Interview: Richard Belzer

It’d been a long day for both of us. Richard Belzer had spent his Thursday promoting his new book, a novel based on his own personal and professional lives, while I had been running around putting out figurative fires, so we only had a few minutes to speak. I wanted to know more about his rare stage act, Richard Belzer and the Belzonics, who come together again Saturday at Comix in New York City. Last time they played, Late
Show with David Letterman
band leader Paul Shaffer made a cameo to provide the introductions. So. What makes the Belzonics show different from your straight stand-up act?

"I do music. I do song parodies. And impressions. So the music’s very much a part of my act. It’s woven throughout," Belzer tells me.

Right now, Belzer and the Belzonics is a rare treat, as he and the guys only get together "a few times a year." But Belzer himself is itching to perform more often.

"I’m anxious to get back onstage more and more," Belzer says. "I miss the people. I miss the laughs, I miss the sweat. I miss the booze. I miss the broads."

Did your experience as a judge on this season of NBC’s Last Comic Standing have anything to do with that desire to get back onstage? "It just happened to be coincidentally around the time I was doing that. I think I’d want to get back onstage regardless," he says.

Did you like being a judge? "I thought it was fun," he says. "It’s nice to see some
people out there doing good stuff. It reintroduced me to the stand-up world and what people find funny these days."

Anything surprise you about what audiences are laughing at or what’s
going on in comedy now? "No," Belzer says. "Just the diversity. There’s
funny women. Funny guys from other countries. Nice to see people still
obsessed with becoming stand-up comedians."

Just as Belzer was obsessed with it three decades ago. When Saturday Night Live
began in 1975, Belzer warmed up the crowds with his stand-up routine,
and also appeared in a few sketches with the original cast. He still
watches the show, and says of this season’s heightened buzz and
ratings: "I think it’s great. I think part of humor these days is to
give people a different perspective on what’s going on in the world. It
seems comedy is more important than ever these days, so it’s good to
see it’s making an impact."

I hear you and I have something in common, as you started out life
after school as a newspaper reporter before ever venturing into comedy?
"I initially wanted to be a journalist but was always told I should be
in show business. And finally I got the nerve to do it."

Most actors worry about being typecast. Not Belzer. He has embraced his role as Detective John Munch, which originated on Homicide, continues on Law & Order: SVU, and in between, has gotten Belzer/Munch on The X-Files, Law & Order, The Beat, Law & Order: Trial By Jury, Arrested Development, and The Wire. On top of all of that, Belzer just wrote a new novel, I Am Not A Cop!, about an actor named Richard Belzer who plays a TV cop named Munch.

"The reality and celebrity converges," Belzer says of his
Munch-ness. "Much to my delight, because he is a great character for me
to play. It’s fun for me. So I’m not upset about typecast at all. It’s
a dream for me."

Was there a moment when you realized that you could have a second
career just based on being Munch? "I never asked anyone to be on their
show," he says. "So it’s doubly flattering to me to see me depicted in
a script and that I’m so recognizable and lovable as the sarcastic
detective and smart ass, so it’s very fun for me."

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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