the courage to not take on an image. Youíve always been who you are.

LEWIS:
This is true. I absolutely am the same on stage as off. And, for some reason, if that wasnít going to work, I would never have done this. That was my only reason for doing this... to find some compassion from strangers... Oh, Jesus, how sad. How sad! Lassie come home!

PCC:
[Laughing] No, it was more like Tennessee Williams, wasnít it?

LEWIS:
Yeah, no, it is. I never saw ĎLassie Come Home.í Itís more like, actually, whatís his name? The greatest playwright ever...

PCC:
Arthur Miller?

LEWIS:
No, no.

PCC:
Wasn't he the greatest playwright ever?

LEWIS:
No way. Itís the guy who changed playwrights forev... Come on, ĎIceman Cometh.í

PCC:
Oh, Eugene OíNeill.

LEWIS:
Oh, Eugene OíNeill. My wife and I, we went on this run. We watched like four or five that are on DVD, like in a week... It was unbeara... It was incredible! There was a mist... of fog... and the favorite one... the family... it was the one he didnít even want to have out... until he died... it was basically, totally autobiog... Anyway, I think heís considered the greatest playwright. I mean, he changed... It was like from [Sings the George M. Cohan tune] ĎOver there!í From ĎYankee Doodle Dandyí to like [monotone] ĎIím shooting more morphine.. and Iím going to kill Dad.í I mean, thatís a big leap.

I love Cassavetes and Bergman. My film library is extraordinarily dark. And I really need to watch really dark movies to get myself into a good mood.

PCC:
[Laughing[ But I thought you also watched like Jerry Lewis.

LEWIS:
Well, I watched Jerry Lewis, because a friend of mine had his kid over here and I put on, on the YouTube, some stuff from him, because he loves Jerry Lewis. It really was amazing. I know Jerry Lewis. Heís been very nice to me. And flattering. And I remember loving him as a kid. And Iím watching him with this eight-year-old boy, screaming, out of his mind, like could not believe that heís seeing something so funny. Itís quite a gift.

I mean, when they start comparing his filmmaking to like more serious type comedies, itís apples and oranges. I mean, to make a four or five-year-old scream and laugh, and then parents, as well, I mean, not too many people have been able to... like Chaplin. I mean, I know heís been reamed in America.

But... it was really fun. I rarely have children over at my house. My house, which Iíve had for about 22 years, itís called The Museum, because it has collections everywhere. Everything in the arts. And thereís a lot of sharp-edged antiques and furniture and stuff, so children are not allowed... [Laughs]

Once a former manager brought his baby over here. Itís three stories and itís narrow. A dangerous house, if you donít know every nook and cranny. And the kid was crying when he saw all the stimuli all over the place. It scared him. And my former manager said, ĎI gotta get outta here, The kidís going crazy.í He said, ĎDo you have anything to play... Ď He didnít bring any toys. And I had no toys, so I gave him one of my blood pressure pumps.

PCC:
[Laughs]

LEWIS:
That worked. And he almost hung himself, because his headís so small. he put his head in and I... ĎGet his head out of it!í He was only about three inches long. It was a whole... It was a nightmare. So how are you doing?

PCC:
So youíre a hoarder, is that what youíre saying?

LEWIS:
No, I was a hoarder. And I de-hoarded. I deconstructed the house about seven months ago and took about 80 percent out of it...

PCC:
How do you do that? That would be too traumatic for me.

LEWIS:
You know what? Iíll be honest with you. I wasnít a hoarder like those famous two brothers in Harlem, in New York. But I did hoard. And what I did do, when my wife was away, visiting family, on a few extended trips, I went through my house and, without looking, just knowing what was important to me, what I knew I needed, my work, my writing, the computer stuff, stuff that was obviously of value. I put everything in hundreds and hundreds of waste paper bags, big garbage bags.

At the time, I had a leak in my house... and I had these guys who were pretty strong... I couldnít lift these things... my back... everythingís all gone now. So I threw everything away, in the dump, and I donít even know what it is. Because, I said, ĎIf I donít miss it now, if I donít even know itís here... who cares?í

And Iíll tell you, man. It was one of the most cathartic things Iíve ever done in my life. It was unbelievable to get rid of this crap. Itís clichť, but, man, Iím 62, man, and I had a lot of things and a lot of stuff, as Carlin used to say - and will always say on tape and DVD - and it really is just stuff. And it was really great to get rid of it.

PCC:
Even your collectibles?

