Sunday, January 28, 2001
home page local news opinion business island life sports
The Great Index to Fun
Island Sounds
Book Reviews
Faith Calendar
Hawaii Ways
Restaurant Reviews
AP Arts & Leisure
Ohana Announcements
Weddings and Engagements
How to Get Listed
Classified Ads
Restaurant Guide
Business Directory

Posted on: Sunday, January 28, 2001

Book Review
Comedian pulls no punches about alcoholism

By Marshall Fine
(Westchester, N.Y.) Journal News

"THE OTHER GREAT DEPRESSION" by Richard Lewis. Public Affairs, hardback, $23.

By Marshall Fine

(Westchester, N.Y.) Journal News

As he waited to be shown into the Oval Office to be thanked for his campaign help by President Clinton seven years ago, comedian Richard Lewis found himself being buttonholed by one of Clinton’s speech writers, who pulled him into a side office.

"I have to tell you - I idolize you," said the speech writer, who had come of age watching Lewis on "Late Night with David Letterman," and then he showed Lewis in to meet the president.

"I was so scared, because the next day I was headed for rehab and nobody there knew that," Lewis says. "Having him and the president acknowledge my work meant my work counted, that I hadn’t burned that bridge. But I knew I was burning my own bridge - that I was on my way to hell if I didn’t sober up."

How he came to terms with his alcoholism and his life is the subject of Lewis’ new memoir, "The Other Great Depression," with the subtitle "How I’m Overcoming, On a Daily Basis, At Least a Million Addictions and Dysfunctions and Finding a Spiritual (Sometimes) Life."

It’s the first time Lewis has been open about his alcoholism, a subject that now has worked its way into his comedy material, as well.

As it turns out, he says, he later wrote a letter to Clinton explaining the straits he was in on that particular day and talking about his ongoing battle with alcoholism.

"He wrote me a note back that was very supportive, saying he was happy with my recovery," Lewis says. "It was cool to be able to express that to this president.

I don’t think Woodrow Wilson or Abe Lincoln would have been into my comedy."

Though he’s been sober for almost seven years, Lewis has only now started talking about it, and writing the book proved to be the impetus.

The volume is a heartfelt series of essays in which the comedian - well known for the neuroses that seemed to define both his life and his comedy - unveils the emotional turmoil from which his humor (and his disease) springs. At times intimately self-confessional (including a particularly cringe-worthy description of an eating disorder), the book lays bare Lewis’ problems with women, with his family and with alcohol and, as often as not, points the finger of blame squarely at himself.

"Everyone I’ve talked to has said to me, Do you really want to say all that?’ " says Lewis, 53. "But if I was going to write a book, I didn’t want to do comedy material - I really wanted to write a book. As honest as I’ve been onstage,

I’d never gone for the jugular as honestly as my icons, Lenny Bruce and Richard Pryor.

"And I wondered: Without the confines of a performance, if it was just me and my computer screen, could I maybe take that extra step? That’s what I wanted to do: to be as honest as I’ve ever been onstage and, maybe, help somebody in the process."

It’s still a struggle he deals with daily, he says. Writing the book was an act of catharsis, one that helped purge many of the secrets, the shame of which shaped his life.

"After she read my book, my shrink said, I let you down,’ " Lewis says. "But I’d never told her a lot of this stuff. I was too ashamed. They say that you’re as sick as your secrets. Well, I used to have about 100,000. Now I’m down to single digits."

[back to top]

Home | Local News | Opinion | Business | Island Life | Sports
Index to Fun | Island Sounds | Book Reviews | Faith Calendar
Hawaii Ways | Taste

How to Subscribe | How to Advertise | Site Map | Terms of Service | Corrections

© COPYRIGHT 2001 The Honolulu Advertiser, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.