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Detective Mensch Actor: A dark comic with a sweetheart of a soul, Richard Belzer has found a new life with 'Homicide.'

February 20, 1997|By Rob Hiaasen | Rob Hiaasen,SUN STAFF

"Munch," Simon says, "is a great vehicle for writers to introduce the outside world into the self-contained world of the squad room. Here's a guy who still has this window on the world -- although maybe it's a little cracked."

Munch doesn't define himself by his job like, say, Frank does. "People ask me 'Is Munch a bad detective?' He's not tearing things up, but when I'm watching him, I'm seeing a guy like the detectives I knew," Simon says.

John Munch could be the most well-adjusted cop on the show.

It's a scary thought.

INTERIOR: FELLS POINT/BAR, COFFEE HOUSE -- EVENING.

The Thames Street tavern, site of tonight's "Homicide" get-together, is like a scene in John Munch's bar: Don't look, the evil Luther Mahoney is knocking down a cold one. Luther's nemesis, Meldrick Lewis, foolishly has his back to Luther. Detective Mike Kellerman busts in. Handsome son-of-a-gun. ,X Don't stare, but he and the new medical examiner are embracing. The assistant M.E. (played by Harlee McBride) waits at the bar for her date.

"You doing a story on Belzer? He's a helluva actor," says Clark Johnson, who plays Lewis. "Say nice things about him." (It sounds like an order.) Johnson is planning to visit Belzer and McBride at their "Hulk Hogan Estate" later this year. Didn't you wonder how they could afford a home in southern France?

During a 1990 cable show, Hogan put Richard Belzer in a wrestling hold. Hogan is a human pectoral muscle; Belzer is 150 pounds of wit and grit. Theirs was a match made in court. As Hogan's hold took hold, McBride watched as "Richard dropped to the floor like a rag. I knew this was too long for comedic timing." Belzer sued, settled out of court with the Hulkster and used the dough for a down payment on the home in France.

Speaking of Belzer, he arrives with an arm around a departing "Homicide" director. "Richard is an original," the director says. Someone else says, "He'll do anything for you." Like what? Like helping a colleague get through a bad day.

"Richard is very good at gathering us in," says actress Melissa Leo, who is in the middle of a child custody battle with her ex-husband John Heard.

"Richard," says Leo, who plays Sgt. Kay Howard, "gathered me in when I was having my ... upheavals."

INTERIOR: BRIGHTON'S/HARBOR COURT -- NOON.

Belzer orders two eggs up corraled by potatoes. He selects Earl Grey tea from his favorite waiter in Baltimore, Kit. Newspapers are available, but Belzer has already read his customary five for the day. A diligent comic has to keep up, he says.

Lunch with Munch is a many splintered thing. He's open to any topic, especially a few favorites: He loves McBride and their grown daughters, Bree Benton and Jessica Erin; he's bonded with Baltimore's because I feel an affinity for city people and their struggles; the key to acting is less is more and nothing is best; and "Homicide," quite simply, has transformed my life.

But Belzer is a little droopy. Maybe it's the 12-hour "Homicide" days, coupled with this business down I-95. Belzer headlines tomorrow at the Improv in Washington. He hasn't done stand-up since May at the re-opening of Newman's Catch a Rising Star.

Belzer feels out of shape, maybe a little soft. It's like getting back in the ring after a long time, you know?

At the Improv the next night, Belzer weaves a monologue where one-liners are beside the point. Is this an act or an assault? Babe, he's not here to chat:

I think we should drive a stake through Nixon's heart just to be sure. ... The mainstream press is just an arm of the state. ... Ah, yes, the greatest UFO of all time: the single bullet theory. ... Nice tie, pal, they couldn't guess your weight, eh? ...

A Belzer riff then gets left for dead on Connecticut Avenue. You want structure? Then, read a book, the comic says. I'm just a drunk actor trying to make you laugh.

It's bedtime. Take care, watch 'Homicide' and drive safely, says Richard Belzer.

He did come a long way to entertain you.

Pub Date: 2/20/97

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