LEWIS:
Iím sure I threw away a lot, some collectibles, because... you can imagine, a thousand drawers... tons of stuff... If I looked at everything, I never would have done it. I would have... ĎOh, gee, maybe I should keep this.í Or maybe I should send it to you, because youíll get depressed again. A picture of me and Keith Richards, maybe youíll like it. Iíll get Keith to sign it. I would have got hung up, because Iím obsessed and compulsive. It would have been a nightmare. I probably would have killed myself. So I just threw everything out blindly. I saved everything from when I first went through the house and said, ĎThis isnít going.í And everything else went. And I gave a lot to charity. My wife and I gave a lot of the stuff to charity. When my wife came home, she was shocked. Couldnít believe it.

You know what really bummed me out? There was so much stuff... I collect stuff... really interesting stuff, too. Iím a serious collector. But I would cover a lot of really cool pieces of furniture. Like, you know, Rolling Stone magazines with Jimi on it and Joplin. Really cool stuff. But you couldnít even recognize the table it was on. I covered great furniture with really cool other stuff. And I would cover that cool stuff with other stuff. It was a joke. Obviously, I had a lot of psychological problems, doing this.

So when my wife came back, I went just the other way. I took everything away. I hid everything that was out. It was like naked. Like a baby. Like a little baby house. My wife said, ĎWhere is everything?í It was funny. She said, ĎYouíve got to put something out!í I said, ĎNo, because I went the other way, because, obviously, emotionally I have a lot of problems.í So I went from everything to be seen to ĎI want to see nothing.í Like that vision of John and Yoko playing a white piano in a white living room with nothing on the walls. Thatís what my goal was. So when my wife came home, she freaked. She started putting things out. I said, ĎDonít put a fork on the table. We donít need a fork.í I almost had a breakdown.

PCC:
Well, it is true that a lot of people... youíve been sober like 16 years?

LEWIS:
Yeah, almost, in a couple weeks.

PCC:
Well, a lot of us with addictive personalities, once we get quit the substance type things, become obsessive about healthful things, like exercise or macrobiotics or religion or whatever...

LEWIS:
Well, those three, you struck out on with me. Iím out. Iím out of the batterís box. Iím a spiritual guy. Thereís no way I canít be spiritual, sitting in this house, in the Hollywood hills, looking at the heavens, spinning around in infinity, thinking that thereís something at least mystical or magical. The religious stuff... itís not going to happen... because I donít think itís meant to be... itís like the extraterrestrials. Why the hell... they donít owe us a visit. You know? And if thereís a God, he didnít have to come down here and say, ĎHey, I exist. All right, guys? I gotta go back up there, man. I got shit to do.í They donít owe us a visit. But it would help me, if one of them was on, you know, Larry King or something.

PCC:
Well, they could come down for rubbernecking. Watch the disaster.

LEWIS:
For rubbernecking. Thatís a great word.

PCC:
Thank you.

LEWIS:
Watching the disaster? Armageddon, you mean?

PCC:
I mean just the disastrous state weíre in right now.

LEWIS:
Rubbernecking. You know, Iím a wordsmith of sorts and I donít think Iíve ever used that in an essay or anything. Iím very jealous. Whatís the exact definition? Is it in the Oxford dictionary?

PCC:
Yeah, Iím sure it must be.

LEWIS:
Is there a hyphen?

PCC:
I donít think so. But Iím bad with hyphens. I usually put them in when they donít belong.

LEWIS:
I know. I heard about that. Thatís one of your obsessions.

PCC:
[Laughs] Yeah, Richard-hyphen-Lewis

LEWIS:
[Laughs] Itís Richard Phillip Lewis, if you want to know. No, but rubbernecking, is that a metaphor? For really looking at it intensely?

PCC:
Itís like, if you turn and gawk, like as you pass an accident on the highway...

LEWIS:
Thatís what I was going to say. But thereís another word for those guys.

PCC:
Assholes?

LEWIS:
Yeah. No, other than assholes. You say, ĎBeware, thereís a lot of lookie loos.í

PCC:
Thatís a very cute and quaint term.

LEWIS:
It is. I never use it in public. This is on the phone. I was jealous of rubbernecking and I wanted to come up with something close. The only thing I could think of was Ďlookie loos.í

PCC:
Lookie loos, I think, may not be in the dictionary.

LEWIS:
Really? Well, you know, Iím in the Yale Book of Quotations.

PCC:
I was going to congratulate you. Because I knew that Bartlettís had rejected your claim as the originator of Ď... from hell,í but I just heard about the Yale thing.

LEWIS:
Well, I was so aggravated about the Bartlettís thing.

PCC:
As well you should be.

LEWIS:
I was furious. Thereís a brilliant writer. And he wrote an article once on ĎCurb.í And it turned out that his uncle was on the board of Bartlettís at the time. And we were joking about this. This was years ago. And I said, ĎYou know, that was an unintentional hook in the Ď70s. And then it became used and abused. People stole it. And commercials... I couldnít take it anymore. And his uncle, I believe, the writerís uncle, said, ĎI know Richard Lewis said it all the time, but, you know, my granddaughter came home from college a couple years ago and said, ĎIt was the semester from hell.í Oh, well, what does that mean? Sheís 18. I was like 53. Iíd said it in my thirties. She heard it!

