I probably owe my entire career to Richard Lewis. That might sound weird, since I’m a writer and Lewis is famously a comedian. But I was nine when I first saw Anything But Love, the show Lewis starred in with Jamie Lee Curtis from 1989 to 1993. Lewis played Marty Gold, a magazine writer, and helped shape what I wanted my “adult” life to look like. I didn’t quite understand the concept of “Jewish neurosis” at the time, but I didn’t need to. When I looked at Marty, I saw an adult that reminded me of me, sort of. He was cool, but undeniably weird compared to all the other guys on television. That, and he dressed really great and had an incredible head of hair. I wanted to have a job like Marty Gold ,and I wanted to dress like him. That was being an adult to me—and in some weird way, it still is.
As I tell Lewis, when I was 10, I asked a barber to give me his Anything but Love haircut. His reply: “Sorry, kid. You can’t cut hair that way. It just is.”
“God,” Lewis sighs. “My hair. I had, like, a challah bread landed from another planet on my head.”
While he was known for the hair and his “loose elegance” suits, there was one big difference between the character Lewis played on his old sitcom and the real-life one: Lewis loves to wear black. He’s a cross between one of the thieves from Reservoir Dogs and an undertaker. And while I got to know him first through his television show, he’s first and foremost an all-time great stand-up. (How great? Mel Brooks cast him as Prince John in 1993’s Robin Hood: Men in Tights, but also once paid possibly the highest compliment by saying Lewis could be the Franz Kafka of modern comedy.) You might know Lewis as one of those things, or from his time as the spokesperson for “adult” juice boxes called Boku in the early-1990s. But most likely you know Richard Lewis from his work alongside his oldest pal, Larry David, on Curb Your Enthusiasm. But whichever guy you met, you knew this much: the thing about Richard Lewis is, well, he’s Richard Lewis. He might have played a few fictional characters along the way, but the guy has made consistency an art form over nearly 50 years. His act, his vibe, and—maybe most underappreciated—his look provide a lesson in sticking with something because it works, but also knowing when to make the slightest, most subtle tweaks here and there.
That’s probably why, when it was announced earlier this year that Curb was returning for an 11th season, the internet was ecstatic for a moment…until the news came out that Lewis, who was recovering from multiple back and shoulder surgeries, wouldn’t be part of it. It really killed the excitement for a minute. Who could imagine Larry’s misadventures without the neurotic yin to his miserable yang? A few months later, however, there was a reprieve when Lewis tweeted a picture of himself on set, saying David had asked him to do one episode. The tweet did Kardashian numbers. (It probably would have been one of the biggest tweets of the week, but the president tweeted something about science being back the next day and overtook the spot. “I was quite moved by that,” Lewis says.) And while he can’t divulge any secrets or give a look into what his old friend has in store for the new season, he’s hopeful the show will come back for another season after this one, so he can be a larger part of it. In any case, it’s been a joyful run. “The show’s been on since 2000, so when you think of that, say some guy’s in medical school, he’s 25, he was only five when the show started,” Lewis says. “So there’s been a lot of generations. It reminds me of [Don] Henley, you know, telling me he has to sing ‘Desperado’ for the grandparents, the parents, and the children.”