Two of the more surprising Super Bowl commercials this year involved comedians. Make that comediennes, as in Joan Rivers and Roseanne.
Yes, Richard Lewis also was in that Snickers commercial, but he didn't have do any of the heavy lifting, or in this case, pratfalling. And I'm sure plenty of people were rubbing their eyes trying to make that image of Joan Rivers as Go Daddy girl disappear. But there are some things you cannot unsee.
Which one of these surprises, though, surprised you more?
Joan Rivers unveils her Go Daddy knock-out body:
Or Snickers knocking out Roseanne:
Want to talk Last Comic Standing with one of its "potential" (ahem) finalists? Esther Ku is offering a live chat on her site at 10 p.m. Eastern once tonight's semifinals show from Vegas ends. I've already warned Ku to watch out for the crazies!
Related: Ku was a guest last week, along with Richard Lewis, on NPR's Talk of the Nation to talk about the business of stand-up comedy. You can listen to the half-hour interview and call-in segment here.
Passover ends tonight, and the 92Y's spring comedy series kicks off tonight with Richard Lewis in a conversation with Keith Olbermann. Coincidence? Probably. Here is a clip of Lewis and Olbermann talking on MSNBC on Valentine's Day. Coincidence? Less likely. Lewis also has a new memoir out called The Other Great Depression. Coincidence? Nope.
Get tickets to see Lewis and Olbermann tonight.
Buy his new book:
The 92Y has announced its spring slate of funny and topical discussions about humor on the Upper West Side. So let's see what they've got lined up...
April 9: Garrison Keillor
April 27: Richard Lewis, interviewed by Keith Olbermann
April 28: Norman Lear
May 13: Andy Borowitz on politics and campaign 2008 with Jonathan Alter and Susie Essman
June 10: Ian Frazier
June 26: Laughs from the Left: Political humor with Scott Blakeman, Jeff Kreisler and Jane Condon
For times, prices and further info: Click here.
Set your DVR/TiVos for tonight. It's HBO's Sixth Annual Young Comedians Show (9:30 p.m. EDT on HBO-Comedy, also repeats twice on Saturday, March 22, and the early morning of March 28).
The Smothers Brothers host and provide a lengthy 15-minute warmup session, then announce that the young comedians this year have written their own intros. Which makes it funnier when, in the first intro, they say, "Please welcome, Jerry Steinfeld!" How's that for your big intro, future billionaire? Yes, the 1981 collection of young stand-ups includes not just Jerry Seinfeld, but also Harry Anderson, Howie Mandel, Richard Lewis, Rick Overton and Maureen Murphy.
How does it hold up 27 years later? Seinfeld's early observational topics include the TV weather reports, pajamas, slippers, socks, the piano store at the mall, greeting cards, the post office and the fattest man in the world. It's all very familiar now, isn't it. Which lends yet another perspective on a scene from his documentary, Comedian, in which other stand-ups talk to Seinfeld about the prospects of writing new jokes.
Next up: Australian Maureen Murphy. She had made six appearances on The Tonight Show before this. Since then, not a lot according to the IMDB, though she currently is writing and directing a movie about Caravaggio. So there.
Harry Anderson was best known for his street magic, and that attitude and skill carried him into a recurring role on Cheers, then later his own sitcom, Night Court (Brooklyn!). The New York Times caught up with him in New Orleans, which he was leaving at the end of August, 2006. Yes, because of Katrina. Interestingly, on the HBO show description, he still gets the biggest credit. Still. Check out his props! Where's Gallagher now? Oh. Right. Anderson's set here really gets an odd crowd reaction.
Rick Overton is a name I certainly recall seeing and hearing when I first got into comedy in the 1990s. But seeing him on my TV (circa 1981) still came as a surprise. Why was that? Google, help me! Oh, geez, he's had a lot of character roles over the years. He also won an Emmy for writing for Dennis Miller. And he's still writing politically on the Huffington Post. This Star Wars routine, though, where was this going, exactly? By the way, fun fact: In the East Village, working-man skinny-tie apparently was the rule back then.