So, luckily, Yale... They didnít really write it perfectly, though, unfortunately, as grateful as I am... because it really bugged me. comics stealing everything. People are just so unethical in this field. Itís just despicable. Thatís the biggest heartbreak about this world Iím in, the stand-up, is that people are just ruthless.

In fact, thereís a really cool book out now, called ĎIím Dying Up Here.í They might even make a movie out of it. Itís about the comedy scene in the Ď70s. Itís a really good read. And it addresses how hard it was to make it and then to stick to it, with all the drugs and all that sex. It was like, basically, rock Ďní roll time in the Ď70s. But this stealing, it just sucks. And it really sucks more for the younger comic who really came up with... Look, itís very easy to come up with similar premises, obviously, and even, sometimes, punch lines, right on the money. But when you overtly take something and then some young kid who canít do it anymore, a young comedian, that really sucks. And that happens all the time.

But the whole talk show landscape has changed so much now. Iím glad I came along when I did. I mean, I did 60 or 70 Lettermans in the Ď80s, early Ď90s. Thatís unheard of now, to do that kind of thing. I mean, Dave actually said, ĎCome on as often as you want.í And I did.

PCC:
Not many comedians could rely on a constant flow of funny ideas.

LEWIS:
Well, you know... itís boring... and I have a feeling youíre sinking back into your death thing...

PCC:
[Laughs] No.

LEWIS:
And my energy level now is... I mean, thereís enough here for a coffee table book. And what are you going to use? ĎLewis opens Thursday, closes Sunday. There are restaurants near the gig.í Really, after all this shit, saving your life... and all of this gold, itíll be a paragraph!

PCC:
But what a paragraph!

LEWIS:
[Laughs] Boy, Iíll be rubbernecking to see that! And all those lookie-loos... Itís going to cause a lot of accidents by the newsstand... Iím not going to finish the thought. I got so disgusted with who I am, all of a sudden.

Can you imagine, first of all, hating yourself, being an alcoholic, albeit in recovery today, and then talking about yourself non-stop since 1970? Itís a joke! No wonder my wife has a four-minute limit!

PCC:
But your own comedy must be a form of therapy for you.

LEWIS:
It is. It is when people laugh. And then I know that there was some meaning, some meaning to what this was all about for me. It really has given me meaning. And I never preach about recovery or alcoholism at all. All I do say is, ĎIf youíre hammered, try not to drive.í Itís unbelievable, unbearable that I did it. And I was lucky I didnít kill anybody.

But helping other people who are absolutely going down and seeing them actually turn their lives around, those two things are astonishing gifts. And actually, thatís the greatest gift right now. I donít preach about it. But people helped me want to get back on track. And when you see it with friends, when you really, really try to help and they actually get it and they realize, ĎAll right, Iíve been there, done it. But Iím dead, if I donít change,í and they change, itís really great.

God, Iím just looking at Cameron Diaz on the commercial. I saw her a couple weeks ago in Chateau Marmont. I did her first ĎTonight Show,í when she did ĎThe Mask.í And I was such a sex addict... not a sex addict, but an affection... Oh, sheís plugging a movie with Tom Cruise. Ah, but, sheís so tall... in heels... she was so intimidating... I donít know if I would have left my usual note with someone like her... which was, ĎI hope youíre married and happy, but if youíre not... And Iíd have my number on it. And it would be so sleazy.

Thatís how I picked up my wife. That same note. At a Ringo Starr party, if I can name-drop. And she saved the note. And she gave it to me for our first anniversary, this sleazy note. But when I saw Cameron Diaz, I went over to her. Itís just, I knew I would get praise. I needed praise, because I... I said, ĎHey, you made me really funny on that ĎTonight Show.í Sheís like, ĎOh, you donít need anybodyís help.í I knew sheíd say that. I felt so guilty afterwards. Thatís how needy I am.

And now, I think weíre done. This is how it started. This is like ĎSiddhartha.í Weíve run around the lake already. We bumped into each other here. Now Iím f--cked up! And youíre going to have a good day. Youíre the most selfish journalist Iíve ever met!

PCC:
Laughs

LEWIS:
Feign depression. Make me put on a f--kiní show for 55 minutes for free. For a paragraph. Now Iím suicidal. Iíd better be alive for that show. Now Iím going to be on fire at that nightclub. And I owe it all to you... for abusing me.

PCC:
We do plan to come up to see you.

LEWIS:
Really?

PCC:
But weíve tried before and we have like the Richard Lewis curse, actually, because every time we plan to catch your set, one of us gets ill or the car breaks down or...

