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The Franz Kafka of Modern-Day Comedy

At first glance Richard Lewis might just look like a surly old white man who has every intention of keeping that baseball you threw into his yard, but the minute you strike up a conversation you’ll probably be ready to forsake the ball in place of escaping Lewis’ neuroses. In much the same vain as Larry David (Curb Your Enthusiasm) — to whom Lewis’ fame, at least with the younger generation, can partly be accredited — his comedy rolls along like a barrage of twitchy self-deprecation that leaves you wondering whether the shrinks he so often discusses actually know what they’re in for. This said, the man is a legend. A comic genius of the highest order, and just as funny now as he was back in the day.

For those unfamiliar, Lewis is Jewish. Say that ten times fast. This means, much like his Curb counterpart David, he’s been involved with wry, feverish deadpan comedy since his fly-by-night beginnings in the ‘70s. Influenced by Woody Allen, Lenny Bruce and the like, he’s worked through a career of television, film and stage work that many should be familiar with; the 1993 Mel Brooks film Robin Hood: Men in Tights, for instance, adorns Lewis’ filmography.

Lewis is from an era in comedy that reveres honesty and openness, no matter how many times you have to remind the audience that you’ve got issues — Richard Pryor’s legendary performance at the Sunset Strip comes to mind — and he embodies the anxiety of masochistic, psychologically taxing comic production with gusto. As Mel Brooks once uttered, “Richard Lewis may just be the Franz Kafka of modern-day comedy.”

Although he might take you to the end of your rope, mostly by way of being at the end of his, Lewis has found a way to ramble with eloquence, and this gives him a grace that most would be hard pressed to locate in this day an age. Granted, it’s sorta like listening to an ill-tempered senior citizen at a delicatessen, if they ran out of pastrami and there was a completely non-pressing political issue at hand, but nevertheless I’d much rather listen to Lewis complain for six hours than hear a 40-something Larry the Cable guy say “git’rdunn” one more motherfucking time, and I’m betting you would, too.

Richard Lewis performs 8 pm Friday, June 29, at McDonald Theatre; $40 adv., $45 door.