Too Munch of a Good Thing: Remembering Richard Belzer
Posted on February 21, 2023
Richard Belzer, who died February 19 at the age of 78, was an idiosyncratic dude: chronically sardonic, his persona always at a remove behind tinted glasses, a stand-up comic, actor and author, he earnestly espoused fringe conspiracy theories even as he made fun of himself for espousing fringe conspiracy theories. Most of the books he published offered his out-of-the-mainstream opinions about phenomena and historical events. (The others are heavily metafictional mysteries starring, well, him: whether he was writing or acting or riffing onstage, Belzer couldn’t help standing to the side and commenting on himself.)
Belzer’s most indelible character was John Munch, a police detective who was sarcastic, wore dark glasses and subscribed to conspiracy theories. Part of the genius of Belzer’s career is that John Munch himself became an actual conspiracy, as a cabal of TV writers and showrunners across multiple shows on multiple networks worked together behind the scenes to make Munch a human unified theory of prime-time television by dropping him into as many different TV series as possible, creating a web of relationships that proved such disparate shows as Law and Order, The Wire, The X-Files, Arrested Development, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and Sesame Street – many available from the library, with or without John Munch – all exist within the same reality.
Do you see what this means? John Munch is the key to our understanding that Elliot Stabler and Big Bird could hang out together, is what I’m saying! At Agent Scully’s apartment! It’s a covert web of collusion that only Richard Belzer could have fully appreciated.