Richard Bey’s Infinite Punyverse

When Richard Bey saw the April segment of Glenn Beck’s Fox News show in which the anchor doused an actor

When Richard Bey saw the April segment of Glenn Beck’s Fox News show in which the anchor doused an actor in fake gasoline to illustrate his disapproval of Barack Obama, he had one thought: “This is The Richard Bey Show!”

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From 1987 to 1996, Richard Bey hosted a syndicated talk show originating on New York’s WWOR. In Mr. Beck’s theatrical presentation, with its populist pretenses and Mr. Beck’s very Bey-like outfit of sports jacket and blue jeans, Mr. Bey said, he spotted a fellow technician of the talk show’s art and science, of which he considers himself a founding father. He didn’t like all of what he saw in the contemporary practice of the form.

“He’s such a bad actor! He actually wiped a tear away with one finger like [François] Delsarte. It’s like 19th-century acting,” he told The Observer during a recent visit to his apartment.

His and Mr. Beck’s politics couldn’t be more diametrically opposed, but politics and acting aside, game recognized game.

“As much as I detest him, Glenn Beck has that quality. He’s the only one who has that quality.”

“That” quality is hard to describe, but whatever it is, it launched a million daytime talk shows in the 1990s, and Mr. Beck seems to be its last gasp.

At 57 years old, Mr. Bey has never been married. He lives alone in a two-bedroom 46th-floor apartment in a neighborhood with no name. His doorman building is a few seconds’ scramble north from Hell’s Kitchen and a dozen or so blocks’ stumble south from Lincoln Center.

Mr. Bey’s decor is Late 20th-Century Bachelor Utilitarian: The place is tidy, but sparsely furnished. A dining room set dominates the living room filled with an upright piano and a vibrating recliner facing an old TV the size and shape of a Mack truck grille. A wine glass lined with purple swill was left beside the chair. Mr. Bey would have a breathtaking view of Central Park if it weren’t for the Trump International Tower and the Time Warner Center blocking the way.

From this Xanadu, the man who changed the face of his medium looks out occasionally on the real world, and, sometimes, plots his return to it.

He greeted The Observer wearing a green shirt open to the third button; a thin gold rope chain nested in his chest. His hair still suspiciously jet black, he had the energy and forthrightness one might remember from his TV show, even though he’s been off the air full-time since 1996. He believes that his show was canceled after he interviewed then-President Clinton’s alleged ex-lover Gennifer Flowers. A second career in radio ended in 2003. Mr. Bey claimed that his opposition to the war in Iraq did him in.

From time to time, his name reenters the public consciousness: Most recently, this happened when Universal released the trailer for Sacha Baron Cohen’s latest ambush movie, Brüno. In the clip, the talk show host is seen playing the role of his lifetime: a talk show host named Richard Bey.

Mr. Bey could not say whether he was duped into appearing with Mr. Cohen, but the reasons for his silence spoke volumes: There was a nondisclosure agreement. And use was made of his union membership.

“It’s fairly obvious they re-created The Richard Bey Show,” he said.

Brüno aside, Mr. Bey spoke freely even as he was recovering from a recent oral surgery procedure. He told stories about working with Christopher Durang at the Yale School of Drama; how he made almost a million dollars a year at the height of his show; and how he managed to “extended my teenage years through my 40s.”

Now, in his late 50s, Mr. Bey has become a self-professed “monk.” He said he’s helping to raise the 10-year-old son of an ex-girlfriend.

“I never dreamed of being on television,” he said. “It’s been pretty good to me. All of it. I don’t have regrets about any of that.”

Mr. Bey said he doesn’t even regret watching people like Matt Lauer, someone he traded jobs with for years in Philadelphia and New York, become more successful than him. “‘You could’ve been Matt Lauer,’” Mr. Bey recalled his brother telling him once. “‘Instead, you’re Soupy Sales.’”

“You know what?” Mr. Bey responded. “I’d rather be Soupy Sales.”


Richard Bey, When Are You Coming Back?

Richard Bey is not just another name from New York City’s past, like Eleanor Bumpurs, Larry “Crackhead” Davis (not to mention Larry “Bud” Melman) or Sukhreet Gabel. He’s still recognized all the time.

“If I go to a cocktail party on the east side, it’s the people working for the catering company who know me,” he said. Whenever he drives through the Lincoln Tunnel, the toll-takers always shout, “Richard Bey! When are you coming back?”

Recently a producer from the Learning Channel called Mr. Bey and said he was the Ernie Kovacs of the ’90s. The guy wanted to know who held the rights to the old Richard Bey Shows, but Mr. Bey didn’t know.

He has about 500 episodes burned onto DVDs in his apartment. In 1999, a friend from WWOR’s Secaucus, N.J., headquarters called Mr. Bey and told him the maintenance crew was throwing them away along with other shows, and did Mr. Bey want to come retrieve them?

“One-third of these are garbage,” he said. “One-third of them are all right. But one-third of them are kind of really funny as hell!”

“If they ran these late night, it’s funnier than Jimmy Fallon!”

(“The guy is so nervous,” Mr. Bey said of Mr. Fallon. “He was nervous not only the first night—he’s still nervous!. My god, suppose you went to see a Broadway show and they go, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, this is the first time the lead actor has been on Broadway stage. He’s a little bit nervous. He’ll get better in a couple of weeks. Or in a couple of months he’ll grow into it.’ Gimme a fucking break.”)

Based on the clips of those shows available on YouTube, you’d think every episode of The Richard Bey Show involved strippers or drag queens, wrestling sisters, or what is now known as “babymama drama.”

Richard Bey’s Infinite Punyverse