LEWIS:
The Richard Lewis curse! Man, look what youíve put in my head for tonight!

PCC:
[Laughs] It doesnít affect you.

LEWIS:
Oh, yes it does! Itís already ĎAmityville Horror!í Oh, God. Look, Iím not gonna stroke you. I donít give a f--k what you write about now. Youíve f--ked up my dreams tonight.

Well listen, if you donít make it, thank your for the time, as usual. Youíre a very bright, funny guy and good writer and all the rest. But youíve used and abused me today, in a way... Iíve never seen anything like it.

PCC:
And now, again, I feel so guilty.

LEWIS:
All right, Iíve got to lie down.

PCC:
Take care and weíll see you up here.

LEWIS:
You, too, buddy. I hope Iíve helped.


BONUS
More Pain With Richard Lewis - Our 2008 Feature Story

Misery loves company. Company loves to laugh. So it makes sense that Richard Lewis is among the most beloved comedians of his time.

You donít have to be the Marquis de Sade to enjoy anotherís suffering. When Lewis talks about his pain, itís universally appealing. Like a rock guitar godís inspired riffs, his spontaneous bursts of humor dazzle.

He doesnít hesitate to strip himself emotionally bare - on stage and in his wonderfully moving, amusing memoir, ďThe Other Great Depression.Ē

Just as revealing is the new documentary DVD, ďRichard Lewis Naked.Ē Created by his longtime publicist/confidante Michelle Mourges Marx, the entertaining and involving film allows viewers to sneak along on the comedianís stress-packed book tour. Lewis is unwaveringly candid.

ďIf you have a dark past and were abused emotionally, youíve got to deal with it,Ē Lewis told us ďYou canít be in denial.

ďAt 23, I went on stage, because I felt misunderstood and wanted people to laugh at all the crap I thought I was victimized by, to validate me.

Known as the Prince of Pain, Lewis is now 60. He says sobriety has benefited his art. ďI was able to turn the light on me. Once I realized I was a screwball, it opened up a Pandoraís box of material. I can go on stage and have the time of my life putting myself down. Itís more fun shredding myself than blaming other people.Ē

He encouraged the publication of a new edition of ďThe Great Depression.Ē Lewis hears from readers who confronted their own addictions after reading the book. Heíd like to reach the new generation of fans who discovered him on ďCurb Your Enthusiasm.Ē

ďMaybe I could help some of the addicts among them. To help someone else help themselves is the greatest gift for me.Ē

The new editionís afterword relates Lewisí quest for illumination and self-improvement. ďIt dawned on me that there are a lot of reasons why I drank. Those were defects in character. I concluded that, for me, it would be an empty sobriety, unless I worked on those defects. I wanted to write that down.Ē

Lewis and his wife are on the board of urbanfarming.org, whose mission is to eradicate hunger. Itís one of many ways in which he nurtures his spiritual quest.

He also wanted to reprint the book to remind the public that, though young stars have bounced in and out of rehab recently, the process can work. ďYou donít have to be sober for a day and then wind up naked on ĎTMZí in the back of a limo, drinking. There are other ways to go. Not that I would ever be naked in the back of a limo, not with my body at this point. It would be on some Yiddish porn cable.Ē

The one-time Lothario married for the first time three years ago. He met former music publisher Joyce Lapinsky at a Ringo Starr party.

ďI guessed she was Italian and 33. She said, ĎLetís nip this in the bud. Iím 42. Iím a Jew from Minnesota. So if that bugs you... And if children are a major thing...í She was like reading my mind.Ē

Turns out, years before, a friend had tried to fix up Lapinsky with Lewis on the set of his hit sitcom ďAnything But Love.Ē ďShe said, ĎNo, heís crazy. Iím not going out with him.í I was an active drunk and drug addict then, so it wouldnít have worked out anyway.Ē

The timing was right when they did meet. To buddy Bob Costas, Lewis declared, ďI met the woman Iím going to marry.Ē

ďI was able to commit to somebody finally. I met the right woman at the right time. Thereís a lot of compromise in any relationship. But itís easier to compromise at 60 than it is at 25.

ďIíve found peace and serenity. On stage, I still mine my bottomless pit of bad memories. In real life, Iím still crazy, but Iím far happier and more grateful than Iíve ever been. Marriage has a lot to do with that. We have a neurotic relationship thatís, 99 percent of the time, filled with laughter and love.Ē

Lewis has also found surrogate mother and father relationships - with Phyllis Diller and Jonathan Winters.

