Perhaps Mel Brooks put it best when he said, "Richard Lewis may just be the Franz Kafka of modern day comedy."
Lewis has taken his life-long therapy fodder and carved it into a commanding and compelling art form. His early career as a stand-up brought him to the top of his ranks and over time he broadened the scope of opportunities for others to share in his brilliantly warped world.
This year, along with a steady stream of personal appearances, Lewis returned as a recurring guest star as one of Larry David’s closest friends (as is true in real life) in the Seinfeld co-creator’s HBO series, “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” The show won AFI’s Best Comedy award, a Golden Globe and an Emmy nomination for the same. He begins shooting the 5th season in the Fall of this year. The second DVD of that series is due out in June to include a panel discussion shot at the Aspen Comedy Festival. He has also had guest starring turns on “Alias,” “Seventh Heaven,” “2 ½ Men” and upcoming, more dramatically, in the new season of “The Dead Zone.”
In February of 2002, Lewis’ autobiographical book, “The OTHER Great Depression” came out in paperback on Plume Books, a division of Penguin Putnam Inc. First published by the prestigious Perseus/ Public Affairs Books, the book is a collection of fearless, essay style riffs featuring Lewis' dark stream-of-consciousness personal observations. He had taken time off-stage to complete it and to explore new forms of self-expression.
Some book review quotes:
“Behind the Music meets Portnoy’s Complaint. . . Lewis’s standard of total honesty [has] allowed him to unearth neuroses he’d never even touch onstage—or on the couch.” --New York Magazine… [An] urgent, nervous, heartfelt book . . . Lewis writes with an addict’s jumpy restlessness, staggering from hurt to hurt, from tensely jokey confession to confession, from twitchy spiritual discovery to discovery.” --Entertainment Weekly…….“Candid and inspirational” --USA Today.com…………“Brims with anecdotes and…funny self-analysis….Lewis…has narrative gifts few celebrity authors exhibit.” --Cleveland Plain Dealer
A double CD, “Live From Hell (Before and After)” is being edited and readied for a re-release. ‘Before’, contains material from his very first cable special “I’m In Pain,” while ‘After’, captures Richard Lewis free-associating with legendary journalist and author Bill Zehme. Lewis' rants and true-life stories promise an untamed journey.
Lewis continues stand-up appearances and recently, in Chicago, Howard Reich, of the Tribune reflected on his history with Lewis, "Nearly 20 years ago… I headed for Zanie's 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 an irreverence for topics considered untouchable. Like Bruce, Mr. Lewis lays his soul bare on the stage, with fearlessness and many times, recklessness...".
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'. Philadelphia’s City Paper says, “Indeed, he is the Jimi Hendrix of monologists, whose virtuoso free-form riffs on ex-girlfriends, family and other antagonistic denizens from hell are delivered in a mesmerizing, stream-of-consciousness frenzy, a piss-yourself-laughing assault on the senses. 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”.
In continuing to redefine himself, he expanded on his acting career by making different kinds of choices. Lewis took on his first dramatic role in “Drunks”, co-starring Dianne Weist, Faye Dunaway and Amanda Plummer. Built around an AA meeting, Richard received rave reviews as the central character, Jimmy Epstein, an addict fighting for his life. “Drunks” was theatrically released and aired on Showtime.
Richard Lewis also got excellent notices for his cameo appearance as an agent in another film that dealt with alcoholism, “Leaving Las Vegas”. Furthering his 'indie' credits, Lewis also completed the film “Gameday”, as Coach Adler, a college basketball coach whose personal life is in shambles but, on the court and in the locker room, he's brilliant. It airs on Showtime and Cinemax. Ironically Lewis had, earlier in life, battled some of the same demons these films address and he is uncompromisingly honest about them in his book. He also co-starred as a psychotic gangster in “Hugo Pool”, a dark comedy from Robert Downey, Sr.
With scores of other guest acting appearances and TV series under his belt, far and away his favorite was his four year run in ABC’s critically-acclaimed series "Anything But Love," co-starring with Jamie Lee Curtis. Late night T.V. viewers and media junkies in general are familiar with his frequent guest appearances. He may hold title to having the most late night appearances, chalking up over 50 each on Late Night with David Letterman and the Tonight Show alone.
His second special, "I’m Exhausted," aired on HBO and earned him an ACE nomination as Best Stand-Up Comedy Special. It was part of a self-proclaimed "Trilogy From Hell," which includes the earlier "I'm In Pain" for Showtime and his second Ace nominated special "I'm Doomed" for HBO, all now available on home video. His "Diary Of A Young Comic," which he starred in and co-wrote, first aired on NBC in the "Saturday Night Live" time slot and is now considered a cult classic; also available on video.
Regarded by his peers as a 'comic's comic', Lewis' neuroses have become a part of our language as in, "I had a date from Hell!" In July '95 Lewis performed live stand-up comedy for the first time in over two years with his "Magical Misery Tour." Shot at New York's historic Bottom Line HBO aired the one-hour special in December '96, making it a rare accomplishment in completing his fourth hour cable special. In December of 1989, Lewis achieved a very personal goal...he performed at Carnegie Hall to a standing room only audience. To close, in his own words--"I go on a long tour, make people happy that they're not me and go home."