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
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.