ďMy father died before I ever went on stage. My mother and I didnít have a great relationship, to put it mildly. When I got ĎThe Tonight Showí for the first time, in the early Ď70s, I called her and said, ĎMom, Iím on with Johnny!í She said, ĎWho else is on?í

ďPhyllis Diller and Jonathan Winters love me and I love them. Theyíve taken me under their wing. Itís like a dream. Theyíre iconic figures in comedy, people I grew up watching. And I speak to them as parents, literally.Ē

Lewis, who has two TV projects in the works, speaks of his flaws, but works on them diligently. ďAs I de-fogged, year after year, I realized how obsessive-compulsive and anal-retentive I was.

ďI went to therapy for 30-plus years. I hardly go now. I make little NASCAR pit stops on occasion. But I pretty much know the deal at this point. Iím still pretty loony. I just donít medicate the problems anymore.Ē


BONUS #2

Our 2005 Interview With Richard Lewis

LEWIS:
Iíve gone four months shrinkless. Then I panicked and I broke down and called one of mine. At least it was the New York one, not the L.A. one. With the world in chaos, whatís the difference? I was doing so well on my own.

PCC:
Was that a record, four months?

LEWIS:
Absolutely, a record. But I had a little bit of a panic attack.

PCC:
With all your work in films, TV and the book world, is stand-up still the passion it once was for you?

LEWIS:
Hereís the thing... Iím sort of working the moment on stage, so itís sort of like how Iím feeling today, kind of thing.

PCC:
On ĎCurb,í you and Larry David have great chemistry.

LEWIS:
Larry David, who I know since Iím 12, just got an Emmy nomination for ĎCurb Your Enthusiasm,í his HBO show, which Iíve been on for three years. So Iím really proud of that. Iíve done a lot of TV, but Iíve never had the opportunity to ad-lib on television, which, as most people know, is a pretty tight ship, the television sitcom, unless youíre lucky. So to work with Larry and to be able say my lines is too good to be true. Thatís been a kick, man.

We actually met, Larry and I, when we were kids, at camp. And we were arch-rivals. I mean, I hated his guts. And he hated my guts. We fought. I mean I really hated the guy. He was a real jerk. He thought I was a jerk. And about 12 or 13 years later, when we were in our early twenties, starting, and I started about a year before him, as a comedian, we became great friends. We dug each otherís stuff.

One night, I looked at him, almost in like a surreal, Roman Polanski kind of mode and went, ĎI hate you I donít connect to your soul, man.í And he was laughing, but I really meant it. I looked in his eyes and I recognized something that scared the crap out of me. We sat down and just started goofing and retracing our childhood and we realized that we were the same kids who hated one another 13 years ago. We just went berserk. We almost went at each otherís throats. And on the show, we fight a lot. And thatís the kind of relationship we have anyway. We really love each other, but weíre able to scream and yell and mock each other and then, a second later, forget it. Thatís a good relationship.

I just read something in the paper a while ago. Itís ironic that people who write spec scripts, and God knows, I did it, too, to get into sitcoms, ĎCurb Your Enthusiasmí is like the number one script write to try and get on shows. The bizarre irony is that, there is no script for ĎCurb.í Itís totally ad-libbed, although the stories are very tight. I guess itís popular with the writers. And well it should be. Itís pretty hip, man.

PCC:
Is it strange playing yourself

LEWIS:
No, the only strange part about it, the upside is, Iím working with an old buddy and Iím working with a guy who I love as a stand-up and now has a chance to show what heís made of as a performer, not just as the creator of ĎSeinfeld.í

The downside, as an actor, is that, when you play yourself, you canít like, send a reel to Scorcese that readily and say, ĎCan I get the role as the serial killer?í The upside is that itís one of the most unique comedies around and, as an actor, if you do your homework as an actor, youíre supposed to know who you are, your history, where you come from, where youíre going and all that stuff. And I donít have to do a bit of that, because we already we already have our history built in. In fact, there are many scenes that, literally, the day of, or even during, weíre having an argument about something that has nothing to do with the show. And itíll wind up in the show. And itís really surreal. The cameras are rolling, weíre fighting, weíre bringing up something from like 10 years ago that pissed us off. And weíll keep it.

I call him ĎCitizen David.í Heís allowed to edit anything he wants. I just have to keep my fingers crossed, praying. Before the show airs, I put on every religious artifact known to man. But he looks after me. I have no problems with him. So Iím really in a good mood about that.

It was fun for me, last year, to play, a show that I didnít really know much about, on the WB, Ď7th Heaven,í which has been on for like seven years. And itís like their number one show. Itís a family show, but itís unbelievably successful, all over the world. So the woman was a fan of mine. She wanted me to play a rabbi with a daughter who marries the starís daughter, And the star is a reverend. So she called me to reprise the role. So I went from playing a rabbi to playing a psychotic... no Iím not psychotic.

