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tv   Talk to Al Jazeera  Al Jazeera  December 30, 2015 2:30pm-3:01pm EST

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business. apple has consistently rejected accusations that the company is avoiding paying tax. for more on everything that we're covering right here, the address, by the w-- lemme just-- i don't wanna paint this rosy picture. >> often described as neurotic and angst ridded, lewis reflects on his rise from early stand up comedian, to becoming a household name. >> i was broke for a long time. but i was still-- felt like a million bucks, broke, living in horrible places, come-- going into a club and seeing these famous comedians come over to me, go-- you have it, you're gonna make it! >> he's out with a new book.
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that showcases his jokes, illustrated by carl titolo. reflections from hell is richard lewis's guide on how not to live. it focuses a lot on his parents. > i had a-- not a great upbringing. was an alcoholic and a drug addict for a long time. i was with a lot-- i was in horrible relationships by my own doing. i wasn't-- wasn't always their fault, i own up to a lotta that. >> as an actor, lewis starred in larry david's curb your enthusiasim. the first met when they were 12. >> in-- a-- a summer camp, sports camp. hated each other, never saw each other till we were comedians. became inseparable best friends. that ran over a course of almost a decade. larry came over my house, you had asked me. and he said, "would you mind playing yourself?" >> and now he's staring in another television series called blunt talk. >> playing a psychiatrist is really a trip for me, 'cause i been in-- in and outta therapy and psychiatry for f-- almost my whole life. >> i spoke to richard lewis in new york.
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>> you been sober for 21 years- >> almost 21. >> --almost 21 years sober. >> yes. >> you're married. >> married, ten years, you know, son- >> and have a great career. >> it's been goin' on for 45 years, and all sorts of stuff. it's really been-- this is, like, a really great time. touring, and a new book, and a new series, >> i-- (tap) y-- you know, you've got all this great stuff goin' on, you're a household name. so then why in the world do you call your book reflections from hell: richard lewis' guide on how not to live? life can't be that bad. >> no, it's not really-- well, i had a-- not a great upbringing. was an alcoholic and a drug addict for a long time. i was with a lot-- i was in horrible relationships by my own doing. i wasn't-- wasn't always their fault, i own up to a lotta that. made a lot of amends to people. but-- so that was my sweet spot-- in comedy. my-- my father died before i was a comedian. my brother was ol-- that point-- i was really young. i was a mistake, there was no doubt in my mind. i-- w-- when i was born,
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my parents-- my father looked like moses, and my mother was already doing-- she was already in a eugene o'neill play, going down. my sister eloped when i when was 12. >> (laugh) >> and my brother was reading-- you know-- allen ginsburg poems in the village, and i'm there alone with my poor mother. it was like a combination of long day's journey into night and odd couple. >> and you write a lot about your family- >> so that's why my-- needs this book. here-- but the real-- right to the nitty gritty, cha-- carl nicholas titolo is an artist i met 35 years ago through an old buddy. and i was blown away by this guy. and he's a legendary professor at the school of visual arts in new york for 40 years. but his-- his art style was very close to my riffing, free associating. and-- i always wanted to collaborate with him, but didn't know how. >> and then-- about-- two years ago i came up with an idea, actually, "look, i have some thoughts. they're not jokes. some of them may be jokes, but-- n-- i didn't care about them, i ca-- "any thought, and i'll call you with five and
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six--" he goes, "i got-- i like this one, goodbye." and then he would do an image and-- as it turned out, there have been several collaborations like this. not to be grandiose, but edgar allan poe did the raven and manet illustrated it on each page-- >> but, you know, b-- but how 'bout a comedian's jokes being illustrated. is that original? has anybody ever done that? >> probably not. i think it's really authentic, and for me, i been-- you know-- if i don't-- i've had-- i-- i-- when i grew up, i had idols, you know, when-- in the arts. the arts saved my life when i was a kid. the family was really dysfunctional. and-- and so if i saw a movie as a kid and i couldn't believe how great it was, i-- maybe i didn't understand the art form. like, let's say i-- when i was 12 or-- i saw dr. strangelove. i would sit after the movie was over-- maybe i didn't-- i obviously didn't get the total understanding of-- of the-- the-- the russians and this, and the cold war and all. but i knew i saw something so spectacular that, in my head, something like that, a bar was set.
