15 Jokes and Moments Remembering the Late, Great Richard Belzer
The comedy world was rocked yesterday with the news of Richard Belzer’s passing. As a comedian with a career spanning decades, Belzer was iconoclastic, cranky, and sometimes a crackpot. Then he managed to stuff all that into a 23-year serious run as Detective John Munch on, well, a bunch of famous TV shows.
He was also expelled from college, which scans.
To honor this legend, we’d like to share fifteen of our favorite moments from his career. Thank you, Richard Belzer, eviscerate everybody up there.
The Groove Tube
Richard's first movie appearance. This cult classic film is a collection of weird, barely connected sketches a la Kentucky Fried Movie and Amazon Women on the Moon. Due to rights issues, the film is incredibly hard to find on home media outside of old VHS copies on eBay.
Sesame Street, 'The Picnic'
His first TV appearance was back in 1978, appearing opposite Brian Doyle-Murray in this segment about two guys learning to work together.
After spending so much time playing a cop on Law & Order: SVU, looking back on Richard Belzer playing a pimp (and threatening to kill his real-life cousin Henry Winkler) in this early Ron Howard comedy is an interesting change of pace.
His Stand-Up Was Something You Just Had to Experience
You may notice this piece is a little short on jokes. That's because Richard Belzer was a very spontaneous comedian whose act (physical humor, impressions, crowd work) is difficult to transcribe. The stage was his playground and the crowd were his favorite toys. He would joke about the topics of the day, make fun of people in the crowd, break out in songs... That's why so many stories old-school comics have about Belzer from back in the day were about how great he was hosting shows at Catch A Rising Star, or doing warm-up in the early days of Saturday Night Live. The man could read a room, maybe better than anyone.
National Lampoon Radio Hour
Belzer among great company back in the National Lampoon days: Doug Kinney, Harold Ramis, John Belushi, Gilda Radner, Bill Murray, Christopher Guest, Michael O'Donoghue... If they changed comedy forever back in the seventies, they were involved.
On Springsteen and God
“Bruce Springsteen is gonna release a triple album at Christmas, then he's gonna walk on water. Bruce is so big now that God borrows money from Bruce Springsteen. God called Bruce up the other day and said, ‘Bruce, can I borrow three million dollars? I want to do another earthquake in Mexico and kinda ran out of money, and I was wondering if you could help me out…’
I kid God because I feel God has a sense of hu-(clutches chest and collapses) …I'm waving you off like you're running up here to help me.”
Choked out by Hulk Hogan
Back in 1995, Belzer had his own short lived talk show called Hot Properties, and on one show, they had Hulk Hogan and Mr. T on to promote WrestleMania. When Hogan tried to demonstrate a front chin lock on Belzer, it ended up causing Belzer to pass out, drop to the floor and slit his head open, resulting in nine stitches.
In an incredibly brief, “Hey, it's that guy!” role, Belz was the host of the show at the Babylon Club in Scarface right before the shootout.
Mad Dog and Glory
Another appearance as the host of a comedy show in a mobster movie?
He Also Played Himself... A Lot
Celebrity cameo appearances are a staple of entertainment, but Richard Belzer somehow managed to hit the hat trick of playing himself on screen. He has appeared as himself (The Comedian), fictionalized versions of himself (30 Rock), playing himself in reenactments of events he was a part of (Man on the Moon), and he played a fictional character named after him alongside four other comedians playing fictional characters named after themselves (The Wrong Guys). As the man himself once said, “I've been cast as myself so many times, I guess I should catch on and figure out if it's a compliment.”
As an Author
Belzer is also the author of seven books: Four books about conspiracy theories, two novels with a fictionalized version of himself (again with the playing himself!), as well as How to Be a Stand-Up Comic.
The Ballad of Bob Dylan
Richard Belzer was one of the only comedians who could pull off a Bob Dylan impression that actually sounded like Bob Dylan instead of a coked up Randy Newman.
On Ronald Reagan
“Kitty Kelly wrote a book about Nancy Reagan. In that book, she said Ronald Reagan smoked pot. Doesn't that explain everything? (long toke) ‘Well yes, but no… (toke) I don't remember… (toke) Well, I was there, and they were already gone when I got back they just left… (toke) Is there any more popcorn? I'm kind of hungry.’”
He Was the Center of the Television Universe
Richard Belzer's portrayal of Detective John Munch spanned 20 years, and officially appeared as the character in over a dozen shows: Homicide: Life on the Street, three different series runs of Law & Order (original, SVU, and Trial By Jury), The Wire, The X-Files, Arrested Development, The Beat, with show-within-a-show appearances on 30 Rock, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and Jimmy Kimmel Live!, and even got a mention across the pond in an episode of the BBC crime drama Luther.