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Lenny Bruce’s True Heir

Richard Lewis reveals wide range of political and societal thought well beyond trademark ‘depressive’ persona

Veteran comedian Richard Lewis, just past his 60th birthday, is best known now for being one of Larry David’s antagonists on “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” and before that, for his depressed persona and incorporation into his act of his own stories of battling drug and alcohol demons.

In conversation, or more accurately monologue interrupted by the occasional question from longtime friend and broadcaster Keith Olbermann at the 92nd St. Y on April 27, Lewis showed that both his interests and comedic capabilities are far beyond the aforementioned performances.

For one thing, Lewis’ concern about our country is such that he vowed to work tirelessly for whoever the Democratic presidential nominee is, and bemoaned the prolonged and continued US entanglement in Iraq. Perceptively, he called the war uncannily the actions of a “dry drunk,” employing his personal recovery perspective to shed light on President Bush’s character. It’s the sort of insight Lenny Bruce had about Vietnam and censorship, with the added benefit of having survived far longer than Bruce could with his struggles.

The very rhythm of Lewis’ speech is quite reminiscent of Bruce, sharing the same New York Jewish heritage of course. Lewis sees being a comedian as exhibiting serenity in a cyclone -- like one of his heroes, Buster Keaton, standing still in one of his films as a house crashes down all around him.

Similarly, Lewis finds himself mystified about how any political figure could get the country turned in a better direction. “When I had no money … I didn’t need two televisions [like many have today]. I had one TV with a shitty rabbit ears antenna. So if you have two televisions, give one to somebody who doesn’t have a television. No one will do that,” said Lewis, expressing a sentiment that obviously came from deep in his heart.

Lewis does consider himself lucky to have survived the worst of his substance abuse, and he has been sober 14 years, he says. But the first intervention didn’t take, because no one had a game plan, and he was able to lie his way out of going to a doctor or New York drug rehab facility. So for those who are trying to help someone, counsels Lewis, “have a game plan.” The second time, his friends planned exactly where they would take him, so he’s around today to relate this advice.

Public Affairs has just published a new edition of Richard Lewis’ “The Other Great Depression,” with a new afterword by the author. To purchase:




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