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Richard Lewis: Curbs his enthusiasm for investments

Richard Lewis Comedian Richard Lewis is one of those performers we take for granted.

Most Americans know him from his four years opposite Jamie Lee Curtis on the ABC sitcom, "Anything But Love," or from his appearances over the past three years on HBO's "Curb Your Enthusiasm," the hit show from his childhood friend (and co-creator of "Seinfeld") Larry David.

But despite this and other acting endeavors, Lewis, 56, is still a stand-up at heart -- 32 years after he first took the stage. To emphasize how long we've been watching Lewis pour his anxieties out to audiences, the comics he started out with include Jay Leno, Jimmie Walker, Elayne Boosler and Andy Kaufman. And when he talks about the comics who started several years after him, that group includes Jerry Seinfeld and David Letterman.

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Lewis has been such a pervasive presence on the national stand-up comedy circuit that he has performed on both "The Tonight Show" and "Late Show With David Letterman" more than 50 times each.

While Lewis has been a success for two decades, he's also been tested. His 30 years in therapy, working out his neuroses, have been a major part of his stand-up act, and he scored a significant personal victory when, with his therapist's help, he finally beat alcoholism, a condition he now discusses freely.

Bankrate spoke to Lewis about the costs of these ups and downs, and the rewards of his place in show business.

Bankrate: How much do you estimate you've spent on therapy over the years?

Richard Lewis: It's hard to know, because initially I had a friend who was a hospital administrator, and I got in. I auditioned and I was a nutcase, so I only spent a dollar. I went to her for about three years. Overall, I would probably estimate a couple hundred thousand, quarter million -- maybe not that much, maybe $200,000. But that's over 30 years. Let's put it this way: I've bought a lot of swimming pools for a lot of therapists. With heaters and diving boards.

Bankrate: With success in so many areas, what is the greatest source of income for you at this point?

Lewis: It depends what's going on. Recently, I've been on the road for six or seven weeks, so I made money doing that. If I get a call this afternoon from L.A. that I sold a TV series I just pitched, and that I can produce my series and co-write it, that'll be a source of income. And I've been acting, both on "Curb" and I did an "Alias" episode and a couple of "7th Heaven" shows. So the money comes from any area. I just hope it comes from one.

Bankrate: Can someone become very rich just being a stand-up comic?

Lewis: I did become very rich just being a stand-up comic. I would have been much richer had I not quit for three years, choosing alcohol over performing. But I made my money late in my career, because my breaks came late. I was a comedian 17 years before I got a successful series. Once I got a series, all of a sudden I'm playing 3,000-seat auditoriums, selling out two shows a night. That's a lot of money at $25 a ticket.

What I made, who knows, I forget. But you're not doing that when you're not in a series every week and half the country recognizes you. Some people get it fast and then they burn out. I'd prefer it my way. I upgraded my apartments, I had great friends, I loved comedy. I just didn't have a lot of money.

It's funny, because I was living once, in the early 1980s, with a woman who had a lot of money and knew a lot of famous people. At the time, I was on "Letterman" every five weeks, and people just assumed I was a millionaire. I was on every television show. I was in L.A., I was sort of a headliner out here at the Improv with Jay (Leno) and Michael Richards, and people just assumed.

But the bottom line is, if you're not in a TV series and making a big salary, or a movie star, or headlining Las Vegas, where's the money coming from? They would fly me first class to do "Letterman" and back; then you'd get, what, $500 for the show? You're going to buy a castle with that? Then you go out and celebrate, you go to The Palm (restaurant), and then you're broke. So I'd be hanging out with the Eagles and all these people, and living in a big Beverly Hills house, living a lifestyle that I couldn't afford.

Bankrate: When you were on "Anything But Love," what kind of money were you making?

Lewis: I have no idea what the salary was, but I was suddenly able to buy a house in Hollywood Hills. It wasn't just the salary. I was getting offers to do concert halls, one-nighters. I would go on the "Howard Stern" show and there would be a theater that held 3,000 people. I'd be on the show for two minutes, and I'd get a call from my agent saying they sold out, and they want to add a second show. Six thousand people.

Bankrate: What do you invest in?

Lewis: I've had a business manager for 25 years. I'm very conservative because I struggled so long. I don't play the market. I mean, my money's in the market and in bonds and stuff like most people, but I have a really good business manager, and I just say, "Listen, keep things safe." I work too hard. I don't want to lose what I have. I don't want to be stupid and make nothing, but I also don't want to gamble too much. When I go to Vegas, it probably doesn't make the casinos too happy, but I never gamble. If I'm performing in Vegas, I earn the money, and the last thing I want to do is put it all on red and lose. Because it took me so long to get to that place. That's how I feel about the market. I don't want to give it away.

Bankrate: Do you know of any stocks or investments that did either very well or very badly for you?

Lewis: No, because I basically speak in generalities with my business manager and my attorney. The one thing I've learned with that part of my brain is to realize I'm not good at it. I focus on trying to be funny. I know a lot of people who really are into it, who read The Wall Street Journal religiously. I don't. I'd much rather hang up the phone with an unbelievable joke I'm going to do, or a monologue. That's what excites me. Not calling my business manager with, "Hey, there's a toaster that can sing." I just don't care about that.

-- Posted: Nov. 14, 2003




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