Not My Job: Comedian Richard Lewis Gets Quizzed On Confidence Lewis has made a successful career out of being a nervous, complaining, chronic worrier. So we ask him three questions about "how to become a badass." Originally broadcast Sept. 24, 2014.
NPR logo

Not My Job: Comedian Richard Lewis Gets Quizzed On Confidence

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Not My Job: Comedian Richard Lewis Gets Quizzed On Confidence

Not My Job: Comedian Richard Lewis Gets Quizzed On Confidence

Not My Job: Comedian Richard Lewis Gets Quizzed On Confidence

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Lewis has made a successful career out of being a nervous, complaining, chronic worrier. So we ask him three questions about "how to become a badass." Originally broadcast Sept. 24, 2014.

BILL KURTIS: From NPR and WBEZ Chicago, this is WAIT WAIT… DON'T TELL ME, the NPR news quiz. I'm not an anchor baby, I'm an anchorman, baby, Bill Kurtis. And here's your host at the Chase Bank Auditorium in Chicago, Peter Sagal.


Thank you, Bill.


SAGAL: So here we are, we're beginning a new year. And what better way to spend it than looking back on the last one. It's part two of our year in review.

KURTIS: Just before 2015 began, we talked to comedian Richard Lewis. Our interview started weird and got weirder.


SAGAL: And now the game where people come to the end of a long career and have an experience that makes them wonder what the point of it all was.

RICHARD LEWIS: Oh, thanks a lot.

SAGAL: No, no, no...


SAGAL: Good, we're starting well. Let me get through the introduction, and then I will merely back off and let you take over. Here we go.

LEWIS: You're just like my mother, you. All right, fine.


SAGAL: A lot of us are nervous. A lot of us go to therapists. A lot of us complain. But few people...

LEWIS: Wait a minute, did you tailor this for me?

SAGAL: I did.


SAGAL: If you just let me continue, I will say your name even.

LEWIS: All right. OK, fine.

SAGAL: But few - hang on a second, Richard, we're having a bit of a sound issue. Maybe because your hand is close to your mouth, we're getting a lot of breathing.

LEWIS: Stop judging me. It's a telephone.


LEWIS: I'm doing the best I can. I'm in a hotel room. What am I going to do - call the engineer to come up here? First of all, the toilet broke. Everything...


SAGAL: All right. We're going to get through this introduction. Here we go.


SAGAL: Does anybody - is anybody here, like, double-parked or at a meter because this might take some time? Here we go. All right. All right. We'll do this again. A lot of us are nervous and a lot of us go to therapists and a lot of us complain, but few have been doing those things successfully as standup Richard Lewis, whose got a new multiple DVD retrospective set out now called, of course, a "Bundle Of Nerves." Richard Lewis, welcome to WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME.


LEWIS: I like that. Let's go. I'm ready for the game. I want to win something for somebody.

SAGAL: Do you want to skip right to the game because we have some questions we wanted to ask you?

LEWIS: Oh, yeah. Ask me anything you want. I'm, you know, as you said, my career is dead. Thank you very much.


SAGAL: It is absolutely. Yeah, it's over. Now speaking of your career - so you're in a hotel room. Are you shacked up with Darth Vader?

LEWIS: No, I'm in a tent on Fifth Avenue. Of course I'm in a hotel room.

SAGAL: All right. We're getting this breathing noise we're trying to figure out. All right.


SAGAL: I went - we were doing some research, and we looked you up on Wikipedia, and Wikipedia...


LEWIS: Oh, no. I don't want to hear. Wikipedia - anyone - if they hate you, they can put anything in.

SAGAL: Well, we're going to do some fact-checking here because...


SAGAL: ...Wikipedia lists your themes as a comedian. They are...


KURTIS: It's Hurricane Sandy coming through there right now.

SAGAL: I know.


KURTIS: Grab on to something.


SAGAL: Hold on, hold on. I guess, I'll put it bluntly - can you not breathe into the phone so hard because...

LEWIS: I'm not having phone sex. Would you give me a break?


SAGAL: I know. It actually - I have to say, the last few minutes, I have been wondering because it is somewhat loud.

LEWIS: I had phone sex once 10 years ago, and I got an ear infection.


SAGAL: But I'm going to get through this first question. So I'm going to list the themes, according to Wikipedia, from your stand up. Here they are. Ready? Self-deprecation, neuroticism, psychotherapy, hypochondria, paranoia, depression, human sexuality, Jewish culture, pop culture and family. Does that sum it up?

