Full service performer Richard Belzer on pets, presidents and police
Richard Belzer, 68, who spends his time between a "little farming village" in Southern France and the Upper West Side, is best known for playing the cranky detective John Munch on "Homicide:Life on the Street" and in the SVU edition of "Law and Order." The author, musician and actor will be performing in Richard Belzer's Rock & Roll Comedy Extravaganza 7 p.m. Saturday April 13, parodying Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen, among others. Belzer just published his sixth book, "Hit List" (co-written with David Wayne) about the many witnesses to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy who wound up dying mysteriously.
What's up with making fun of The Boss and Dylan?
It's not offensive at all. These are humorous homages! They've both seen my work and I know they're flattered.
It would be so cool to see you and Ice-T jam.
He'll be in the audience! We haven't played together yet, but it's not ruled out.
You play music, do stand up, act, write books, interview folks on the internet: What is your primary identity?
I'm a full service performer. I'm an artist and I have to live out loud. I need to say all these different things in different ways, so I adapt different means of expression to do so.
Have you learned anything playing a cop that helped you research "Hit List" and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy?
I admire the skills of the people who are advisors to our show. You learn a lot about knowing who to interview, what to look for in answers, when someone is telling the truth. What you're mainly looking for if you're indicting someone is corroboration, so I did a lot of corroboration for the book. I'm writing some very provocative things and I want them to be truthful. (President Dwight D.) Eisenhower said that the militarism of America was not good for our collective soul. Kennedy wanted peace in our world. He wanted détente with Russia, to change the Federal Reserve and eliminate breaks for the oil industry and he did not want to invade Cuba. He was already wealthy so he wasn't owned by anyone, but his positions threatened a lot of people and pushed at a lot of the elites.
What do you believe really happened Nov. 22, 1963?
A (Lee Harvey) Oswald didn't fire a shot. He was a patsy who was being used. Most of the books on the assassination are quoting other people. My job was to go to original sources for information and fortunately, we have a lot of information.
You've played a detective in Baltimore and NYC. What is the difference in policing the two cities?
Baltimore is isolated neighborhoods. NYC is one of the biggest cities in the world and also a terrorist target, so it's completely different. We're the world's banking center and the center of an international banking cartel. Wall Street is the muddiest track in the world: It makes Las Vegas seem clean. But my respect for law enforcement, particularly detectives investigating crimes, is great.
What do you think of the real NYPD's performance?
A (Police Commissioner Ray) Kelly is doing a terrific job and has prevented some really terrible things from happening that few people know anything about. I've met hundreds and hundreds of police and 99.9% of them are heroic human beings.
Given the role with which you're associated, I bet you've never been ticketed.
Do you support the current stop n' frisk policy?
It's excessive, but I don't think it's done that way for fascistic reasons. Now that the problems have come to light, they'll address it.
There was a parody of the policy, "Kelly Frisk ''Em Style" performed in the Inner Circle this year, to "Gangnam Style."
Stuff like that creates social change. When people see themselves parodied in public, they have to do something about it! I used to be way more political on stage. I'm not so much anymore, but a lot of things bother me. The minimum wage is obscene. It should be 20-something dollars an hour, not nine-something. It's totally inexcusable - a moral outrage - that we're the biggest city in the country and thousands of children don't even have enough food to eat.
So what's your celebrity charity?
I work closely with the Veterans Administration, helping the Wounded Warriors and raising consciousness. It's an honor just to be with the men and women who have been wounded. I also work with the North Shore Animal League: We saved 25,000 dogs and cats last year from euthanasia.
Comedians by nature are transgressive, but have you mellowed at all with age, refusing to joke about certain topics?
There are two things I would never joke about, ever, and they've stayed the same: Child abuse and the holocaust. There's nothing any where near funny about either one. If you make a joke about the holocaust, you trivialize the horror and destruction of humanity.
You're Jewish, but are you observant?
I don't do any rituals, but that doesn't mean the Germans wouldn't do me in.
What are you reading?
I'm studying a lot about the John Kennedy assassination right now. I read everything about history, antiquity, the origin of ideas, the origin of religion.
Do you think you look like the typical cop?
I've been playing one for 20 years: Apparently a lot of people think I'm believable! Actors don't really have a choice in what role they play: You audition for roles, but the industry determines the characters you play. It's an occupation that requires a lot of courage, diligence and rejection. You just have to get that first work out so you can be seen, so you can show what you can do.
With the internet, now, though, an actor can make available any work he wants to show his breadth and talents.
Yes! You don't need an agent, or a studio, or anything. It's good for journalism, too. (Belzer worked as a reporter at The Bridgeport Post many years ago.) "1984" (the George Orwell novel about the travails of living in a totalitarian state where "Big Brother is watching you") goes both ways. They're us, but we're watching them.
The first thing that pops up Googling you is "Richard Belzer dead." Are you on a hit list yourself somewhere?
People like to float fake stories about celebrities dying. But like Mark Twain said, the rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated.