Mental Illness as Entertainment

An old boyfriend once told me I made a beautiful depressed person. I took this as a compliment since at the time I was sort of cultivating a tortured writer-Betty Blue thing that required smoking constantly, crying a lot about the hopeless state of the world and quoting Dorothy Parker’s Resume. Looking back, it was definitely one of my more obnoxious phases. Fortunately, after a few months I was able to climb my way out of that suckhole of a relationship and start hanging out with people who thought I looked a lot prettier when I was happy.

But still, then as now, I value people who can appreciate a good trudge through the cesspools of the soul. Someone who understands that it’s possible to be grateful for life and its myriad blessings and still recognize that it freakin’ sucks, it hurts, that it’s messy and confusing. Certainly most of my favorite writers, from Balzac to Bukowski to Rumi to Roth, have all been ecstatically depressed.

But there’s one hot mess in particular who’s psycho shtick always made me feel better about myself because I know I’ll never be quite as crazy as he is – comedian Richard Lewis. I remember being 14 and watching the illicit HBO while my parents were asleep (yes, as well as being a head case, I’m also a lifelong insomniac) and watching this guy hem and haw his way through a monologue that took me out of my own teenaged, chubby, pimply Braceface angst.

The constant pacing, the head-slapping, the groaning “Ohmygawd, I’m so depressed” – I realized that this crazy cat from Brooklyn who even I in my suburban innocence pegged as a cokehead and myself shared a neurotic wavelength that was actually sort of funny, possibly even hilarious, and undeniably Jewish. I began entertaining my friends at school with Richard Lewis impressions – using his “from hell” to the max. “Ohmygawd, I can’t believe it, did you take the biology test? Mr. Olsen is the teacher from hell!“”Mom, spaghetti again? This dinner is, like, from hell!” (that one got me grounded, of course.)

I’ve been navigating the narrow road between trying to make people chuckle and obsessing over my ego ever since, which eventually – along with too much red wine and prententious poetry – led me into the above-mentioned “beautiful depressed person” persona. Not too many laughs there. So, like I said, I moved away from that planet, but I still end up visiting once in a while. Between the (IMHO, biased) coverage on Israel and the departure of my parents back to Scottsdale (meaning the another long absence of stellar Scrabble partners, free babysitters and two of my favorite people), it seemed I was going to be taking a visit to the abyss for a bit.

But amazingly, an antidote came swooping into town just in time: The Savannah Jewish Federation sponsored a one-night stand with my favorite batsh*t Jew last night at the JEA.

It started off a little shaky – Richard seemed more than a little scattered at first – actually, I don’t think he finished a thought for the first 20 minutes even though he’s been sober for 15 years. Once he warmed up though, he was in true form, spewing neuroses about sex, his sidekick role on Curb Your Enthusiasm, Bush’s last days and the Rolling Stones. He’s still stupendously mulleted and wore an asymmetrically-zippered suit that in his words, made him look like a moron.

El Yenta Man, his brother (heretofore known as BIL, as in Yenta brother-in-law) and I were sitting with the “Young Jewish Savannah” crowd (they had seats reserved for us and everything, plus we got to meet-and-greet with Richard before the show – photos to come! I may have to lie to keep up such VIP status when El Yenta Man turns 40 this year) – but the average age in the room was probably 65. Everyone who’d donated to the Federation was there, and let’s face it; there are more Jewish philanthropists on Lipitor than not.

Now if you know Richard Lewis, you already know this is not a chaste type of humor. And not much into subtlety, either – in fact, once he got juiced, the obscenities flew fast and furious about stuff you might not want to hear while sitting next to your bubbe. I’m just sayin’ some of the old kosher folks from the Jewish retirement home may have followed him for a while, but I think he lost half the room at “masturbation puppet.”

Me, my sides ached by the time it was over, which was a whole lot better than the tension headache from hell I had when I got there. I don’t know if Richard Lewis appreciate a comparison to lamb’s blood on the door, but this guy sure staved off the Angel of Depression at my house.

Here’s some vintage Richard from my BraceFace days:

2 thoughts on “Mental Illness as Entertainment

  1. This is hysterical! Neuroses go a long way toward creativity. How can anyone possibly make anything up without angst? My advice: stay crazy. People pay a lot of money to see how they measure up. Crazy is always better than pimples.
    Hey–and I remember you with the braces. You were gorgeous.

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