Negatively Fourth Street


By Will McKinley

Richard Lewis returns to his stand-up stomping grounds

It’s 7:30 in the morning Los Angeles time and Richard Lewis is already talking a mile a minute.

TV viewers know the notorious neurotic for his portrayal of a (slightly) fictionalized version of himself on HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” But Lewis’s first love is standup comedy, an art form he mastered on the seminal stages of the Village nearly four decades ago.

New York audiences will get a rare opportunity to see the self-professed “Prince of Pain” at work when he brings his “Misery Loves Company” tour to Comix, the hip new comedy venue in the Meatpacking District, for four shows this weekend.

Were you born in Jersey?

No. I was born in Brooklyn. I’m a New Yorker. I was raised in New Jersey, but the word “raised” isn’t even close to what was done to me.

Didn’t you say in one of your standup specials that you were “lowered” in New Jersey?

I probably did. I wasn’t so much mocking Jersey as my parents’ child rearing. My father was a workaholic. He never was home. So it was my mother and I living out a Tennessee Williams play every day until I became an alcoholic and a drug addict. Then it was comedy, sex, women, booze and drugs. Some of it was fun.

It sounds like a lot of it was fun.

It wasn’t fun doing “The Glass Menagerie” with my mother at five.

That I can imagine. Did you go away to college?

I graduated from Ohio State.

Is that when you started pursuing standup?

I moved back to New York and my father died very soon after. It was such a shock to my system that it really propelled me on stage. Within two months I was working out at clubs in Greenwich Village.

Do you remember the clubs that you used to work out at?

I played almost every legendary club that all the rock guys, all the folkies and comics like Cosby and Richard Prior and Lenny Bruce would work. I’m not sure how many of them are still there. The one that’s not there, that I’m most proud of performing at, was Folk City. It was a very famous club in the 50’s and 60’s. Dylan played there a lot. It was on West 4th right across from the basketball courts. They had comedy night on Sundays. That was the place for me in The Village. But to come back and perform at Comix on 14th Street, which is basically seconds away from where I used to perform, until I felt ready to work out at the Improv where I got my start with Leno, and Crystal and Andy Kaufman and those guys — nothing is more important to me.

Does the audience coming to see you now know you from “Curb Your Enthusiasm”?

The twenty-somethings will know me from “Curb.” My demographic is really wild when I play concerts or clubs. I’ll have people from age 20 to 70.

Are you in production of a new season of the show?

Yeah. We’re almost done.

Do you reach a point as a comedian where you get as good as you can be and you just sort of plateau and you have nowhere else to go with it?

No. Many comics hone an act over the years. They may add a line or two, but that’s it. I would have gone crazy if that’s how I worked. I hone my life. My act is just an extension of who I am on that day. The only way that I can feel that I am doing the best work possible for that audience is to live on the edge. Leno once said to me, “Why are you such a nut before you go on?” And I said “Jay. I don’t know what I’m going to say.”

Are you better comic now that you’re sober?

Oh God, yeah. I have such clarity now that I hate myself even more.

Richard Lewis is at Comix, 353 West 14th St. Feb., 23-24 at 8:00 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. (212-524-2500; www.comixny.com)