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but then i got older and i went to college, and i saw the-- and then the new wave of films came in, with-- with truffaut and godard. and then i saw cassavetes movies, and then i would listen to miles davis and hendrix. then i heard lenny bruce and-- and then became friends, and saw richard pryor. i went, these-- this-- these bars, and that's just-- it's just, you know, one-- a few names. i said, "if i ever go on stage, and i did it about a month or two after my dad died-- i said, "i have to reach for th-- i have to unravel myself on stage, as fearlessly as possible, and see if i get laughs." because i really did feel pretty much like a chagall painting, you know, but i was sort of tethered to nothing. because they were-- i really didn't have much of a family life. so-- the audience became my family >> well, and all that led to what at times was crippling depression, you had serious problems with addiction. wha-- what do you tell people who think, "here's a guy who had s-- all sorts of successful sitcoms, movies,
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books, and all this, and they say-- h-- they can't understand-- >> i know. >> --how somebody like you coulda gone through that. >> i dunno even know what-- i know what success means, okay? i get it. and i've learned it-- i've earned it. i-- i-- nothing mattered more to me than be-- than finding myself on stage and becoming authentic. and i was broke for a long time. but i was still-- felt like a million bucks, broke, living in horrible places, come-- going into a club and seeing these famous comedians come over to me, go-- they-- "you have it, >> (laugh) >> you're gonna make it. but you gotta work your ass off. you can't-- you gotta do this 24/7." these were the-- the greats telling me this. >> --has anxiety always been kind of the fuel to your comedy? you've been dubbed the "prince of pain, and you-- a-- and in the book, you know-- you-- you describe yourself as "the best sparring partner-- i can have." so does beating yourself up defuse the anxiety, or does it actually make it better? >> that's a great question. god, i haven't seen my therapist in quite a while, >> (laugh) >> just reminded me.
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i am not as unhappy as-- people think i am. but my sweet spot, and there's-- and one of the lines is that "desperation is my sweet spot." that's a craft that i honed. and even though i got so-- i got-- even though i got sober, i got more grateful, i got more spiritual, in my old-- in my later years. still, when i hear, "ladies and gentlemen, richard lewis, and my goal is to make people laugh. first of all, i'm not entirely-- not depressed a lot of the time, either, by the w-- lemme just-- i don't wanna paint this rosy picture. but it's much rosier than being near death on crystal meth, let's put it that way. >> but you write in the book, you've got one that says, "happiness is overrated. there's nothing to fear but life itself." >> well, because life has dealt me a lotta bad blows. nothing close to-- majority of the world. and what bugs me is that when people say, "hey, hey, you hang out with the stones." or, "yeah you were--" you know,
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i used to work for the clintons a lot when he was running, and-- and gore, and-- "you're in the white house, and how can you be t--" i go, "hey-- hey-- hey, time out, man. you know, i suffer from depression. i have obsessive-compulsive disorder." i work my butt off, you know, for the-- i-- i have no children, so it's all th-- my art, until i met my wife. and then it was takin' care of her. and my sister has four kids, ten grandchildren, two great-grandchildren, and i try to be some kinda role model. >> (laugh) >> sort of frightening, i understand. >> does she let them watch you? >> huh? well, not until they're 30. >> (laughter) you know, talkin' about your family-- your-- your-- your good friend larry david-- he says that you use "shrink"-- as much as teenagers-- use-- "like." and- >> yeah, i know. >> --so pardon me for acting like a shrink, but let's talk about your family. i mean, you really go after your parents in this book, especially your mom- >> i know. >> and you write, "the worst audience i ever had were my parents." "my mother tried to switch me at birth." >> yeah. >> "after i was born, my mother asked her friends to
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breastfeed (laugh) me." how much of a role did your mom play in-- in your dark years? >> well, what do you think? >> (laugh) >> listen, i-- here's the deal. i made amends with my mother when she-- my mother was very ill, she had a lot of emotional problems in her late 30s on, and until she got old. and-- i tried my best to-- understand it. but again, realize, back, you know, when she was having her problems, i was an active addict. so, you know, i couldn't have been easy either. so-- i mean, when she really lost it at the end. my sister made-- my older-- i have an older sister and an older brother. she was with her and made sure she would get the best care, and so did i. and-- all of us tried-- to do what we could do. and-- i remember something when she was in the hospital, and she was near death. and she really f-- didn't know who she was at that point. i-- and i grabbed onto her. and i said, "look, i was far from perfect.
