back on the block

Richard Lewis, Brooklyn Native

Photo credit: Lance Staedler

CiNYC caught up with comedian and Brooklyn native Richard Lewis. He rambled about his childhood in Brooklyn, his early stand-up days in New York City, and what young performers can do to break into the scene.

What was it like as a young comic starting off in New York City?

I had guidance early on. David Brenner became my comedy brother. He told me a lot of things before I got my big break. He said, “Go 70 miles to a dinky bar in Queens and work on your material. Go six months and get your act together. I will come see you when you think you’re ready.” So, I worked at obscure clubs in the Village, and then I came back [to mainstream comedy clubs]. The night I went on I blew the roof off; I was head and shoulders over every other person.

Was there a point in your career when you felt like giving up and moving on?

No, never. I struggled for the first 10 years, and I was pretty broke. I lived like a rat, and I was a little ashamed. But when I started doing Letterman, and then working with Jamie Lee Curtis, they were so great to me. Those were my big breaks. I felt like a million bucks because these people gave me respect when I didn’t have a dime. They gave me confidence. And then, I knew there was nothing else I wanted to do.

What drives you to perform?

I go on stage as a way to be validated. It comes from a childhood feeling of not being listened to.

What was growing up like for you?

Everyone around me, my parents, my sister, my brother, was too preoccupied with themselves. I was left alone. My mother [and I] didn’t have the greatest relationship. The older I got, and certainly with all my therapy, I realized I wasn’t the greatest kid, and [my mother] had a lot of problems. I have a lot of baggage.

Much of your comedy is based on your experiences in therapy. How has it been going lately?

I don’t go to therapy much more. My own therapist is bored with me. She dozed off during our last session. I’ve been around a long time, I’m sober, I committed to somebody, I’m done.

How do you prepare for a show?

I’m a basket case before I go on. I don’t hone my act, I don’t script it or plan it out. I have about 15 hours of material saved in a Word document on my computer, and before a show I scroll through it. On stage, I just say what I remember. I pray that I get laughs and if I don’t, I move into another area.

What is it like to work on Curb Your Enthusiasm with your childhood pal Larry David?

I tell my wife to never ask me how it goes, because I never know. I get touchy, because you don’t really know until you see it air. You could get cut. Plus, I’m playing myself.

What advice do you have for comics who are starting out?

If you don’t have patience and you’re not doing this just for the art and the craft, get out. There are no promises you’ll make a living out of this. Hang out with others who are struggling, and find people who are successful, who you trust, and who like you. And, if you write what you know, nobody can be as good as you, because nobody has your life. Be yourself.

You’ve performed at Carnegie Hall, but you still frequent smaller comedy clubs. Why?

When I sold out Carnegie Hall, it was one of the greatest nights of my life. But, I’ll never stop playing nightclubs. The audience is right in your face, and you’re right there, and you feel like if you [mess] up, they’re going to come up and grab you like a mob. It keeps me on my toes.


There are no comments yet. Be the first to share your opinion!

Post a comment

back on the block

Fyvush Finkel

“It’s the audience that makes you a star.” Well, since 1934 audiences have delighted in the acting talents of Brooklyn-born Fyvush Finkel, who goes Back on the Block with CiNYC Host Hank through Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

Back on the Block

Many famous Americans call NYC home. This segment gives viewers the chance to get closer to their favorite personalities as they reminisce about the people, places, and boroughs that helped shape their lives.

Charlie Murphy

With recurring roles on Chappelle’s Show, three sold out comedy tours, and various parts in movies, Charlie Murphy has plenty to boast about.