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Comedian Richard Lewis: Anxiety poster child

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He's in the midst of a full-scale media blitz in Manhattan - doing The View, the Howard Stern Show, Keith Olbermann, Joy Behar - but comedian Richard Lewis isn't too busy to talk about his latest achievement: being the go-to guy for a Time magazine cover story about anxiety.

"I'm now so riddled with fear that I have no idea what's happening," jokes Lewis, 64, by telephone.

He's in the midst of publicizing his run this week at Caroline's on Broadway, where he's doing five shows between Thursday (12/1/11) and Sunday. Indeed, he's just had a noteworthy encounter at The View, where his dressing room adjoined that of singer Mary J. Blige, who was also a guest on the show.

Lewis, who obsessively goes over his new material before hitting the stage and winging it, found himself distracted by his neighbor.

"She was singing scales for, like, an hour next to my dressing room," Lewis says. "I finally began yelling out a mantra: 'I'm not worthy.' I didn't bring my iPod and, with her singing scales, I couldn't really look at my material. It was fun to hear her doing scales, but I had to fight back. I ended up ad-libbing the show. I guess the worse I feel, the better I am."

Lewis, who appeared in the recent season of Curb Your Enthusiasm (he's been a regular since the show went on in 2000), is a ground-breaking comedian who has been a road warrior for 40 years. He's still taking the comedic leap every night, bringing as much new material as possible to the stage with each performance.

"I'm playing casinos, clubs, concert halls - and I never know what I'm going to do," he says. "I spend, like, 10-15 hours a day looking at new material, hoping that the new stuff will still be in my head when I hit the stage.

"My performance level has risen - and my anxiety-level has sky-rocketed. My act is always a work in progress. I pray I have a bad day before a show."

A political junkie, Lewis says he's been trying to keep up with the debates between the Republican presidential candidates - but it isn't easy.

"I tried to Tivo the debates but my TV blew up," he says. "Apparently, the intellect of the TV couldn't take it. It's not just that these people aren't ready for prime-time. Every one of them is either ill-equipped emotionally or intellectually to run the country. The one guy, the former ambassador to China (Jon Huntsman) - I don't agree with a lot of his politics but he stands out to me. He looks like he should be Bob Barker, bringing these guys up to the stage from the audience: 'Newt Gingrich, come on down!'

"It's not just that they're blurring church and state. They're blurring church and church, with the Mormons and the Christians. Rod Serling would have been jealous that he didn't get to write this as a screenplay."

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