As for Richard Lewis. It was all there from the beginning, wasn't it? The paranoia. The hair. The onstage therapy session turned comedic. The relationship issues. It was all there, even back then.
Howie Mandel sure didn't look like an obsessive-compulsive germophobe in 1981! Check out his handbag! Props! (Where's Gallagher?) The memories of that condom hat come rushing back, and suddenly you remember why everyone made such a fuss when he got the big break in the NBC drama, St. Elsewhere. And then you remember again why everyone said, really?, when Mandel showed up again more recently as the host of the silliest success on TV, Deal or No Deal. "What? What, what?!"
Ask Richard Lewis how his President's Day is, and he'll reply, which president?
"It depends," he told me. "If Abe Lincoln was president, I'd be jumping up and down. I was a big fan of Clinton and FDR, although he was a little slow getting rid of the Nazis. I'm not as big a fan of the current president...I don't think I'll be invited to the Oval Office. I hope he has a good day. I hope he reads something. I'm thinking of sending him a coloring book, so he can start slow."
Yes, Lewis is a Democrat. And yes, he's still as neurotic as ever. Over the next hour, as I attempt to squeeze in a question or two about current events or his current works, he'll veer from topic to topic, sometimes in the same beat. As he does just now, trying to show the least bit of compassion for George W. Bush. And also plug his upcoming weekend in Boston.
"I'm a tolerant man," Lewis said. "I'm only coming there because I miss Boston. I have friends there. I make no money. It's the Gandhi tour when I play a nightclub, and I also try to fast. Four shows, no food. Maybe a little rice on the way home." He'd just left a gig in Texas. "I was staring at a concert hall filled with mostly evangelicals. Here is this poor postured Jew. When you feel you're on the lam, after they say, 'Ladies and Gentleman, Richard Lewis,' you go onstage full of fear."
Fear, though, seems to not exist once he's onstage. Neither does a set list. "The best thing I've ever done is not bring the notes onstage. I don't know what I'm going to do in any set," he said. And then...as if playing to that Texan crowd: "Look, you believe in the rapture, fine. I'm not allowed to go up with you. Jesus was a Jew. Hopefully he'll let me sleep on a guest cloud. This is the way I was born. Don't blame me for it. I won't blame you!"
And then back to the president. "I'm a lifelong Democrat. Of course, I'm not happy about the president. But what upsets me is the lack of separation between church and state," he said. "It's really killing me. I'm a spiritual guy. I talk about my life onstage. When they go home, they're happy they're not me. Boom! Everybody wins."
"I'm not a social critic, because I ultimately turn it around to how it's affecting me personally and sexually," he said.
That's been his hallmark. Fear and neurosis and sex. Right? Fear about real life. "I don't know what I am except a humorist," he said. "From 23 on, I needed absolute validation about myself. To think I can close my eyes at a higher state, and I can remember exactly where I'm living, a crummy apartment waiting for the White Album to come out. It's hard to extricate being sober for 12 years. How I didn't kill anyone when I was drinking and driving home on top of a dinosaur."
Lewis is OK, though. Despite what you may have seen on Curb Your Enthusiasm, in which he needed a kidney from Larry David. "Believe me, most of my relatives have e-mailed me: 'I'm not your blood type, but are you OK?' Bite me!" he said. "You learn who your true loved ones where. 98 percent of the people who wrote me were relatives. That's why I love stand-up, because I'm looking at strangers who hadn't heard me yet."
And then back to addictions. "I was addicted to a lot of things, women included," he said. "After seeing Match Point, I had to be in a straitjacket for 14 weeks. I haven't told Woody (Allen) this yet. Midway through, I went to the bathroom, and I almost jumped 15 women on their way to get popcorn." Scarlett Johansson can have that affect on a guy, though. "My god, a praying mantis on marriages. I am still in a funk and I have a gorgeous wife!" And he was happy to find someone who shared his interests. "It's such a pleasure not to have someone see Dog Day Afternoon for the first time again!" he said. "I'm a real Cassavetes freak. Even my wife, who loves Cassavetes, too, says, 'Look, I can't watch Faces for the 100th time. You watch it!'"