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neither one of us were. but-- i love you, and-- and-- and please forgive anything i did. and if you-- and if you can-- 'cause i forgive you for everything." i mean, i did, and i do. what's the p-- i didn't ho-- i don't hold onto it. and i said, "just squeeze me." and you have to understand, this is at a point where she was insane basically. and she grabbed my hand and squeezed it, and i'll-- (tap) you know, i'll always remember that. but that doesn't mean that i can't mine those feelings, because we did have a pretty tough relationship. and i-- and i'm no comic if i'm not tellin' the truth. comedian, rather. i prefer that word. >> and one of the truths you like to tell is describing things as being "from hell." and-- >> yes, which is now-- literally-- n-- c-- >> --yes, and i was gonna say, one of the funniest headlines i have ever read was something fro-- that said, "yale university gives richard lewis hell--" (laugh) >> i know. that's-- (laugh) yeah. >> --and what it was referring to is the fact that the yale-- book of quotations gave you credit for that phrase. anything being "from hell" is-- now-
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>> well-- well, listen- >> --you are the-- the author of it. >> listen. it's-- in light of the fact that the world's gone in-- has been insane forever, anyway. i mean, it's just-- now we're-- now-- we're living now, and we see what's going on. it means very little to me, except in a very small swath of-- of humanity in my life, i popularized a phrase back in the '70s and '80s, when i did about 50 or 60 david letterman shows. and ev-- and i-- and i chose that metaphor, like-- and i was-- probably-- yes, i was an active alcoholic, so i never took responsibility for my actions. so it was like, "oh, i just came from-- a wedding from hell, or "a family reunion from hell." 'cause i always felt like, "i'm the victim." so i used that all the time. and it was then-- but then i got bummed out, because i saw in ads, like in movie ads, "boss from hell." i said, "this is-- this is startin' to bug me, 'cause they're startin' to-- market it." and-- and i know i popularized it, so i tried to get to this bartlett's quotations-- >> 'cause bartlett (sic) said no to you. >> said no to me. this editor said, "nah,
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i'm sorry, my-- my nieces--" he was-- he was probably 60s at the time, he says, "my nieces just came back from college after their semester, and they said, 'oh, it was a semester from hell.'" i went, "oh, no kidding. they said that? they-- then they must-- you know-- you mean they weren't watching letterman late-night shows in college, back in the '80s and is-- in the nine--" you know. so i finally couldn't take it anymore, and outta the blue, yale saved the day, and-- > and you've been immortalized as-- >> and bartlett's-- >> --being from hell. >> (laugh) yeah. >> it's the "lunch from hell" >> what? what did you say? >> i'm saying, this is the lunch from hell... >> where did you hear rhat expression? >> girlfriend? >> you see what i mean? kills me... richard lewis and larry david are now the best of friends, but it it wasn't always that way. more on their bro-mance ahead on talk to al jazeera.
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>> i'm antonio morra you're watching talk to al jazeera my guest this week, is comedian richard lewis. >> who's-- who's your favorite comedian of all time? >> well, there's-- there's two. lenny bruce, for what he did for the first amendment and his-- body of his work, but perhaps the greatest standup comedian other than, i think, lenny-- and maybe the-- arguably, the greatest standup comedian, is richard pryor. because richard pryor had so many tools. so richard pryor, to me, is the greatest individual standup of all time. and-- and lenny bruce, the most important. >> you became successful pretty early. you started-- goin'-- >> i was on the tonight show, i was on with carson in two-- almost two and a half years, and that's not-- that's pretty fast. and-- i had a lotta breaks, too. i had-- letterman gave
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me-- he came over to me, and he says, "you know, you're-- you're good with johnny. some nights are better than others. but when you do standup, the camera's right there." and if i was-- and i w-- i'm real f-- kinetic, and-- no, i-- what did you ask me? >> (laugh) w-- you were talkin' about-- >> it was so prof-- oh yeah, well letterman says, "oh--" >> yes, he did, exactly. he's-- called me in in '81, before his late night show, for-- and he said, "you can come on as often as you want, in fact, you can write for the show, if you wanna move back to new york." i went, "no." i just had moved to l.a. five years or so before. and i said-- but he says, "don't do standup anymore, on tv. i mean, specials is one thing, and concerts and everything, you know." but-- he says, "when you come on my show, he tells me, "you're just gonna sit." and he set a precedent for me, which i never broke. i have never done standup on television. so, like, when new shows come out and they say, "oh, we-- we want-- do five, six--" i says, "no, no. what-- what is this, open mic night?" you know, b-- been doin' it 45 years. it doesn't happen often. >> ooh i finally got black k-swiss that's a whole other story...
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anyways... so >> you're goofy... >> i'm g-... >> yeah... you from one little thing from to another, then you start talking about your shoes... >> which by the way... i know you mreant that- in yiddish goofy means- quite a man... >> what do you think-- after all those years of-- being on letterman, and how important he was to your career, the fact that he's decided to hang it up? >> well, i mean, that was his decision. we were never close friends, i was just lucky that he was a fan. >> how important was he to you and to other comedians? >> he was the most important-- show to be on - so then i, you know, auditioned for a show after letterman sort of made me somewhat of a known, you know-- comedian. more than that, after eight or ten years, and 50 or 60 shots. and i auditioned for a sitcom and i got the role opposite, you know, jamie lee curtis. and, you know, me being, you know, her l-- her lover, ultimately, was-- you know, i got ridiculed by j-- i would say over 100,000 cabbies >> (laugh) >> in america. and before we had television sex, they used to-- the cabs in
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new york go, "hey, why don't you sleep with her? >> (laugh) >> it's jamie lee curtis." i went, "it's a sitcom, you moron. i'm not the writer." but then i used to get paranoid and i used to fax and e-mail. not e-mail, it was then fax. "when do-- when do i sleep with ms. curtis? this is-- i'm g-- i can't take it. i'm walking around in disguises all over america." >> (laugh) >> so that was great. >> and so now you're back in the sitcom world as you were saying... >> well, then larry-- well, then i-- then, larry david-- >> well then you did, of course you did-- curb your enthusiasm-- >> yeah, and that lasted-- that ra-- ran over the course of almost a decade. and i cou-- and larry came over my house, you had asked me. and he said, "would you mind playing yourself?" i-- because he knew that i-- i did a scene in leaving las vegas. and i did-- i played a junkie in this indie which i really love called drunks. and-- and i like doing se-- some serious stuff. i mean, it was fun bein'-- being in a mel brooks and stuff, but i enjoy doing other stuff. >> so what did larry tell you? >> larry says, "i know, does-- 'cause it do-- it's-- i was typecast-- plenty by then, not getting-- "oh, that richard lewis, he's-- oh, he's .... >> so you might as well just play yourself, was larry's-- >> yeah, well-- well,
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he didn't say that, but i had to make the de-- first of all, to turn down larry david would have been a huge career-- at-- at 49-- i was 50. i said, you know, "who gets this opportunity?" and who knew it would be such a cult hit? so i said, "i'm in." but i made-- but i m-- you know, we were born in the same hospital. i had the right to ask him for anything i wanted, and we had others-- >> (laugh) >> other weird, mystical things happen in our life. met when teenagers, hated one another, didn't know each other till we were comics, and then we-- i recognized him. i went, "you're that (bleep)?" >> (laugh) >> "you're that ass?"-- >> you became friends and then you realized he was the-- the guy- >> i-- we were enemies in a c-- >> --from-- from camp. --in a day camp. in-- a-- a summer camp, sports camp. hated each other, never saw each other till we were comedians. became inseparable best friends. i must have put a few back, i went, it was like, "you look like rosemary's baby to me. >> (laugh) >> like, half a sheep, half a comic." whatever i say, i was drunk. and he gets nervous-- he's-- he wasn't a drinker or a drug guy. and-- and then-- and i-- we realized that we were the same two kids. not to mention, born in the same hospital, and i had to stay around, 'cause i was a-- a premie.
