Comedian and TV star Richard Belzer, best known for his John Munch character, delivers his second crime novel—I Am Not a Psychic!—coauthored with Michael Black, about a New York City police detective named Richard Belzer.
What led you to write a series of novels featuring yourself as a detective?
I'd been playing with the idea for a long time. I'd always been fascinated by the convergence of celebrity and reality. Once while filming an episode of Homicide, a thief ran onto our set, with actors dressed as cops. He dropped the bag he was carrying, shot up his arms and surrendered to me. Then he said, “Oh, shit, it's Munch.” Just being around all these stories from cops while playing Munch, and being a fan of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, the idea of a mystery-comedy hybrid seemed right up my alley.
Is there any chance these books might be adapted for TV, and if so, who would play Richard Belzer?
They have been optioned for TV. Don Cheadle could play me, but I hope they just go with the obvious casting choice.
As the author of UFOs, JFK, and Elvis: Conspiracies You Don't Have to Be Crazy to Believe, you've been pegged as a promoter of conspiracy theories. Any comment?
I'm not sure exactly why the term conspiracy has been demonized, and why conspiracy theorists have been marginalized by the mainstream, as there are many documented instances of such plots just in recent U.S. history. When I wrote UFOs, JFK, and Elvis, I found from my research that reality is so complicated and funny and unpredictable that you don't need to embellish anything. I tried to report on things that aren't generally known that I found fascinating. To me, virtually everything's a conspiracy until proven otherwise.
Your own liberal political outlook is somewhat muted in your novels. Is it possible to maintain the light tone and also have the fictional Richard Belzer handle a case with more real-world implications?
Absolutely. I'm not at all allergic to that notion, having a heavily politicized novel that engages my point of view. Among other things, I'm concerned that there are still serious issues of race relations, for example, as exemplified in the Sotomayor confirmation hearings and the arrest of Professor Gates that we need to better address and be brutally honest about. I think the nature of the series would enable me to keep my audience and maybe broaden it a little by introducing dark political comedy that would not alienate mainstream readers.