Iíve been going up for some dramatic series. Thatís the fun thing about the acting stuff. You can literally get a phone call. Itís funny, I went up for this one role, I wonít mention it, because, if I donít get it, itíll look stupid. And I donít want to hex it. It was so depressed, this character. He was absolutely at the bottom. And when I got to the lot, my car exploded, literally, and it broke. And I had just gotten it fixed. I had to get it towed and get a rental. So by the time I got to the room to read, I was in such a state. I donít know if I got the role, but I sort of became this guy. I think I kind of scared everybody. I was in such a bad mood.

PCC:
So it was extreme method?

LEWIS:
Total method.

PCC:
You gave an amazing performance in the film ĎDrunks.í

LEWIS:
Thank you. I havenít gotten as many opportunities to do dramatic stuff. And that is something that knew about, heard about, growing up, loving comics, how a lot of comics do have chops, but theyíre pigeonholed. Itís hard. It really is hard to break through. Iíve been a comic for 32 years, proud of it.

I was telling Lou Reed this a couple years ago at dinner. I was whining about not getting enough dramatic opportunities. And he was laughing. To make Lou laugh is like making Edgar Allen Poe laugh. Heís become really a good friend. Heís a really cool guy. A brilliant guy. Heís a Hall of Fame poet-rocker. And heís telling me, ĎGet over it, man. Youíve been a comic your whole life. Everything else is gravy.í And he says, ĎIím going to be remembered for one thing, the chorus of a song, ĎAnd the colored girls go, Ďdoo-doo-doo.í Suddenly heís mocking me.

It was great. It was in this restaurant in Tribeca. Heís such a cool guy, but I looked around and it was like the really hot restaurant and nobody was in the restaurant, but Lou and me. I thought it was like a scene from ĎThe Godfather.í That was the first time we had met, a few years ago. I had some creative ideas about collaborating, some of my essays with some of his music.

Anyway, the stand-up, I write every day. Not always a million things. But I always have a pad with me. So, every two or three months, I would basically have a new hour that I liked. Iím not boasting. But itís pretty unheard of. And the only reason I could do it, was because I brought a piece of paper, which was about three-feet long, on stage, and Iíd put it on a table.

Carnegie Hall, when I did it, I had six of them, on a grand piano. I did almost three hours. But what happened, the last couple of years, I decided Iíd be much freer, as a performer, if I just walked on stage, plus it wouldnít be a pain in the ass, every venue that I would go to, I would have to make sure there was a table. I remember once, some teamsters lifting up this huge piano in Vegas. They said, ĎRich, we never knew you played.í I said, ĎNo, no, itís for this paper.í They almost killed me.

So I donít think Iíve ever performed better. But I have to spend really hundreds of years, scrawling on my laptop, everywhere I go, and just hope I remember 15 or 20 minutes of the stuff, because I just donít bring the sheet up anymore. And quite frankly, even though I ad-lib about a third of every show I do, even if Iím doing a riff that Iíve been doing for a couple of weeks or months, I never do it the same way. And if the audience is going with it, then I just start adding and ad-libbing.

I still was so used to having two hours of new material and literally doing it, wherever I was, it could have been a concert hall or a nightclub, itís a little frustrating. And every shrink, every person who ever meant anything to me, always said, ĎRich, donít you understand? People donít know. This is like new material to everybody, even if theyíve seen you before.í

But it was just about my not wanting to be bored. So thereís pressure now when I go on stage. Now Iím more on edge than ever. Iím like on fire, on stage, for better or worse, because my brain is overloaded with about 40 minutes of stuff that now I canít just peek down and look at. I have to try to recall it. So really, Iím a basket case on stage now.

Even though Iím eight years sober, Iíve never been more dysfunctional, as a comedian, which I think serves me well on stage. Seemingly, it has.

PCC:
Does the sobriety make the performing more challenging or does it enhance the performance?

LEWIS:
Early on, only the first month, I was scared. First of all, the majority of the times I performed, I was sober. Or if I had a drink, it was just a drink. I didnít even have a buzz. My alcoholism hurt me in other aspects of my life. I had a love affair with stand-up. In fact, I even stopped for a couple of years, when my drinking got out of control, because I didnít want to burn that bridge. And I didnít.

I jested that Iím so clear-headed now that I despise myself even more. I am much more clear-headed now. Thereís two things that make me a better performer as a sober person - one is that I have much more clarity on how screwed up I was and why I was screwed. And I also take responsibility. I used to use this metaphor in the Ď70s and Ď80s - things from hell. It was either a date from hell... whatever would torment me. It became part of the vernacular. And I actually tried to get it in Bartlettís. I donít know how much I paid my lawyer to do this. I must have been pretty high, asking him to do this. But I was pissed off. People were ripping me off. It was in advertising. This from hell. That from hell. I was on Letterman about 60 or 70 times over the course of about eight years. And even Dave used to say, ĎOh, you went to a bar mitzvah from hell, huh?í He would like finish the thought.

