"Were you in a sauna getting a blowjob while you were preparing for this interview?"
Richard Lewis, JB Smoove, Larry David. Via @therichardlewis
"House of happiness" says a dry, monotonous voice that resembles a depressed employee answering his work phone. On the other end of the line, in LA, is Richard Lewis, the 70-year-old stand-up comedian and actor who, since 2000, has been appearing alongside Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm as David's long suffering best friend, a role he also plays in real life.
Ahead of the new series of Curb, which starts on the 1st of October, I attempted to catch up with Lewis to talk about the show and his real life relationship with David, but instead he steamrolled the entire thing into one long, rambling, neurotic, hilarious and insult-filled stream of consciousness bit.
When he paused for breath or temporarily stopped criticising me, I managed to squeeze in a few questions.
VICE: Hi Richard. How are you? OK?
Richard Lewis: Well, I'm never OK, but I'm all ears, man, and I'll try not to ramble too much because I can ruin your journalistic brilliance.
Okay, thank you...
You don't have to thank me: I'm 70, I'm just glad I'm on top of the ground. Honest to god. I've done everything I ever dreamt of and I'm glad that I'm talking to you. If I have a stroke during the call, it'll be good PR for you. So, shoot – hopefully I'm not going to ramble too much about everything I've been through and all the actresses and Carnegie Halls and Larry Davids... I'll let you ask me, and then when you fail miserably, I'll fill it in.
Great. So, 17 years on from when it started, nine seasons in. Did you ever envision Curb Your Enthusiasm lasting this long?
I never gave much thought to anything since I was 22 years old, when I got into the arts, so when Larry David came to my house in 2000, I didn't even think about it – I just thought about showing up on the set. I will say this: this is the best season ever. He would never do another season if he didn't think he could top what he did last time.
You guys go way back, right?
We were born in the same hospital ward three days apart. We have very funny stories about how we met as kids but then never knew each other until we were comics and all that jazz. He was an amazing stand-up but he couldn't tolerate audiences, which is sort of a problem. He would storm off the stage and I would go, "Larry, The Tonight Show is here, don't you want to perform?" and he'd be like, "No, I don't like that couple in the third row." I'd say to him, "Larry, all they did was order a scotch, man, give them a break," but he would storm off. Legendarily, he got on stage once and, without even saying a word, just went, "Nah," and then walked off without doing a bit of his routine. Larry is a great writer, though, and that's important – premises come before punch lines. He's the Norman Lear of this generation. I'm just glad we were born in the same hospital room, even though he tried to beat me up with his mother's umbilical cord – he tried to whip me. I said, "I'm not into S&M."
I'm a recovered drug addict. I'm 24 years sober, and when I first got clean I was so freaked out, I couldn't stand the business. I said to Larry, "Do me a favour, give me a million dollars in a bag and leave so I can just rest." He then came back the next day and said that his family were against him giving me a million dollars. He claims that I never said I would pay him back, which really pisses me off because there's no way I'm taking a million dollars from someone and at least not trying to pay them back.
Anyway, you haven't asked me a question, I'm rambling. You wanna hang up and now you have a story to tell at dinner about how fucked up I am? I feel like I'm doing VICE a service by displaying my dysfunctions and my disorders. Feel free to ask me a question, by the way; honestly, I'm embarrassed that I'm doing your work for you and I don't know why. I've been a comic 49 years and I've struggled – I've played bowling alleys – and yet you call me and do nothing but sit there, smoke a joint and let me embarrass myself. What gives you the fucking right? I'm done, I'm done with you, just ask me something.
Okay. How do...
And I don't feel like talking about President Trump. I'll be the first man to get a period if I discuss that.
Let's talk about...
Can we start over again? Hi, thanks for calling, it's a pleasure to talk to you.
It's a pleasure to talk to you too, Richard.
Yeah, good acting.
Tell me about your relationship with Larry and how Curb Your Enthusiasm has changed it or impacted it over the years.
It's probably made it worse, because I have a terrifying need to share my innermost secrets with anyone, complete strangers, lovely busboys at diners. I'll say, "Give me a burger and, by the way, I have a rash on my behind." Larry doesn't talk about his feelings, at least to me. We have shared very personal feelings, but only once, about what we mean to each other, how much we trust each other, what we feel about each other's craft. But once we do that, if I ever repeat that, he'd be disgusted with me, because he feels like once is plenty – but I'm an addict so I can't do it enough. It's like doing another line of blow; I have to keep telling him.