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so he was born three days later, but i was still there, going, "come on. >> (laugh) >> hurry up." you know, >> (laugh) >> "wha-- what can i be? i don't wanna live with a caterpillar." >> (laugh) >> so things worked out, fortunately. but-- he was mocking me then, he tried to strangle me with my mother's umbilical cord. we fought-- we still fight-- we still fight. but he said, "do you wanna play yourself?" i went, "yes. with you, i'll do anything." and thank god i did. because the show-- >> did it-- did-- s-- > --was such a b-- groundbreaking sitcom. i'm-- i'm a fan of the show. >> i think it's the funniest thing that's ever been on television, personally. but y-- w-- did it change the way people perceived you, the fact that you were playing yourself? >> well, i-- i was more narcissistic on that show than i am, believe it or not, >> (laugh) >> because-- they-- they were-- that's the kinda characters that they were. and sometimes i was a little uncomfortable, and they would make me go a little deeper into my-- into ego. like, you know-- you know-- but some of them it was so hilarious, i an-- he's-- has such great instincts, i said, "you know what? let it go." you know, "let me just be-- a real jerk."
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like, well, beautiful g-- he always gave me the most beautiful girlfriends. of course-- and he never let me, you know, ever >> (laugh) eve-- not even the slightest kiss >> (laugh) for ten years. i mean, these were drop-dead killers. >> any chance you could convince him to do more seasons of curb? >> i don't know, i-- i-- but we discussed it, and i-- i had never asked him how many episodes i'd be in, what-- what is the ending. i asked him practically nothing, i-- really, that's the way he wanted to work on curb. he was-- less is way more, work with an empty slate, don't know much about what's happ-- "what's the scene again? (snap) action." you know, that's-- and it came out better that way. and-- when r-- actors who weren't comedians would come on the set of curb, they were freaked out. >> was it more fun for you? >> well, they eventually, after one take, realize, "wait a minute. i can just say whatever i want, i know what the exposition's-- has to be." that's all ya know. "just say i have to get a haircut but i'm afraid of scissors. >> (laugh) >> just-- that's your deal, and i don't care how you say it, but get it in." >> just go with it. >> "just get it in there." and then they would do it until
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they were-- larry was happy, and the producers, and they'd move on. but-- it was a blast. for a comedian, it's a dream come true. >> stlll ahead on, talk to al jazeera richard lewis talks about his next role, playing a shrink. stay with us. >> new moms forced to choose. >> the united states does lag behind other countries on this. >> now a revolution in workers' rights... >> my story is so many peoples' story. >> that could decide the election. >> it can be different.
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>> this is talk to al jazeera, and i'm antonio morra joining me today is richard lewis from curb your enthusiasm. >> how 'bout the new sitcom you're in-- which is gonna-- >> well, this is-- yeah, it premieres august 22nd, it's-- >> --be on starz with patrick stewart, as you said. it-- it's kind of gone full circle, you're playing a shrink? >> yeah,
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but i'll tell ya, full circle in another way. for-- as playing a psychiatrist, you know, i run into a lot of these actors on-- i don't watch a lotta tv, i like to watch the news and foreign films and documentaries a lot. and-- but, you know, i know-- i know the c-- the actors, certainly, and some of these shows have been on for-- and i run-- "hey, mr. lewis." "don't call me mr. lewis, r-- please. richard." "hey, you're doin' great, you won five emmys. the show's fantastic." and-- and i-- and they say, "what are you doin'?" i-- and i-- and i-- i-- i don't wanna mention his name, but-- because i've forgotten. >> (laugh) >> but he's a big star, been on a show for, like, 10 years. young k-- probably 35 by now, t-- 40, he says "richard lewis. oh, god, i grew up on you." "oh, thank you." and, you know, that makes me wanna, like, you know, drink when i hear that. not really, but-- >> (laugh) >> you know what i mean. so i say, "call me richard." i said, "you're a good-- what a success at an early age." and-- and i say that, then i'm starting to feel like i-- you know, my grandfather on the railroad in russia, drinking whiskey, playing a psychiatrist is really a trip for me, 'cause i been in-- in and outta therapy and psychiatry for f-- almost my whole life.