So Bartlettís wrote back to my attorney. Iím paraphrasing, but it was hilarious. They said, ĎWe realize that Mr. Lewis popularized this phrase, but we have on record, two co-eds in 1890, in Buffalo, walking around a pond, saying, ĎThis is a semester from hell.í These two young women. I got jacked out of it.

But you know what? Life is precious and I could care less at this point. But when I was drunk, I cared.

So anyways, part of getting sober, you do sort of take responsibility for things that you might have done that were pretty embarrassing. And I did plenty. It opened up a whole other side. Like I was the date from hell. I was the son from hell. It wasnít just my parents. It wasnít just the women I had gone out with. And on and on. So it opened up like a Pandoraís box for me of being able to flog myself even more. I mean, the self-loathing is still there. I mean, Iím proud of overcoming this disease, on a daily basis, but itís also a hell of a lot of fun to humiliate myself publicly. It still is. And now I totally understand why.

PCC:
Have you resolved your intimacy and commitment issues?

LEWIS:
No, tragically. Thatís why I called my shrink today. I love a wonderful woman. Finally someone who can go to sleep listening to Dylan and wake up and hear a Mel Brooks album and run and see a Cassavetes film for the 30th time with me, someone not half my age, who knows that Sid Caesar is not related to Julius Caesar. This is all good for me. But sheís not perfect. No one is. And Iím still an obsessive-compulsive nut. So sheíll do one crazy thing and Iíll go off the deep end.

As I told my shrink today, it makes sense that Iím a little crazy. I donít have any children. So I never had to say, ĎOh, my God, my kid has the flu.í I just basically had to say, for 30 years, ĎWell, Iíve got Letterman in a weekí or Carson. Or ĎGee, Iíve got to work on that Conan shot.í ĎIíve got to memorize these lines.í

I was in psychotherapy. Still am in a sense, although I donít go in person much anymore. But for most of my adult life. And I made a career of examining myself on stage. I donít mind observational humorists. Thereís plenty of them and some of them are great. But why I went on stage is that I needed to get validated for who I was, because I wasnít getting it from important people in my life. So I needed strangers to validate me, basically.

So I didnít want to talk about, ĎDid you ever notice...?í I wanted to say, ĎHereís how I feel...í and I just prayed that the audience had the same feelings. And obviously they have, otherwise Iíd be... I donít know what Iíd be doing now. I wouldnít be talking to you.

PCC:
And doing material that was so personal made it unique.

LEWIS:
Basically itís this. I was looking for some authenticity. I loved comedy. And I had a tremendous amount of problems. And then, who knew I was going to become an alcoholic on top of it? So I had a lot to talk about... and still do. And since I changed how Iím feeling every day, I talk about it on stage. It stays fresh for me and my audience.

Interestingly enough, Iím in my fifties now. Itís great that Iím alive. But itís insane that Iíve reached this age. I just canít even believe it. But, on the other hand, my fan base, I have middle-aged people who have watched me for 25 years, but I do all the shows and I consider myself relatively hip. Audiences are pretty diverse. I have teenagers to people in their sixties and seventies coming. If theyíre older, they come on a gurney, I donít care.

So Iím proud of the fact that Iíve kept my fans, but like Iím doing a concert next month with Jon Stewart, who was on the young comics special that I hosted years ago. I did a lot of specials for HBO and that was one of them. And he was one of young comics. Iím a great fan of his. Weíre doing a concert together in New York. Iíve done ĎThe Daily Showí a billion times. He must have been 10 or 15 years younger than me, but we both can relate to the same fan base. And thatís cool. I sort of feel good about that.

PCC:
if you had grown up happy, healthy, neurosis-free, it might have been a curse?

LEWIS:
Well, let me say this, I donít know anybody whoís that. I really donít. Itís just inconceivable to me. If anybody even claims to feel that... I mean, there are people who werenít abused and had maybe reasonable parents. God knows, my parents tried, with the tools they had. And, they didnít have any [chuckles]. But their parents didnít have any tools either. And the grandparents, Iím sure, told my motherís father, ĎYou schmuck, you donít clean a musket like that!í It was like hand-me-down low self-esteem, basically. So I donít blame them... anymore. I blame myself for a lot of the stuff. But I donít know too many people that are happy.

Bob Dylan once said - I read this in a quote, it was really interesting to me - said, ĎLook, man, I wake up, Iím happy for a little bit, then I get into a funkí - Iím paraphrasing maybe the greatest poet of our generation - then he said, ĎThen I feel great, then Iím depressed.í Thatís what it is. Thatís what it is for most people. And certainly, thatís what it is for me. The key is not to have long periods of depression. That blows. Iíve avoided that, thank God.

