A detailed introduction isn’t much needed for Richard Weiss. He’s an open book when it comes to his personal life and his battle with dependency. A battle that he is both winning and using as empowerment to help others. To sum it all up, he’s as rad as the Weiss Cracks comic strip he’s featured in.
Hi, Richard! Care to share more about yourself?
It would be my pleasure. I was born in New York City at Lennox Hill Hospital. My mother told me when I was born, in the room next to her was Paul Newman’s wife. She had recently given birth as well. I can’t prove this, but I’m glad she didn’t say it was Alfred E. Neuman’s wife!
Ha. That’s great. Any other interesting facts you can share?
Interesting fact? Hmm? Okay, here’s one I seldom tell anyone. When I was about 12 years old, my mother held a ‘Tupperware party’ in our Manhattan apartment. My sister, Linda, our friend Jamie, and I were in the back room looking out the window when we all noticed a round, metallic object hovering toward us (it had windows all around the center and a red light would light each window one at a time). It vanished into the woods behind our house. I shouted to my mother to come look at the flying saucer. She told everyone in the other room, “That kid is always joking around.” But I wasn’t.
Okay, that’s beyond interesting! But those sneaky aliens are known for being escape artists. Speaking of artists, I truly believe in art as a great escape. Do you feel that more performance and art programs could help lead kids and adults down better paths in life?
I certainly do. In fact I’m living proof of it. I am a recovering alcoholic and addict. My first year sober, I started writing and performing comedy. It was therapeutic. I’ve witnessed many people in recovery relapse because they get bored or have a void. For me, comedy helped keep me down that better path. I also believe giving back to others and gratitude are important as well. I believe kids should have choices early on to at least try an art form -be it music, dance, acting… or reading my comic book “Weiss Cracks.”
I’m only kidding, I didn’t really mean ‘acting’.
Bart Slyp’s illustrations in Weiss Cracks are definitely bad-ass. Besides your personal connection to it, what do you love most about his work?
Early on, I worked with other artists. After I spoke to Bart, it was something special. For one, he’s one of the finest artists on the planet. More than that, he gets my humor. I’ll come up with an idea for a comic strip and many times he’ll add to it. With our latest Star Wars strip, he added some very funny extras to the storm troopers. I get a kick out of seeing what extras he comes up with as well. On rare occasion, he’ll challenge me by giving me a cartoon and asking me to supply the text. And two, he’s got a big heart. I call him my brother.
I love that you and Bart are using comedic outlets to make significant statements. What’s next for you both as a team?
Right now, we’re being featured in SPAZ comics and we get to work with some really talented people. We’re also working on our next ‘Weiss Cracks” book.
So, do you have any favorite comic heroes?
I was always a Batman fan. He has no superpowers and the fact he never slapped Robin was a miracle. But my all-time favorite hero is my father.
I saw that Richard Pryor was one of your inspirations as well.
Yes, most definitely.
Why is that?
Pryor was the first comedian that truly made me laugh until it hurt. He was real. He could mimic a character and paint a picture of a joke like I’d never experienced.
When I was 17, I worked at an alarm company in downtown Manhattan. There was about 6 or 7 workers in a small room. I was by far the youngest. Long story shorter, one of the guys played a cassette tape of ‘Richard Pryor” and the whole room was laughing to tears. White, Black, Hispanic, young, old. Even the guy with multiple personalities had 3 out of the 4 of them in hysterics.
Do you have any favorite jokes by him?
Wow, he’s got so many but the first one I can remember that really got me was from a movie concert in Long Beach. It’s at the beginning of the show, He describes people getting their seats stolen and says, “Some white boys don’t play that. When you cuss , you some funny mutha f’ers. You be saying sh*t like: ( he goes into a John Wayne like accent) ; “Come on peckerhead, come on ya jerk off,” come on yer son of a bitch!”. It’s probably not that funny spoken by the average human, but that was the genius of Richard Pryor. I remember the day he died; I cried like a baby. Richard was the best ever.
Richard definitely knew how to make light of bad circumstances. Despite everything you’ve been through, you mentioned having gratitude. Gratitude has been scientifically proven to make you mentally stronger. How do you remind yourself to show it daily?
To be honest, sometimes I lose my gratitude. I mean, I’m over 10 years clean and sober, have a beautiful wife, a great home in Palm Springs, have traveled the United States performing stand-up and I’m grouchy because the New York Mets just lost the World Series! I have to hit my knees, remember where I was, and know where I am today with the great people in my life.
My first year of sobriety I prayed two or three times a day, went to daily AA meetings and that’s where I got a lot of gratitude, from the people in the rooms. Gratitude also comes from helping someone in need and being of service. It works.
It takes a lot of courage to share your personal struggles with the world. Were you ever afraid of the judgment that might come with such vulnerability?
For a moment I did. Then I thought about the fact that all my friends and family know I’m in recovery. I had a year clean and sober when I started so there was no shame anymore. I also looked back to Richard Pryor who spoke of his cocaine addiction and made it funny. They say comedy is tragedy plus time. Well I had plenty of the tragedy.
You’re doing exceptionally well with Weiss Cracks and turning your tragedy into something positive. What has been your favorite moment at a show while on tour?
I was on the “Standup to Addiction Tour,” a show me and another comedian did around the country and we had a show in Philadelphia at the Helium Club.
Near the end of my set, I told a few ‘father’ jokes. Then I introduced my father. He was sitting in the front row and the crowd gave him a great ovation. I had put him through hell in my addictions. Now he was smiling. I closed my eyes and said silently, “Thank You Lord, you do work in strange ways.”