I go deep suddenly because I didn't really have an opportunity growing up to share my feelings, and that's why I became a comedian, because I wanted to talk to strangers. I was way more comfortable in front of strangers than I was in front of relatives. So when they would laugh at my dysfunctions or my anxiety, I felt less alone, and I still do it for the same reason. If I feel healed, I'm done. I have a good life, I'm sober, I'm touring, I'm in one of the greatest sitcoms of all time, I have a good woman – but that said, if things get too rosy, I'm fucked. I don't know what I'd do. I certainly wouldn't be a dental hygienist – they should get the medal of honour just to look at people's gums. I can't even look at my wife's gums, let alone a stranger's gums. It's one thing giving it to a soldier or a veteran, but the next person on that list is someone who looks at bleeding gums. What courage.
Once again, I have made it easy for you not to ask me one question. How much did you prepare for this? Were you in a sauna getting a blowjob while you were preparing for this interview? You know what this interview is called? A career ender. I don't give a fuck, I don't give a shit, I have killed myself since 1970 to do this and I just don't care any more. As long as I'm good to people, I just don't care what I say to people, on stage or anywhere else.
That must be liberat...
I mean. I want to be entertaining. If you think I'm neurotic now, I'm like a hurricane of hell when I'm on the show. Believe me, this season it's like Ali and Frazier between Larry and I, and I think I beat the shit out of him a couple of times... [mimics sports commentator voice] down goes David, down goes David. Then, after the scene, he'll be like, "Oh, I got you!" and I'll be like, "No, I kicked your fucking ass!" My only goal is to kick his ass on stage with arguments. He's smarter than me and has a far better vocabulary. He is highly intellectual, and when he catches me making a mistake on camera the smile wraps around his face, and it's like a noose for me. I can remember one scene when I misspoke "Bin Laden" and I called him "Ben Laden". When I said "Ben Laden" I just saw that smile start to wrap around his face, and the cameras are rolling, so it was like, I'm fucked, I'm an idiot, I'm going to look like an imbecile, an illiterate jerk-off. Ben Laden?! Luckily I came up with ad-lib, saying, "No, I meant Ben Laden – he's a shirt maker in Manhattan." I was lucky, but you don't always bounce back that fast. He had me on the ropes. Ben Laden?! What the fuck was I thinking?
So you both get a big kick out of arguing with each other and trying to out-do one another on the show?
Oh god, we do it in real life. I just saw him last night at a book launch and we were arguing again. But it's not hatred – we love each other, but I annoy him. I have to be truthful. I annoy him far more than he annoys me. I learn a lot from him. When people say, "Oh when's Curb coming back?" I'm just like them; I'm a big of a fan as anyone else. There's nothing like it. It's not just his storytelling, but it's the casting. JB Smoove [who plays Leon], when I first saw him I called him up and said, "I don't know where you came from" and – and this is not because he's African-American – I remember, at college, lying down, smoking some opium with headphones on, listening to the first Jimi Hendrix album, and I asked myself, 'Where did this guy come from? Where did he land from?' And that's how I felt about the comedic acting of JB Smoove. I'd be hard-pressed to think of anyone who has ever been any funnier in a sitcom. Larry agrees, too. The casting really is excellent, present company excluded...
See, look how you're mocking me. I don't want to lump myself in with these people, but quite frankly, actually, I think I should lump myself in. I think it's fair enough to say that the scenes I do with Larry are lumpy enough to be lumped in with these other people. I think there should be a contest; I'll take a contest with Ted Danson any day of the week.... I don't know what I'm talking about; I think I'm having a nervous breakdown because of you, honest to god.
How have you found...
Do you have anything that is even remotely a question? Seriously. Are you in a hospital? Are you behind bars? Do you have anything else? Are you done? This is it – we'll have spoken for 40 minutes and it'll be one sentence: "Lewis is thrilled to be in new series of Curb," and I'll come after you. I know your family, I'll come after everybody. I can't tell you how many biographies I've done where they've come and sat and filmed me for 20 hours, and then all that's used is, "Yeah, Buster Keaton is my favourite." If you do have a burning few questions then just email me.
Okay, thanks Richard, I appreciate it.
I think you should be more than appreciative; I think you should get me a present or something. Who else would do this? You think Ringo would do this? Ringo wouldn't do this, even with all his peace and love. If you said, "Ringo, can I call you back after dinner?" he'd lose it, all the peace and love would be sucked out of his body. If I don't hear from you, I'll see this piece and I'll come after you, I'll take a flight. I have a lot of rock 'n' roll friends. I'm friends with the Stones and Procol Harum and all these classic rock guys, they know where to find you, believe me, I'll mention your name and VICE and I'll be on your doorstep. Look, I gotta go, you got me very nervous [hangs up].
More on VICE: