New film chron­i­cles dra­matic turn in the life of Van­cou­ver co­me­dian Richard Lett

Ups and downs of Van­cou­ver’s Lett are fo­cus of must-see WFF doc­u­men­tary

The Province - - NEWS - DANA GEE dgee@post­ twit­

For a great ex­am­ple of karma you need look no fur­ther than Richard Lett.

For years the Van­cou­ver comic, fu­elled by booze and drugs, didn’t just burn bridges he poured gaso­line on the rivers that ran be­low and lit them on fire, too.

By the late 2000s he was spi­ralling out of con­trol and found him­self about as wel­come at a com­edy club as a tee­to­taller.

It’s that jour­ney down the rab­bit hole that is ad­dic­tion and Lett’s re­bound from rock bot­tom that is chron­i­cled in the new gritty (note this is not hy­per­bole) doc­u­men­tary Never Be Done: The Richard Glen Lett Story.

The film, by di­rec­tor and for­mer Van­cou­verite Roy Tighe, will have its Cana­dian pre­miere at the Whistler Film Fes­ti­val (WFF) Nov. 29 and 30. The WFF runs Nov. 28 through to Dec 2 and fea­tures 85 films in­clud­ing 17 world pre­mieres.

The fes­ti­val opens with the much-talked-about ve­hi­cle for Saoirse Ro­nan and Mar­got Rob­bie, Mary Queen of Scots.

Af­ter fac­ing the bot­tom, Lett — who has been a comic for 25 years and has worked with big com­edy names like Robin Wil­liams, Chris Rock and Janeane Garo­falo — looked to above to help him re­cover. Now in his ninth year of so­bri­ety he is do­ing stand up com­edy and has a one­man show about sur­viv­ing tes­tic­u­lar cancer called One Nut Only.

Get­ting sick is ter­ri­ble but it’s not the karma part. Nope, the karma bus that did even­tu­ally pull up in front of the cut­ting and not po­lit­i­cally cor­rect comic hap­pened to be pow­ered by rein­deer.

“Hang on, I’m putting you on speaker while I get dressed, get­ting ready to be Santa,” Lett said re­cently over the phone.

“Ex­cuse, me. Did you say Santa?” I said.

“It’s the big time,” Lett said with a laugh that was more Ar­tie Lange than Saint Nick. “I did it last year and I had so much fun. I used to have is­sues with Christ­mas but if you want to get over your is­sues with Christ­mas, say Merry Christ­mas 15,000 times. That will sort that out for you.”

One of the other things he has sorted out is that be­ing a mall Santa in Sur­rey is much bet­ter for him than the cor­po­rate Christ­mas party gigs that al­ways get of­fered to comics this time of year.

“The hol­i­day sea­son is the most hideous time for stand ups. They pay us a lit­tle more money to treat us like ab­so­lute dirt. It’s the most grotesque. You go in there and you’re the help,” said Lett in his cig­a­rette-aged voice.

“You know, Joey from the mail­room has more sta­tus than you do at these cor­po­rate din­ners and stuff like that. Co­me­di­ans have this be­lief that we are do­ing some­thing and cor­po­rate shows make it very clear that we are not.

“But Santa — well, the greasi­est real es­tate douchebag will not f — k with Santa.”

A na­tional cham­pion slam po­etry per­former, Lett is aware that play­ing Santa is a long way from a head­liner set at L.A.’s Com­edy Store but he says he doesn’t care. It’s a job and like his fa­ther told him, if the job is worth do­ing it’s worth do­ing well.

Lett re­mem­bers that ev­ery­day he pulls on the red suit and de­liv­ers a hearty, ‘Ho, ho, ho’ to Lower Main­land kids.

He is do­ing that gig straight through un­til Christ­mas, but he will get a break when he trav­els up to Whistler and the fes­ti­val to see the doc­u­men­tary for the first time. He points out that he hasn’t even al­lowed him­self to watch the trailer. Tighe and he had an agree­ment that Lett’s first view­ing of Never Be Done would be filmed by Tighe.

“First I was dis­ci­plined, now I’m just afraid,” said Lett let­ting off an­other big laugh.

Filmed over a pe­riod of nine years (2009 to early 2018) the movie is a fas­ci­nat­ing and un­com­pro­mis­ing tale.

Lett is not a sym­pa­thetic char­ac­ter. OK, to be clear, you ac­tu­ally will re­ally dis­like him. He’s a du­plic­i­tous grifter of a guy, whose com­edy tal­ent kept him afloat un­til the booze and drugs even­tu­ally won out and sunk him. He had no re­spect for any­one else and ob­vi­ously none for him­self. This, af­ter all, is the guy whose act at one time in­cluded the song The Bal­lad of Bobby Pick­ton (yes, that Pick­ton).

“Ad­dic­tion and al­co­holism is gross,” said Lett adding that a lot of the early stuff shown in the film is “blurry,” to him.

Tighe, who spent about a year as standup af­ter leav­ing film school has been based in Los An­ge­les for eight years now. His com­pany, Tighe­land Pro­duc­tions, has a lot of irons in the fire, in­clud­ing a pro­ject with Dave Chap­pelle.

Tighe re­cently screened the film at the Stu­dio City Film Fes­ti­val and he was sur­prised and thrilled with the re­sponse it got.

“A lot of peo­ple were im­pacted by the story. It was re­ally in­ter­est­ing from my per­spec­tive what the story does to peo­ple,” said Tighe, who grew up in On­tario be­fore mov­ing to Van­cou­ver at age 18.

Now the next ques­tion is what kind of im­pact will the film have on its star? What kind of a re­ac­tion will Lett have to sit­ting in a room full of peo­ple watch­ing as his ad­dic­tions steer his life way off the rails?

“I won­der, sure, is Richard go­ing to like this? Is it go­ing to af­fect our re­la­tion­ship? Ab­so­lutely I have those thoughts of fear, but I try not to get caught up in that,” said Tighe, who also does some act­ing. “I have to re­mind my­self this is what hap­pened. This isn’t some­thing we made up, man­u­fac­tured.

“If he went into a re­lapse then it would be just a lie. If my doc­u­men­tary made you re­lapse you didn’t re­ally have much of a so­bri­ety to be­gin with,” added Tighe.

Lett, who also has acted pro­fes­sion­ally, says he isn’t sure what to ex­pect but he is pre­pared to shoul­der the em­bar­rass­ment and any judg­ment if that means the movie has a pos­i­tive af­fect on au­di­ence mem­bers.

“Maybe some of the peo­ple that see it will get into re­cov­ery or maybe some of the peo­ple who have been ly­ing awake at night won­der­ing why their fam­ily mem­ber is such a jerk might find a lit­tle peace,” Lett said.


A sober Richard Lett and daugh­ter Bre­anna show off their match­ing tat­toos.


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