I thought the crowd that came out to see Richard Belzer at Tribeca’s Barnes & Noble last week, on the eve of the presidential debate, would be predominantly Law & Order junkies and maybe a couple fans of Belzer’s stand up. My gateway into Belzer has, after all, been his acting, which explains my complete ignorance.
It seems Belzer, in his own right, has accrued a respectable, dedicated following of conspiracy theorists. Still, I found myself not wanting to take this seriously, waiting for the punchline to fly out of Belzer’s mouth, conditioned to expect wry one-liners from the slight, brazen actor. “This is a publicity stunt right?” I thought at least once. Law & Order: SVU has after all, in my mind, been suffering immensely in recent years.
Jokes aside, I was surprised to find Belzer was completely serious about the whole thing. Belzer loves — lives even — a “good” conspiracy. This would come as no surprise to someone familiar with his literary repertoire — his first book UFOs, JFK, and Elvis: Conspiracies You Don’t Have to Be Crazy to Believe was published 12 years ago.
Crowd members were there to hear him read from his latest novel, however, Dead Wrong: Straight Facts on the Country’s Most Controversial Cover-Ups. Actually, what this crowd really wanted was to be heard as they spouted off their own favorite — or most contentious — conspiracy theories. People are inclined to trust “good-cop” Belzer and want to open up to him, evidenced by bookstore personnel literally dragging audience members away after they had their books signed.
“But what about….” they would trail off, shooed away by employees.
“Tell us you’re running for president!” shouted one audience member.
At one point, Belzer put the whole event on pause to help a crying child locate its mother elsewhere in the store. “Let’s put a bullet in that parent’s head,” he said, returning to the crowd, to offset the nurturing gesture.
It’s way more fun to see a seasoned actor and stand-up comic read from his book than your average author, who isn’t sure how to publicly appeal to his audience. Belzer knew what the people wanted, and , a renaissance man, he delivered. He only read from the book’s introductory “warning,” before opening up the forum.
Only one brief mention of Belzer’s Law & Order career was made (“Is it a conspiracy you and Ice-T don’t get more screen time?”), which he laughed off with grace, preferring to get back to the subject at hand. (In case you were wondering, real-life Belzer is essentially Detective Munch, but with the limelight he’s always craved.)
“Is there one big grand conspiracy in the world?” said Belzer, of a question he’s often asked. “I don’t think there is. Sometimes dark forces have a common interest and come together to do a big thing. Every once in awhile the bad guys have to take care of a thing.”
It seems Belzer feels he has a unique duty to expose the conspiracies he does. “I wish I could be writing joke books,” he said. “But I believe everything is a conspiracy until you prove it’s not a conspiracy. People are ready for no BS anymore.”
“Thank you for exposing these conspiracies,” one elderly audience member responded.
Richard Belzer is currently writing three more books about conspiracies, “not to brag,” he says.
By Alissa Fleck
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