2009 FLASHBACK: Richard Lewis sees dynamic with Larry David ‘Matthau-Lemon’

The kvetching comedian was happy , dressed in black and loving his hair when he spoke with the AJC
Richard Lewis performs at Zanies Comedy Club in Chicago on Jan. 17, 2018. Lewis died Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024, at age 76. (Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Richard Lewis performs at Zanies Comedy Club in Chicago on Jan. 17, 2018. Lewis died Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024, at age 76. (Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

Richard Lewis, legendary stand-up comic, died Wednesday at age 76 of a heart attack.

I interviewed him in 2009 before an appearance at The Funny Farm in Roswell, which has since closed. Marshall Chiles ran it at the time.

“He was a really really nice guy,” said Chiles, who now operates Laughing Skull Lounge in Midtown, on Wednesday “He was very much focused on the act. He was playing a persona. I remember running into him at some Hollywood hotel. I was having lunch with a cousin. He was sitting at the bar writing. He was sober for 30 years. He came over and did a Hollywood hello. Shook everybody’s hands, told everyone how much he loves me, then said goodbye.”

Richard Lewis has been kvetching for decades onstage, on film and on TV. But the gabby comedian is actually sort of happy now.

“You’ve caught me in a good frame of mind,” he said during an interview before his gig at the Funny Farm in Roswell this weekend. “I got married very late in my 50s. I went through all the recovery and womanizing. I decided I wanted a little dignity and grace in the last third of my life. I’m not a saint but my lifestyle has changed dramatically. I feel pretty lucky.”

So what’s on your plate?

I start shooting the seventh season of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” in a few weeks. I can’t reveal the story arc. I don’t even know about it. I know about my scenes. Larry David [creator of “Seinfeld” and “Curb”] continually comes up with groundbreaking ideas, unorthodox story lines that make it a cult show. For those who don’t get it, that’s that!

How long have you known Larry?

We met briefly at a sports camp. He was a gangly decent athlete who annoyed everybody — especially me. But he’s an amazingly great guy. For him, the craft is the thing. He’s authentic. We make a good Matthau-Lemmon couple. I yell at him. He yells at me.

You guys did get into a physical altercation for the show, right?

I really got into it. I broke his glasses and slightly sprained his wrist. It looked great on camera. It was all worth it!

What keeps you going with stand-up?

I always felt emotionally abused. Nobody seemed to care about me. I was left to my own devices. Alcoholism grabbed me in my 30s. I sobered up in my 40s. Making people laugh at my expense about what I felt I was going through, I felt less alone. To this day, that’s why I get onstage. If they laugh and applaud, then I know I’m not that nuts.

Why such a small venue like the Funny Farm?

I’m warming up for a big town hall gig in New York. That’s why I’m doing nightclubs. But I treat the Funny Farm just as I would Carnegie Hall. Every show is important whether it’s 250 or 3,000. The economy is in the tank. I have to give people who pay to see me their due. Last time I came [to the Funny Farm] I fell in love with this little club and that’s why I’m coming back.

You had that serious mullet back in the day. You still look like you have a good head of hair.

I just turned 61. I still have it, though it’s getting a little thin. When I sit on a plane, I make a point of literally measuring the circle of baldness on most men, and most are younger than me. I take a very large idiotic step to say, that might be proof there might be a God. Hair is strength. I only cut my hair for an occasional acting role. Hair is just a way to make me feel unconsciously like I’m back in Ohio State and being a hippie.

And how about wearing all black? Aren’t you jonesin’ for some pastels?

I always have a jonesin’ for black. I’m wearing black right now. I’m not Johnny Cash’s Jewish cantor. That’s redundant. I can dress in other clothes. I have an actor’s wardrobe and a private wardrobe. But I live normally in all black.

411: Richard Lewis

8 and 10:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday ($25) 8 p.m. Sunday ($20) at Funny Farm, 608 Holcomb Bridge Road, Roswell. 770-817-4242, www.funnyfarmcomedyclub.com.