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and-- but, when i got this o-- offer to do this role-- jonathan ames is a brilliant, eccentric writer. and he created this show, starring sir patrick stewart-- he doesn't like to be-- he doesn't need to be called "sir." and a great cast. an-- an english newsman who's a drunk, d-- druggie, womanizer-- bad father, you name it. and everyone involved in the show has problems, so i'm the network psychiatrist who comes in to try to save the show. and-- it's-- it's laughable, only in that of all people, after 45 years >> (laugh) >> of beating myself up, i'm trying to hel-- as-- in a role. and i'm enjoying the hell out of it. >> having been in comedy for all these decades now-- what do you think about the state of comedy in-- in the u.s.? you know, the old days in new york, you had comedy clubs in all the neighborhoods. now, it seems like it's--
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>> changed pretty dramatically. >> you know, i don't-- i don't-- i-- i made it a point not to watch a lot of comedians when i started getting into it, because i didn't li-- i'm-- i'm ethical, okay? in a ruthless field. >> you didn't want to steal? >> no, i didn't wanna hear other people talk about their grandfather's sweater, 'cause i would block out "grandfather's sweater, even if i had nothing funny to say about it. maybe forever. it's just the way i am. i-- i-- i-- i really am in love with the craft and treat it like gold. but the state of affairs, you know? there's more edgy comics right now, you know that's-- these roasts, i'm not a fan of roasts. i would roast myself, but that's about it. you know, th-- you know, i'm a first amendment guy, so anything goes, you know. but there's a difference between being an edgy comic, and a brilliant edgy comic-- i'm not talkin' 'bout myself. but-- younger comics coming up who think they're edgy,
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but there's no premise or really nothing profoundly funny about what they're saying. and if they're getting laughs, it's because the audience is-- getting a lotta that, maybe, sometimes. and it's sort of dumbed down-- dumbs down the audience, and the-- it sorta makes it easier to get laughs. on the other hand, i think there's a majority of comics now who are brilliant and are edgy. and-- and i'm glad that there's moments when, "whoa, he said that? she said that?" because i-- i would ne-- i would be the last person on the planet to say, "you can't say that, you know. le-- i-- if there's gonna be a consequence, let 'em have it. but, you know, let 'em say it, and then see what happens to them. so-- but in terms in of the clubs and the-- the-- the promoters, the buyers, the club owners, they should all live on devil's island. as far as i-- no-- none of that-- it's all about money for that-- we-- and we-- you know,
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the artists, we're all about bein' funny and makin' people laugh. >> in his foreword-- larry david says that, "knowing you could cost you a job, a relationship, (laugh) and quite possibly, your life." should th-- i and all of us in this room be worried? >> no. larry should be worried for saying that publicly. i might kill him. but i love you guys. and you're very pre-- you're one of the most prepared journalists i've ever known. >> (laugh) i'm gonna use that-- >> even though i came in and you called me carlos. >> (laugh) >> really a pleasure, richard. >> right back at ya. >> thank you >> you did your research. >> you're one of the most prepared journalists i've ever known. >> go inside the lives of musical icons. >> i was given a gift... i think i've used it well. >> i want the ballet world to be given the respect that it deserves.
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>> and global activists. >> i feel compelled to do it, because if i don't do it, who's going to do it. >> revealing conversations you won't find anywhere else. >> the end result of de-ba'athification was the e-ba'athification was the resorted to violence. >> 18 of the 27 senior isis leaders were all veterans of camp bucca. >> the united states government deserves a lot of blame for what happened in iraq, but frankly, so do iraqis.


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