A CANDID CONVERSATION WITH RICHARD LETT & MARK BRESLIN
Forward by: TooFar.TV President and Co-Founder Danny Mendlow
In 2009/2010, having just been signed to Yuk Yuk’s, I was preparing to move across the country to Toronto from Vancouver when Richard Lett first reached out and asked me to film his new show “Never Be Done” he was working on. A combination of slam poetry, storytelling, music and stand-up comedy. As I was leaving town, I couldn’t help him out, so I introduced him to my friend Roy Tighe of the fledgling Tigheland Productions – the other guerilla, internet comedy director making waves out of Van City at the same time TooFar.TV was. Roy had forged his reputation with the way ahead of the curve The Backshop Show Web Series and countless comedy sketches. Years later, in Toronto, Richard would ask me to film his new one-man show he’d been developing with one-man show guru TJ Dawe and Yuk Yuk’s CEO Mark Breslin. So I wrangled together a camera crew and we filmed an amazing show that combined slam poetry, storytelling, music and stand-up comedy at the downtown Toronto Yuk Yuk’s. The show went so well, Mark would go on to book it in Yuk Yuk’s comedy clubs across Canada, to much success. After the show, I would call Roy and ask him if he knew about all the incredible things Richard was talking about in this new show… Roy replied “Ya, I’ve got it all on tape!” He sent me the footage and it was amazing, but all so dark and depressing. And so we hatched a scheme for Roy to fly up to Vancouver from his new home in L.A. and film Richard’s performance of the new show at the Vancouver Fringe Festival and I sent Roy all my footage from Toronto… alas, we had a happy ending to an accidental movie that just had its worldwide release, June 16th, 2020 from Comedy Dynamics over 10 years after filming began. Enjoy the movie, and enjoy this candid conversation between Mark Breslin and Richard Lett about the film, the journey and never giving up in this crazy and unpredictable world of Canadian Comedy… NEVER BE DONE: The Richard Glen Lett Story.
Mark Breslin: Hi Richard. Hope you are getting through this madness with as much grace as you can find. We expect to have some good reopening news for the Vancouver club soon. Danny wanted us to do an interview to publicize the doc. Rather than send you a bunch of questions for you to answer, I thought it would work better as a conversation. We can email back and forth over the next few days until we have enough. So I’ll start. This doc has been in the making for almost a decade. Did you ever really think it would come out?
Richard Glen Lett: I had quite a few attempts by people to film me for documentaries, and nothing came of them, so I was pretty sure it wouldn’t happen. But Roy kept calling, and shooting more, so I didn’t entirely give up.
MB: The film is pretty explicit about your low moments. How does it feel to relive them now, so many years later?
RGL: It’s hard to take. The first time I saw it, any of it, was at the premiere at the Whistler Film Fest, and I was shocked at how bad I got. The camera doesn’t lie, but it also doesn’t judge. It stings to see myself like that and hear the things I said. On the other hand, I can see how it makes a good film, and sheds light on the issue, so I feel good about that.
MB: I remember being around you at your lowest point. All the other comics were begging me not to book you with them. You were one frightening dude! But there was always this other side of you-Richard the artist, the photographer, the poet, that wanted to poke through. I wonder if that is the side that saved you.
RGL: It wasn’t until the premiere that I was able to accurately see the “frightening” part. Meanwhile the artist self – and the pain that it seems to show – was being neglected or numbed. I think you might be right Mark – a good part of my recovery was about recovering my true self.
MB: But your true self always played a big role in your onstage act. There was always a confessional aspect to what you were doing, which became more explicit with your one man shows. And those shows were rare in that they could be performed at fringe style venues and in comedy clubs.
RGL: That’s true – I did pride myself in being able to challenge comedy audiences to think and feel, and conversely make a fringe festival audience laugh hard and long.
MB: You were never just a guy who lived in a standup world. I remember a number of years ago, I was in Vancouver and had an extra ticket to the opening night party at VIFF. And you knew everybody! I left after a few hours, but you stayed, still going strong late into the night.
RGL: That was a fun night! I did a radio talk show the other night and a young(er) comedian was talking about hanging out with me, and how excited he was to be socializing outside of a comedy room with such a luminary. I felt similarly that night at the VIFF. I think I realized then that after all those years working together – we had become friends. I suspect that friendship was what allowed you to stick with me through the dark days, and also what inspired you to challenge me to reach higher once I was sober. I often quote Oscar Wilde when referring to you. “An enemy will stab you in the back – a friend will stab you in the front.” And gratefully those front jabs were also hilarious.
MB: You’re not the first comic I’ve seen go through addiction issues, and sadly you probably wont be the last. What advice would you give a comic who is starting to realize they might have a problem?
RGL: I have always said – if you want to know how something affects you – stop doing it. Addicts generally can’t stop when they try. It is a grim wake up call. Unfortunately it seems people need to hit bottom hard to make a change. I am a regular member of the most famous 12 step program – as Craig Ferguson famously said “you can find it in the phone book – VERY near the front.” One of our mutual friends told me the words that resonated for him was when I said to him, after his first meeting, “Not to be too dramatic – but your life is in danger.” As the documentary shows – they are in the fight of their lives. But it is worth it. They are worth it.
MB: I would think getting back onstage after you had been in recovery for awhile changed your material. How did you write new bits? Did you find everything related to your recovery or were there other things you wanted to talk about?
RGL: Initially I just tweaked old material – putting my drinking and drugging bits in the past tense, but that was really a short-term fix and frankly, lazy. My employers were glad I was alive (most of them) grateful that I was no longer the loose cannon, but just wanted and needed me getting laughs – so I did proven material. But then I hit a wall. I lost my spark – my love of stand-up. I will always be grateful for that harsh talk you and I had – and the opportunity you gave me to step back into middle spots – and find my mojo. And I am also grateful to my friend Aiden Devine, an accomplished actor who asked me to help him learn stand-up. He reminded me of the fun, and the work. We met up regularly and wrote and critiqued and tagged each other’s new jokes. Just like back in the day when I was starting out. Meanwhile I started getting requests to perform shows specifically about recovery at fundraisers and 12 step conventions etc, and so I needed fresh material for that. In the midst of all this, I found success as a slam poet. Then my friend TJ Dawe – the solo show king – and I started talking about a fringe show. All this culminated in my show “Sober But Never Clean”.
MB: A great title, and a great show! Rock on, Richard!
So that was the candid conversation between Yuk Yuk’s Founder and CEO Mark Breslin with one of the oldest horses in his legendary stable of Canadian Comics, Richard Glen Lett. Stay tuned for Richard’s new one-man show “One-Nut Only” about his battle with Testicular Cancer and Men’s Health – debuting at the Vancouver Fringe Festival in 2020, biblical plague willing.
Never Be Done: The Richard Glen Lett Story is Available Now on:
Amazon Prime Video https://amzn.to/2UOWyvo (Worldwide)
Apple TV / iTunes https://apple.co/2zKYJbK (Worldwide)
Vimeo https://bit.ly/2WfZlit (Worldwide)
YouTube Movies https://bit.ly/2Y7DXNh (USA, Great Britain Only)
Microsoft Xbox https://bit.ly/3hy4JG2 (USA, Great Britain Only)
Google Play https://bit.ly/3d88nD2 (USA, Great Britain Only)
Breaker https://bit.ly/3ebeOH8 (Worldwide Except China)
Comcast Xfinity https://xfin.tv/2CdIDsq (USA Only)
Vudu: https://bit.ly/2YIwu67 (USA Only)
Comedy Dynamics Landing Page: https://bit.ly/3cK1FnB (Click “Videos” for latest links to watch the film)