LEWIS: Well, they forgot eating disorder, but I'll live with it.

SAGAL: Really?


LEWIS: Yeah. Go on. All that was true, though. You're right.

SAGAL: All that was true? OK. Did we leave anything out?

MOSHE KASHER: Respiratory?


LEWIS: Yes, you left out that I'm finally monogamous. And, you know, it's really a bore. Oh, God.

SAGAL: Really? So are you...

LEWIS: I got married 10 years ago to the woman of my dreams. I got married at 57. So it's easy to be monogamous because my family jewels is missing in action now. It's in the Witness Protection Program.


LEWIS: My testicles are longer than my career now if you really...


SAGAL: That's saying something 'cause you've been at this a while.

LEWIS: By the way, did we finish the game yet?

SAGAL: No, no...


SAGAL: ...We haven't gotten there yet. We read - and this apparently is something that you've discussed at length on your friend Larry David's show - that you take credit - that you take credit for the phrase the blank from hell, like, oh, it was the date from hell.

LEWIS: I - well, you don't have to explain i to me. I came up with it. I understand. No, I came up - it was an unintentional hook. I don't like comics with hooks. But I said it because I always felt like I was the victim, honest to goodness. But it stuck with me. So Larry sort of immortalized it in one of his episodes on "Curb Your Enthusiasm," which I was grateful for. And now I stopped using it 'cause I would just say, gee, I just came from a wedding from hell or I'll have a call from hell, and then everyone would applaud. And I felt like that's not funny. It's just, you know, I'm a victim of the call, blah, blah, blah. So I don't say it on stage anymore, but, yeah, it was my phrase so why don't we move on 'cause I'm getting a rash.

SAGAL: Yeah.


KASHER: Richard, would you say you have the hotel phone from hell?


LEWIS: God, you know, can I just say this? You're on fire comedically right now.


SAGAL: Absolutely. So how did you - I mean, one thing I've noticed - I actually saw you perform in Chicago a few years ago.

LEWIS: What do you mean you actually saw me perform?


SAGAL: I did. I did. I actually - with my own eyes.

LEWIS: Well (unintelligible)...


LEWIS: ...To come to see me? You see, every time I make a mistake, everyone mocks me. You know what? I don't care. I'm a mess.


SAGAL: Well, what I was going to say is when I saw you perform - it was the Just For Laughs Festival a few years ago - you came out on stage, and you did your thing. You paced about. You were wearing all black, your Converse shoes. You paced around and you complained. You're, like, oh, I can't believe how terrible this is. And I'm wondering - it was very funny, but I'm wondering what came first, the comedy or the complaining?

LEWIS: Well, when I heard my family fight in the womb, I started complaining. And I asked them to push me back 'cause I really had no intention of being raised by them.


LEWIS: So the complaining came first, and then, as a way to get through life - you know, life's a bitch you know. I have some bouts of happiness, don't get me wrong. You know, it happens on occasion. But, I mean, I like to talk about my feelings. And when audiences laugh, I feel less alone and validated. You know, 'cause my family - you know, they - look, they tried, but they meant harm.

SAGAL: They did.


SAGAL: And on that note, Richard Lewis, we're delighted to talk to you. We've asked you here to play a game we're calling...

KURTIS: The Secret, My Young Friend, Is Confidence.

SAGAL: So you have made a career out of talking about your insecurities.

LEWIS: True.

SAGAL: You grab your forehead so much, you've probably worn a little hole in it. So we're going to ask you three questions about...

LEWIS: You want to repeat that joke again 'cause it got such a good response.


SAGAL: Yeah, it was huge. It was huge. No, no, no - I think these are gems that can only be shared once. So we're going to ask you three questions about how to be a badass taken, of course, from the wikiHow article "How To Become A Badass."



SAGAL: Get two right, you'll win a prize for one of our listeners - Carl Kasell's voice on their voicemail. And of course, if you get 2 out of 3 right, you will be a badass.

LEWIS: And I want to apologize right now to the audience member. The truth is, if I lose, I will donate two of my dysfunctions to that person.


SAGAL: Well, let's find out who it is. Bill, who is comedian Richard Lewis playing for?

KURTIS: Richard Susa (ph) of Vallejo, Calif.

SAGAL: All right. Are you ready to do this?

LEWIS: Yes, of course.

SAGAL: Feeling confident?


SAGAL: All right.


