After nearly 40 years of honing a profoundly neurotic stand-up act, Richard Lewis could write a textbook on twisted, self-depreciating improvisation.
"Nothing is off limits about me. I take great pride in destroying myself," he said. "I've been told by a lot of people that's why I am sticking around."
And destroying himself is precisely what Lewis said he plans to do during his Tucson debut.
"I don't mean to stroke out in the desert after almost 40 years of doing this," said Lewis. "... When I go to a new city, I feel a certain obligation to make people feel (like) I gave the best display of my problems."
An alcoholic, sex addict and drug addict for a good chunk of his professional career, Lewis has the uncanny ability to find humor in some of life's most trying and awkward moments.
"People dig me because I express the fears they have," he said. "If I can make the things that make me feel stressed and embarrassed funny, the audience goes home feeling—this sounds kinda grandiose—less alone."
Lewis said he has struggled with personal insecurity and addiction throughout his life.
"For someone who had a family who judged me every which way, it's ironic I chose a profession where everyone would judge me," he said.
To cope with chronically low self-esteem, Lewis said he has been in and out of psychotherapy. He said one therapist in particular helped him confront his issues.
"Someone once told me, 'You are as sick as your secrets,' and I liked that," said Lewis. "I was absolutely honest with this therapist. I told her things that made me crummy as a person, and I felt good about it."
One issue that Lewis said he wasn't able to confront for a long time was his alcoholism.
"When I missed an appointment with (my therapist) for the first time in 13 years, I realized ... I was an alcoholic," he said. "That's when the denial left me."
Lewis compared his stand-up act to an open therapy session, during which the audience is the counselor, and he is the patient.
"It's like an audience of therapists laughing at me," he said. "If they don't get into it, I don't have an act."
He said one of the best things about getting sober, which happened in the early '90s, was that he realized he had to take responsibility for his own insanity.
"On one hand, I became a better person, but it also opened up a Pandora's box of material for a comedian," he said. "I have so much more clarity about who I am."
Lewis' comedic act is always a true-to-life performance, with topics ranging from his obsession with ticking clocks to a troublesome rash on his rump.
"Quite frankly, I try to put my foot in my mouth," he said. "When I hear my name, I won't have a clue what I am going to say. I'll talk about anything that comes into my head. If something happens an hour before, I'll come right out of the gate with that."
Lewis said the highlight of his career has been working with his longtime friend Larry David on the HBO series Curb Your Enthusiasm. David asked Lewis to play himself on the emotionally apathetic yet acclaimed show; Lewis said he and David essentially act out their real-life friendship.
"Our relationship is authentic," said Lewis. "I go on YouTube and see some of our fight scenes, and it's so surreal. It is the best gig I have ever had as a comedian."
He told the tale of a dinner meeting gone horribly wrong as an example of his eccentric relationship with David.
"Larry chose this restaurant where they order for you," said Lewis. "The guy brought about 15 dishes out, and it's like my mortgage was put in front of me."
All of a sudden, said Lewis, David's phone rang. It was Steve Martin, telling David that it was poker night at his house.
"Without any apology—or if there was one, it was very brief—he bolted from the restaurant, leaving me with some bizarre entrées and a $300 or $400 bill," said Lewis.
Lewis said the key to success is simple: Write what you know.
"If you are fearless on everything, you will always be a step ahead," he said. "That's what I feel about stand-up. Hopefully I will be on fire Sunday."