Richard Belzer Was Smartass Supreme
Comedian and Homicide: Life on the Street actor Richard Belzer passed away today, inspiring a torrent of memories from his fellow comics.
Stand-up Belzer was known for his bitingly acerbic wit, making him a favorite of talk show mavens like Howard Stern and David Letterman, who would introduce Belzer as “one of the most inventive stand-up comics in the business today.” The Belz nearly predated the stand-up comedy boom (at the very least, he helped make it happen), a comic so guaranteed to make an audience laugh that Lorne Michaels chose him to warm up the audience in the early days of Saturday Night Live. He was a comic’s comic capable of destroying a heckler or instantly becoming a stoned Jack Benny.
He’d been in show business for more than 20 years when an entirely new audience discovered him in crime dramas like Homicide and Law and Order: Special Victims Unit. His Det. Munch was everywhere, the only fictional character to appear on 11 different television shows played by a single actor. We’re guessing that record doesn’t get broken anytime soon.
“Munch is the guy who says what a lot of people wouldn’t dare say,” said Belzer, and that’s exactly who he was as a stand-up, too. In fact, it’s fair to say that Dick Wolf and Co. just took Belzer’s smartass stand-up, gave the character a badge, and called that creation “Det. Munch.” That curmudgeonly comedy persona felt eternal to Patton Oswalt, so it’s hard to believe that it’s now forever extinguished.