SAGAL: Here's your first question. According to wikiHow, what should be your first step on the road to badassery? A, adopt a matched pair of pitbulls; B, watch a Clint Eastwood movie or C, shave all - all - of your body hair?

LEWIS: Shave all of your hair off, did you say?

SAGAL: Yes, that would be the third choice.

LEWIS: The pitbull is an obvious joke, and I don't buy that. And I think that it's Clint Eastwood - I'm on the fence with that one. But I think - I'm going to go with shaving all your hair off because they look pretty mean, man.


SAGAL: I really admire your logic, but it's actually watch a Clint Eastwood movie.

LEWIS: Oh, come on.

SAGAL: It is. WikiHow says, quote, "watch a Clint Eastwood movie to get a sense of how to carry yourself in order to be tough and intimidating. Adopt the mannerisms that you think work for you," unquote.

LEWIS: I'm sorry. Who is wiki's - did you say Doogie Howser or Wiki Howser?

SAGAL: Now I said wikiHow. It's a website that...


BRIAN BABYLON: Not Wiki Howser.

SAGAL: Not Doogie Howser, but wikiHow, often confused. All right, now, you still have two more chances. Let's see if you can get this right.

LEWIS: All right - don't pressure me. I'm trying my best.

SAGAL: I understand, really, just relax. So you're all Clinted up. You've watched your Clint Eastwood movie. What is the next step, according to wikiHow, to badassery? A, wear sunglasses, B, eat only meat or C, refuse to speak except in grunts?

LEWIS: All right, I'm going to go with three.

SAGAL: You're going to go with refuse to speak except in grunts. So if you want to be a badass, if you want to, like, intimidate people and sort of find confidence, the way that you should do it is by walking up to people and go (grunts).

LEWIS: Well, my mother and father did it my whole life. Why shouldn't it work?


LEWIS: I'm going with the grunts.

SAGAL: I admire you. I really do, but it was wear sunglasses - is the answer.

LEWIS: Oh, come on, wear sunglasses.

SAGAL: No, it says sunglasses...

LEWIS: (Unintelligible) wears sunglasses. This is a lot of crap.


SAGAL: All right, take it up - all right. We have one more chance here - one more question for you. Ready?

LEWIS: Sure.

SAGAL: Finally, a real badass does not worry about things going wrong.

LEWIS: Right, right.

SAGAL: According to wikiHow, if you were to spill your drink, you should, A, stomp on the puddle and shout how dare you fall from my glass, B, say, whoa, looks like I have a new tie-dye to add to my shirt collection or C, lick it up, pal. A real man doesn't care about getting his face a little wet.

LEWIS: All right, listen, I'm going to be wrong again. The first two are ridiculous. I'm going with three.


SAGAL: You're going to go with three.

LEWIS: That's right, man. That's mean.


SAGAL: It was actually - no, it was B. It was...


SAGAL: ...Hey, you're supposed to say looks like I have a new tie-dye to add to my collection, which is a pretty lame thing to say.

LEWIS: Oh, that's a joke. You know, you have set me up to feel like crap.


SAGAL: I don't think I would have to work that hard to do that.


SAGAL: Bill, how much of a badass is Richard Lewis?

KURTIS: Richard got a perfect score - all wrong.


SAGAL: Yeah, but that's OK.

KURTIS: We love you, Richard.

SAGAL: We wouldn't want you to become a badass. You know, it's just more material for your act.



KURTIS: We love you.

SAGAL: Hey, Richard Lewis's new DVD collection is called "A Bundle Of Nerves." It is out now. Go pick it up, it's kind of an amazing document of an amazing comedian. Richard Lewis, thank you so much for joining us on WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME. Take care.


JULIE ANDREWS: (Singing) So let them bring on all their problems. I'll do better than my best. I have confidence they'll put me to the test. But I'll make them see I have confidence in me. Somehow, I will impress them. I will be firm, but...

SAGAL: When we come back, love and relationship advice from WAIT WAIT..., which will help ensure you spend next New Year's Eve alone, too. We'll be back in a minute with more of WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME from NPR.

KURTIS: Support for NPR comes from NPR stations and Carmax, a nationwide retailer of used vehicles where people can buy or sell their car, offering written vehicle appraisals good for seven days. Learn more at CarMax - the bright side of car buying. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, working with others to build a culture of health, enabling all in America's diverse society to lead healthier lives now and for generations to come. On the web at And the Pew Charitable Trusts, driven by the power of knowledge to solve today's most challenging problems at

Copyright © 2016 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.