PCC:
Youíre a fan of Dylan, The Stones, The Beatles, Hendrix, as a youngster, did you ever contemplate a music career

LEWIS:
No, I just love Hendrix, The Beatles. Iím a classic rock guy. But no, I never thought about it. I played guitar and the drums. But I quit drums early on. I only played the drums to get the girls in elementary school. I would walk down the school with the little rubber pad and sit by the jungle gym. It was cool. And I played the snare drum. But that was a drag, because everything was a John Phillip Sousa thing. You couldnít break out. It wasnít like, all of a sudden, Thelonious Monk was coming in to play as the kids walked into elementary school.

But the thing thatís been cool for me, after so many years, meeting so many people, and this is not boasting by any stretch of the imagination, in fact, one of my shrinks - and Iíve outlived many - called it an endearment, for some odd reason. But itís shocking to me that iím friends with and know so many rock guys. I once had like Frampton or Bonnie Raitt come up to my house to listen to some music of friends of mine I wanted them to hear. Or Ringoís a great guy, whoís been very helpful to me, in my life. Oh, and Ronnie Wood, who I have some of his paintings. He came over to my house one night to watch the Oscars. And I was like frantic. I put all his paintings in one room, like it was the Ronnie Wood gallery. Weíre not like great friends. But he loves the fact that I love his artwork, too. Of course, I love The Stones.

A couple of years ago, Ronnie asked me to come down to the studio, just to hang out. And I had never met Keith before. And after they put down a lick. I was just on fire, man. It was so cool.

In fact, maybe the coolest thing, my favorite group was Procol Harum. I just loved their stuff. Keith Reid is maybe one of the greatest lyricists. They had only a couple of huge hits, but I know his body of work. I mean ĎWhiter Shade of Pale,í obviously, is so famous. It turned out I wound up meeting them and became really good friends with Procol Harum and with Keith.

And these are the kinds of things that are perks for me. I remember even going to the White House. That kind of stuff is sort of wild, when you get a phone call from, it was the Clinton-Gore years. And they said, ĎOh, the President has to have you come do this.í Or ĎThe First Lady needs you,í which is sort of trippy. Thatís cool. Thatís stuff Iíll never forget.

Weíre just humans in a crazy world. But thereís something really bizarre about being asked by a President or a Rolling Stone to do something. Itís like an out-of-body experience. Itís great.

PCC:
You did play guitar and sing?

LEWIS:
I played guitar horribly. And then once I heard the first Hendrix album, I threw my guitar in the garbage. Iím obsessive-compulsive. But I come on stage to ĎPurple Haze.í It just gets me in the right mood. Iíve been doing it for like 25 years.

Hendrix was unique. He just so moved me, Hendrix. And Lennon for his honesty and his lyrics, particularly his first album, solo album. These are the kinds of things, for an artist, that stick in your brain. I always want to aspire to be as honest and courageous as some of the lyrics that Lennon wrote and try to use my comic instrument as freely as I possibly can. And clearly, Hendrix was like a human guitar. And if I could just hit that moment, even few moments on stage... I mean this guy was doing it most of the time. Thatís why theyíre icons.

PCC:
ĎThe Other Great Depression,í did writing it give you different perspective on life and career?

LEWIS:
Well, that was murder to write. I wrote about 2,000 pages. I had to get it down to 270 or 300. My goal was to have it come out in paperback, which it is now, and itís doing well, because itís cheaper and more addicts can read it and maybe get help or inspiration by it. But when I wrote it, I was all over the joint. But I had a really great editor at my first publishing and she said ĎLook, you really have to get down to the nitty-gritty.í And the last three months, I probably wrote the bulk of the book, because I just felt like I couldnít hold back.

One of the reasons I like therapy, my therapist helped me get sober, because she knew I was an alcoholic and she wanted me to realize it. I was a cannibal to this woman, because she was so smart and I respected her so much, I just could not lie to her. So when she asked me to keep a diary of when I drank and what time and how much and why, I just quit. I couldnít lie. Thatís when I knew for sure I was an alcoholic. Iíd been in denial. It took me about a year-and-a-half of misery to finally get sober.

I donít preach about it. I joke about it a lot, too. But Iím dead serious about how important it is, for me. But I never preach to other people, only other addicts, if they ask me.

In truth, though, I had to be a cannibal to myself, when I wrote this book, because one of the things about being on stage, I always prided myself on being honest. But when I realized that I was an alcoholic person for so much of my time on stage, not performing it, but as a man, I felt that I had to come clean, for myself. Not that I owed it to the world or to fans. Just to myself. And I felt good about doing it.

I watched this documentary on Cassavetes. And he made a comment, he said if something was too entertaining, when he would be at a screening, he would go back and edit it out. He said he didnít want to entertain people. He wanted to shake people up. And when I wrote the book, I felt that way.