Richard Lewis and ‘The (Blank) From Hell’

Go ahead and call Richard Lewis the comedian from hell. You’d be paying him a compliment.

The stand-up comedian, who died on Tuesday, was known for his dark clothes, dark sense of humor and a recurring role as a, yes, even darker version himself on HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” He was a fixture in the comedy world for over half a century. But his most indelible legacy could be one simple phrase, spoken so often that its origin might never be questioned.

“The (insert hated thing here) from hell.”

It’s a phrase that seemingly has been around since time immemorial. The flight from hell, the day from hell, the lunch from hell. We’ve all been there, and we all know what it means, but where did it come from?

According to Richard Lewis and the “Yale Book of Quotations,” it came from him.

Posting on X, known then as Twitter, Mr. Lewis asked, “Where was my Nobel Peace prize?” and linked to a 2006 UPI article about his appearance in the “Yale Book of Quotations.”

In a 2008 interview with Interview Magazine, Mr. Lewis said that “the truth of the matter is that whatever gift I have as a comedian, most of it was in the phrase ‘from hell.’”

“I’m credited with popularizing that phrase because I felt victimized by everything,” he said.

Mr. Lewis elaborated in a 2014 interview with the Nashville Scene.

“I totally popularized the phrase in the late ’70s,” he said. “If you go on YouTube, you can see on Letterman, David would cut me off, and go, ‘You mean it was the bar mitzvah from hell?’ ‘That’s right!’ And I stopped saying it. I felt self-conscious. I was getting applause for it. I guess subconsciously I thought I was a victim of everything.”

Bartlett’s “Familiar Quotations” did not give him credit for the phrase, which became a story line in the episode “The Nanny,” during season three of “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”

The episode, which aired in 2002, weaves in Lewis’s attempts to get into Bartlett’s.

“It was a real solid for Larry to do that for me,” he said. “That really immortalized it in some respects.”

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