Actor and comedian Richard Belzer has played Detective Munch — on Law & Order: Special Victim’s Unit and Homicide, among other shows — for so many years that he has become nearly indistinguishable from the character. And lest you think the line between television and reality isn’t blurry enough, Belzer’s new novel, I Am Not a Cop!, is about an actor named Richard Belzer who plays a television cop named “Munch,” embroiled in an urban murder mystery. It’s awesomely meta — and he’s already at work on his follow-up book, which involves Marilyn Monroe, Las Vegas, and the mob. Belzer spoke with Vulture about the book, reminisced about getting dropped (in real life) by Hulk Hogan, and gave a conspiracy theorist’s take on the coming election.
So why did you decide to write a novel and cast yourself as the narrator?
The inspiration partly comes from when I was filming Homicide years ago and we were doing a scene in an alleyway and a shoplifter ran around the corner into the middle of the set. He dropped the bag and raised his hands and then he recognized me and said, “Oh shit! It’s Munch!” It was the convergence of reality and celebrity. I’ve always been fascinated by that.
What had he done?
He had stolen Q-tips and a can of film. It was like, how embarrassing? I said, “What’s he going to do, photograph himself cleaning his ears?” What kind of crime is that?
In the book, you reference a lot of things that really happened. Like the Hulk Hogan incident.
Yeah. In 1985 I was the host of a talk show Hot Properties on Lifetime. Hulk Hogan was on the show. He put me in a headlock and rendered me unconscious and let me fall to the ground. I split my head open and got nine stitches — and this was on live TV. My wife and I sued and settled out of court a few years later. We then put a down payment on a house in France.
Well, that part’s nice! Are you and Hogan on good terms now? Have you worked it out?
He split my head open. I haven’t spoken to him in 23 years.
I read that your cousin is the Fonz?
I don’t know how that got on the Internet! We look alike, but to my knowledge, we’re not related. I should call Henry and do some DNA swabs.
Were you really kicked out of every school you went to?
That is true. I had an uncontrollable wit. I was the guy that made everybody laugh, and I got caught one too many times. I went to several public schools. I went to religious school. I was thrown out of Hebrew school, which was the final straw. They said, “God doesn’t like you anymore. Go eat pork.”
You’re also something of a conspiracy theorist.
Everything is a conspiracy. People kind of demonize the word. But a conspiracy is when two people get together and do something. So, if more than one person does something, it’s a conspiracy. The revolution was a conspiracy, Iran Contra, Watergate.
Do you have any thoughts on politics today?
Why, is something going on?
A few minor things.
I’m a huge Obama supporter. I just feel that America has a chance to redeem itself in the eyes of the world and in our own souls. I think he’ll be a great president. And I think he’ll win. Big.
What’s the feeling about the election in France, where I know you spend a lot of your time?
They’re Obama crazy in France. They’re writing songs about him; they’ve got him on T-shirts. The Europeans I know, they were worried that Bush kept talking to God. The fact that Obama is not shoving religion down everybody’s throat is very comforting. Plus, a person of color would really send a message to the rest of the world that we’re not all white, warmongering racists.