Is being funny sometimes a hindrance to social interaction?
People expect you to be wacky. They want to take a picture with their family, and they say, “Smile,” and you say, “I am smiling.” They expect you to be on and crazy. No. I do that sometimes onstage and other times–no. Other times people will come up and tell you some really nasty joke and go, “Use it.” Really? That’s a great place for your grandmother to keep her teeth. What? I can’t use that joke. The great thing about walking around New York, especially looking like Saddam Hussein’s stunt double, is people don’t make a lot of eye contact.
How about with family?
Years ago, I was reading a story to my daughter and I was doing voices and everything, and she turned to me and said, “Just read the story. And stick to the main points.”
There’s a pervasive theory that when you’re doing serious roles–
I grow a beard.
Exactly. And then you’re clean-shaven for the comedies.
No, it’s not true. Sometimes the beard works, sometimes it doesn’t. It depends. I can grow this beard in whatever time it takes to leave here and walk down the street.
We see a lot of celebrities with substance-abuse issues. Why?
I think celebrity itself is a drug. There’s that whole thing–it comes and goes. And now with tweeting and Facebook, it’s like cybercrack. Withdrawal from celebrity is an interesting thing. You see people going, “I’m not as famous. Oh, man, what am I gonna do?” “Steal some jewelry, Lindsay. That helps.”
Is addiction the price of fame, or is it the price of talent?
It’s the price of drugs, actually. Most of the time with drugs, if you’re famous, they give them to you. It’s good for business to say that they get you high.
Is it harder to be funnier when you’re older?
[In an old-man voice] You … try … to … stay … funny. [In announcer voice] “Ladies and gentlemen, tonight we’re going to talk about … shit … oh, memory.” Actually, Mort Sahl is amazingly funny and still has everything going on all cylinders. And being with Jonathan Winters is still pretty wonderful. [Winters died in 2013.] You see these guys like Mort or Don Rickles–that’s what keeps them going, that’s their survival. They still have it. They’re still funny. That’s what keeps them alive.
Billy Crystal has said that standup is how comedians process things that are painful.
I was thinking the other day about Tourette’s syndrome, where you say whatever is in your subconscious. Why is it always dark things? Is there a nice side to your subconscious? “I really like you. I just want to pet you. In a nice way.” Why can’t we look for the positive id? The id is always, “Glaargarg–you wanna do thaaaat.” But we won’t get into that. We’d have to reboot.
You are unique among comedians in that you haven’t written a book.
No. I hope not to.
You hope not to?
Especially autobiography. I just don’t have the discipline to do it. The learning, somewhat. But I don’t have the discipline to really sit down and write a book. Maybe we’ll cut to five years from now–“I’m here with my new book, So That’s the Way You Like It.” But I don’t think so.
This appears in the August 25, 2014 issue of TIME.