Actor and comedian Richard Lewis turned misery from a state of mind into a lengthy and lucrative career. A stand-up comic whose stream-of-consciousness riffs earned him both a loyal audience and the respect of his peers, Lewis was named by both GQ magazine and the Comedy Central cable channel as one of the best and most influential comics of the last century. And though comedy continued to be his most popular creative outlet - most notably via his live performances, taped specials, and on the HBO improv series "Curb Your Enthusiasm (2000- ) - he made a seemingly effortless leap to dramatic projects as well.
Born Richard Phillip Lewis on June 29, 1947 in Brooklyn, NY, and raised in Englewood, NJ, Lewis reportedly met and befriended his "Curb" co-star Larry David at a summer camp at the age of 12. Later, Lewis made his television debut at age 17 as a dupe in a gag on the hit show, "Candid Camera" (ABC, 1960-1976). He would revisit the stunt in the 1996 special "Candid Camera's 50th Anniversary."
As unlikely as it would seem later on, Lewis studied marketing and communications at Ohio State University, graduating in 1969. While working as an ad copywriter in New York, he moonlighted as a gag writer for various stand-up performers before making his stand-up debut in 1971. Lewis' comedy centered mainly around his own neuroses, which appeared to run unchecked - he would admit to spending a small fortune on therapy - as well as the vagaries of his Jewish upbringing.
A 1974 appearance on "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson" (NBC, 1962-1992) gave his career a boost, as did a 1974 tour with Sonny and Cher and appearances on their popular variety program of the early seventies. Lewis also received the support of veteran comics like David Brenner and Robert Klein, who all formed a tight-knit comic community. In 1977, Lewis wrote and starred in the short feature "Diary of a Young Comic," in which he played a novice stand-up who attempts to find his own comic voice. The film was later aired on "Saturday Night Live" (NBC, 1975- ), back in the days when the show began airing comic shorts.
Following this exposure, Lewis became a popular guest star on episodic television series, racking up considerable credits throughout the mid-'80s while frequenting nighttime talk shows and touring the country with his comedy. From these tours sprung three cable specials (which he collectively referred to as his "Trilogy from Hell") - "I'm in Pain" (Showtime, 1985), the Cable ACE-nominated "I'm Exhausted" (HBO, 1988) and "I'm Doomed" (HBO, 1990) - as well as a SRO performance at Carnegie Hall in 1989.
After paying his comic dues for years on the road, he finally landed his first lead on the memorable romantic comedy "Anything But Love" (ABC, 1989-1992), co-starring Jamie Lee Curtis and Ann Magnuson. The series, which was a critical favorite but struggled to find an audience, showed that Lewis had potential as a leading man beyond his neurotic stand-up persona. "Anything" continued to be cited as one of the best sitcoms of the nineties, long after it had been cancelled.
Lewis divided his time between network TV and films for much of the early '90s, though neither proved particularly fruitful. He was an amusingly craven Prince John in Mel Brooks' dire "Robin Hood: Men in Tights" (1993) and sparred impressively with Don Rickles in the much-loathed comedy "Daddy Dearest" (Fox, 1993). But in 1995, Lewis earned considerable praise for a "straight" dramatic role in the independent feature "Drunks," in which he was top-billed as an alcoholic struggling to maintain his sobriety. Surrounded by a powerhouse cast that included Faye Dunaway, Parker Posey, the late Spalding Gray, and Sam Rockwell, Lewis more than held his own in an extremely challenging part. That same year, he contributed another dramatic turn with a small role in "Leaving Las Vegas," and filmed an HBO comedy special, "Magical Mystery Tour," which aired in 1996.
In 2000, Lewis published The OTHER Great Depression, an autobiographical tome about his career and struggles with daily misery as well as a drug and alcohol problem. The book was received critical acclaim and led to other Lewis-penned works, including articles for Playboy and other major publications. At the same time, Lewis continued to flex both his comic and dramatic muscles on TV series ranging from "Alias" (ABC, 2001-06) to "The Simpsons" (Fox, 1989- ), for which he voiced a golem on their 2006 "Treehouse of Horror" episode.
In 2000, he re-teamed with childhood friend Larry David for his HBO series "Curb Your Enthusiasm," in which he played a recurring, slightly more frantic version of himself. He shared a Screen Actors Guild Award nomination in 2006 with the show's regular cast.
Since 2002, Lewis starred on the popular family drama "7th Heaven" (The WB, 1996-20066) as the rabbi father-in-law to Barry Watson's character. He spent much of 2006 dividing his time between the two series and his latest concert stretch, the "Misery Loves Company" tour.
Cast (Feature Film)
Misc. Crew (Feature Film)
Special Thanks (Special)
Misc. Crew (Special)
Cast (TV Mini-Series)
Made Greenwich Village club debut as stand-up comedian
Appeared as a regular on the CBS variety program, "The Sonny and Cher Show"
Co-wrote and starred in "Diary of a Young Comic" which pre-empted an episode of "Saturday Night Live" and attracted favorable attention
Made first of over 50 appearances on "Late Night with David Letterman"
Starred in first cable special, "I'm in Pain"
Played supporting role of Richard on short-lived ABC sitcom, "Harry", starring Alan Arkin
Co-starred in slapstick comedy feature film, "Wrong Guys" opposite fellow comedians Louie Anderson and Richard Belzer
Played to a standing-room-only audience at New York's Carnegie Hall
Starred as Steven Mitchell opposite Don Rickles on the Fox-TV sitcom, "Daddy Dearest"; also co-executive produced
Had recurring role of a rabbi on the popular series "7th Heaven" (The WB)