Now he's thinking about his legacy as a comedian. "What humbled me more than anything," he said. "When Walter Matthau died. Everybody loved him, but it was 12 seconds in an hour on the news, and they cut to a traffic jam...I thought they would just talk about Matthau and forget about the traffic or the weather for the night. So I don't take myself that seriously." Lewis did release a DVD box set of his comedy works, with concerts going back 20 years. "I also realized how many jokes I wrote," he said. "I ramble a lot, but I had loads of one-liners. I could've done talk shows for the rest of my life 20 years ago, because I have so much material."
Which led him back to addiction. Any tips? "There are a number of ways to lose an addiction," he said. "I, as a rule, tell nobody how I did it. That said, there are cross-addictions of sex and drugs and cigarette smoking. In a flash, I could give up everything and eat Ben and Jerry's and hole up in a cabin. Luckily, I'm addicted to comedy. And I'm addicted to it with a passion."
The Winter Olympics were ongoing, but not getting much passion out of him. "I haven't watched much, because I've been on the road," he said. "I watched one of the tobogganing, and I got nauseous. They always try to drum up this up close-and-personal stuff so you'll watch it. 'His parents were Klansmen, he grew up an Orthodox Jew, and now he's on the toboggan!' That I'd watch."
One of the weird perks of his career has been knowing many famous people. "That's one of the crazy perks," Lewis said. "The fans I have are hardcore fans, because I'm not commercial...at the top of my game, I'm who I am. And people want to see me, that's great. But doing it for so long, you'd get phone calls. I'm telling this to (John) McEnroe at Larry David's house. I knew Wilt (Chamberlain), too. I knew the same women as he did, but I hoped I dated them first, for obvious reasons. He showed up with seven women, it impossible not to see him, he was at the Improv in Hollywood. He was so intimidatingly large, that I freaked when I went up to meet him." In 1991, then-Gov. Bill Clinton and his campaign tracked Lewis down in a hotel. He once visited the White House on his way to rehab. And then there were the Rolling Stones. "Last year...Ronnie Wood is a good friend of mine...He says, 'Why don't you come to this small venue?' I'd never met Jagger or Charlie. My wife went with me, and she knows I make incredible faux pas. They end up in a dressing room with all four of them, she's watching me make one faux pas after another. I had the same hip sneakers. And they're odd sneakers, that Mick had on, so he mentioned it. He turns around, walks out of the room. I panicked. I turned into a small child. Charlie says, 'I don't think Mick gives a fuck what you've got on.' I say to Keith Richards, 'You know, you're looking at a man who should be dead.' My life looks at me. He has a face that looks like Tora Bora. I start eating off a plate. He slaps my hand, says 'Don't eat that. Swiss cheese is bad dairy.' Keith Richards is now my nutritionist!"
But enough about them. Lewis is winding down this current tour. "I've been on the road almost constantly for two years," he said. "These are my last four shows after almost two years on the road. So my discoveries will almost be like Cape Canaveral." After this weekend, he has a screenplay and is pitching a new TV show. And he's grateful for his opportunities. "I live in a house that is 80 years old, that's about three miles from where one of my idols, Buster Keaton's studio was, and about 20 seconds from Lenny Bruce's house." He's met and talked with Bruce's mom and Keaton's widow. He met his wife, a music publisher, through Ringo Starr. And he's rubbed elbows and swapped stories with so many comedians over the years. "To realize now, we're in our 50s," he said. "But I'm so grateful that I'm still in the game."
At the end, Lewis pauses to tell me that our interview felt like therapy for him. Can we do this for an hour next week? Maybe. I'll have to check my schedule.
"I was poor, but I felt like a millionaire. I didn't care, because I had that microphone. That's why I have no patience for anyone in the arts, no matter who they are, if they're a writer or a dancer, if you have passion, if you're doing this for money, get out," he said. "David Brenner tells me, 'When you do The Tonight Show, it'll be like doing nightclubs three shows a night for 50 years. That's how many people you'll be playing to. Hearing laughs now, with all the stress that's going on, is such a great feeling. I am most proud being a comedian now than I've ever been before."