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Now available in paperback, Richard Belzer's captivating, often hilarious debut mystery blends fact with fiction as his off-cam- era persona comes to life on the page, employing investigative know-how and comedic timing in equal measure to solve the mystery surrounding the disappearance of a trusted friend. Fan favorite: Richard Belzer, a veteran stand-up comedian, has played the acerbic yet beloved Detective John Munch on NBC's Law & Order: Special Victims Unit currently the highest rated series of the Law & Order franchise and one of NBC's top rated shows for ten seasons. Phenomenal press: In addition to feature pieces in USA TODAY, the Daily News (New York), and stellar bookseller praise, I Am Not A Cop! garnered excellent reviews for the comedic actor's first foray into fiction. It 'perfectly captures the author's comedic voice' raved Kirkus Reviews. 'Belzer's snappy narration and behind-the-scenes look at life as a famous actor gives the book a sharp, funny edge' Media connections: In addition to his Munch role, he has recently been featured as talent scout on Last Comic Standing, blogging for The Huffington Post, and filled-in for Randi Rhodes during his Air America time slot.
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Richard Belzer plays the acerbic Detective John Munch on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, after first portraying Munch on NBC’s critically acclaimed drama series Homicide: Life on the Street. In fact, Belzer has made television history by portraying Detective Munch in ten different television series, including Law & Order, The Wire, and Arrested Development. A veteran stand-up comic, actor, and talk-show host, he appeared in such films as Fame and Scarface; starred in The Richard Belzer Show on Cinemax, his own HBO special, Another Lone Nut; and The Belzer Connection for the SciFi Channel. Belzer is author of I Am Not A Cop!, UFOs, JFK, and Elvis: Conspiracies You Don't Have to Be Crazy to Believe, and coauthor of How to Be a Stand-Up Comic. He divides his time between France and New York City.
Michael Ian Black has starred in many television series and films including Michael & Michael Have Issues, Stella, The State, Wet Hot American Summer, Viva Variety, VH1’s I Love the... series, and NBC’s Ed. He wrote the screenplay for Run, Fat Boy, Run, and wrote and directed the film Wedding Daze. He is the author of the essay collections My Custom Van—a New York Times bestseller—and You’re Not Doing It Right, and four children’s books, Chicken Cheeks, The Purple Kangaroo, I’m Bored, and Naked. He has appeared on This American Life and is also a very famous stand-up comedian and world champion poker player (not true). He lives in Connecticut with his wife and two kids.
I am not a cop.
I've just been playing one on television so long that people get a little confused sometimes. It's understandable. I've been at this game for a bunch of years, looking at corpses and bruised runaways all over New York and Baltimore, trying to ask the right questions, trying to find the right bad guy. Or girl, if that's the case.
Of course, when I'm through studying the corpse, somebody yells "Cut," and the body gets up and joins the rest of us on the way to the catering tent for a lunch break.
But it isn't just the general public that gets my role and my life mixed up. Sometimes when I leave the set after a long week's shoot, I'll hit the street and hope to catch a cab. A lot of times, a patrol car will pull over instead and offer to take me where I want to go.
"Mr. Belzer, or should I say 'Detective'?" the cop will say. "Need a lift?"
And hey, I'm not too proud to take the guys up on it, especially when it's raining and cabs are hard to find. Sometimes I even do ride-alongs with the NYPD and sit around precinct houses to soak up the atmosphere, learn the vernacular, and get the moves right.
So, as a consequence, between the cops who consult on the series, the cops I talk with in my everyday life, and the people I work with who act like cops, I sometimes feel like I've slipped into some kind of law enforcement twilight zone -- a place where the role I play and the person I am threaten to overlap. Poor old Rod Serling would be proud of me, though. I think I remember an episode like that from when I was a kid. I loved that show.
But I digress. Now, where was I? Oh, the twilight zone of law enforcement, where make-believe and reality overlap.
Take that whole thing that happened in Brighton Beach, for instance...
I left the set Friday night in late September to meet a friend for dinner. (Harlee, my lovely wife, was across the pond at our house in France with our adored dogs Django, a border collie-Beauceron mix, and Bebe, a poodle-fox terrier mix who rescued me in France. My wife is a master gardener who loves to toil in the soil, an interior decorator of supreme taste, and an astounding cook, among many other things for which I am eternally grateful.) Having some empty time to fill, I figured I might catch up with an old buddy.
The guy I was meeting was a soon-to-be former medical examiner, a Russian immigrant named Rudy Markovich. I'd met him a few years ago when he visited our set as a consultant for a morgue scene. He looked things over and promptly turned to this young director, who thought he was a hotshot, and said with a thick Russian accent, "Dat is not how ve do it."
I liked Rudy immediately.
He was rather short and had a squarish physique. Very European-looking. I figured him for his late forties, but his hair had gone totally gray. He wore it short and had bright blue eyes and a contagious smile. After the scene I walked up to him and said, "Zdravstvujtye," one of the few Russian greetings I knew. I had had to learn them a few years ago for a part in a Commie spy movie that never got filmed. But the phrases stayed with me. I have a very good memory. Some people describe it as photographic, but I prefer the term closet genius, if asked.
Rudy was delighted and started rattling off sentences so fast I had to hold up my hands and say, "Whoa." I explained that I'd already just about exhausted my entire Russian vocabulary, and he said, "Never mind, I speak five languages. That's enough for both of us."
He proceeded to prove it too, as I took him over to the tent for a cup of coffee.
I got a thumbnail sketch of Rudy's life. He'd emigrated from the then Soviet Union as a young doctor and found work cutting open the dead in the Big Apple, then worked his way up in the medical examiner's office; he started listing some of the famous cases he'd handled. In his day, Rudy had autopsied lots of high-profile dead guys for the City of New York. Everybody from politicians to Broadway royalty to business tycoons. His work had helped New York's finest, for whom I have nothing but respect, crack some really tough cases. As we had coffee that day, he told me some real amusing stories about the good old days, and some even better ones about the bad ones. His depth of knowledge about so many more subjects than medicine made him a great conversationalist. We became fast friends, and I got the impression he was a man on the move, so it didn't surprise me when I later read that he had been considered the front-runner to replace the current chief medical examiner. I know he sure helped our actors sound better and made our scenes much more realistic.
But apparently some things in his life had recently changed. Rudy had sworn off dead people and announced his resignation two days before that Friday in September. It was effective at month's end, and he'd told the reporters he was going into private practice. I guessed that maybe he thought it might be easier when his patients could talk back, but hell, the dead ones could never disagree with a diagnosis or sue him for malpractice. It seemed a strange move to me -- going from being a towering expert in one field of medicine in the Manhattan ME's office to possibly starting over as a general practitioner in someplace like a Brighton Beach strip mall. But I figured it was his call to make.
Still, I wondered how long his enthusiasm for patient/physician repartee was going to last. I had a sneaking suspicion the novelty would wear off soon enough. The dead may not talk, but they don't lie either. That's the big plus in having corpses as patients: the dead have no interest in hiding the truth.
Rudy called me right after the announcement and asked if we could meet up and talk about a few things.
I'd said sure, and he'd invited me over for dinner in his neighborhood -- a little ethnic place called Dimitri's, where the menus are printedtwice, once in Russian and once in English. It's a great place for borscht, not to mention fine Ossetra caviar on savory little blini with a dollop of sour cream. Man, I couldn't wait.
Dimitri Gromyko, the proprietor, grinned broadly at me as I walked in. The place was very, very Russian. Dark walls, scarlet drapes drooping to the floor, subdued lighting, closely spaced tables, and a musical group singing folk songs in the native tongue. He greeted me with "Dobro pozhalovat, Richard." I replied with my best attempt to sound Russian. Dimitri's bright teeth appeared underneath his bushy mustache. "Rudy is waiting at his usual table."
I walked back past the bar where bottles of fine vodka lined the shelves, past the little stage where the quartet was singing some song that sounded suspiciously like "Back in the USSR," and through the narrow aisles of tables, each covered with a nice white tablecloth. The place had a savory smell that was all its own.
Rudy looked deep in thought. His head jerked suddenly as I sat opposite him, then he nodded.
"Belz, good evening."
"You look like a man with a lot on his mind," I said. He'd already ordered two glasses of Stolichnaya for us. His was now empty. A waiter came by and filled it up. He looked at me, like he expected me to down it in one shot and get a refill, but I needed something in my stomach first. I'm not a whiskey-and-a-raw-egg-for-breakfast kind of guy.
"I'll wait a bit on that," I said. "In the meantime, give me some coffee."
He nodded, set a basket of bread down on the table, and left, taking the bottle of Stoli with him.
"And where is your beautiful wife?" Rudy asked.
"Harlee's in France at the moment," I said. "I'm on my own for a few weeks while we wrap up this round of shooting."
"Ah, the television show. It goes well?"
"You tell me. You haven't been watching it?"
"Of course I have. I wouldn't miss my dearest friend in action."
"Now I know you want something," I said, grinning, "laying a compliment like that on me before we've even decided who's going to pick up the check." I saw a hint of something in his eyes. A catch, a hesitation. "What's bothering you?"
He lifted his eyebrows and tried to cover. "No, no, I merely wanted to ask you something."
His face twitched fractionally, as if my metaphor had slapped him. He recovered quickly. "I know you're very well schooled in police work, yes?"
I waited for him to continue.
"Then you must know quite a bit about police work."
"Yeah, I've done a few ride-alongs with the cops now and then. Why?"
He compressed his lips, looked at me for a hard five seconds, and said, "I have a somewhat delicate matter for which I may need some police advice."
"Hey, I am not a cop," I said with a grin. "I only play one on TV."
"I know you have some good friends on the force."
"As I'm sure you do. How many years did you spend with the ME's office?"
He took a deep breath, but just then our waiter showed up with my coffee and two menus. After he set everything in front of us, he said he'd be back.
"You were saying..."
His head shook, his mouth twisting slightly. "Nothing. It is not important. I had a matter about which I wished to get some advice, but I will tell you about it another time."
I figured it was best to wait until he was ready. Far be it from me to pry into someone else's problems. Eventually, they seem to always have a way of morphing into your own.
"And at the moment, I have something else of much greater import." Rudy held up two tickets of some kind. I tried to see what they were, but he kept them facedown as he handed me one and said, "Alexi's fight tomorrow night at the Garden. I know how much you love boxing matches."
Alexi Zotkin was the reigning heavyweight champ for one of the alpha-bet organizations that had splintered the boxing game for the past three decades. He'd been listed as the best of the growing numbers of Eastern European boxers who'd started their training in old Soviet-era Russia as young teenagers, and then turned pro after the fall and had come to Amer-ica hoping to make the big bucks. Alexi had succeeded. The sports page had recently run a feature on him under the headline "The Russians Aren't...
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