The first thing I notice about Richie Tozier’s new home, a modest three-bedroom on a shady street in El Segundo, is how remarkably clean he keeps the place. The hardwood floors, the marble countertops, the tall windows overlooking the pool in the yard -- they all gleam. Every square inch seems to be soaked in light. I was, frankly, expecting a little more grunge from Tozier, and when I tell him so, he laughs.
“Yeah, well, the husband’s a hypochondriac,” he says, and laughs again: “‘The husband.’ Who am I, June Cleaver? Jesus tap-dancing Christ.”
The husband is a recent addition to Tozier’s life, and one which came as a shock to many fans. Over the course of his two decades in comedy, Tozier has worked hard to cultivate the fratty, uncouth persona of a pathological womanizer -- and courted no small share of controversy for jokes perceived as sexist. “It was just this bullshit defense mechanism, all these routines about, like, going to bed with models,” he says. “I can admit that now. I was just so terrified of being seen as…” He trails off, sighs. “Well. You know.”
By now, Tozier’s public coming-out is the stuff of legend. In June, hosting “Saturday Night Live” after a hiatus of over a year, Tozier came across as uncharacteristically quiet, even timid, during the episode’s opening segment. “Nerves,” he says, shaking his head. “Worst I’ve ever had in my life. I was five seconds from shitting my pants onstage.” In his monologue, he recounted increasingly wild fan theories about how he’d spent his year on hiatus: “Depending on who you asked, I was in rehab, for drugs. Or I was in jail, also for drugs. Or I was Chappelle’ing it in South Africa until I got so desperate for drugs that I had to hop on a plane and get back to LA.”
The truth behind his disappearance was at once simpler and vastly more complex than his fans could have imagined. Stepping into the spotlight, Tozier brought the microphone close to his lips. “I’m here to tell you,” he said, solemnly, “that I am not on drugs.” He paused. “Well, okay, I’m on one drug.” The audience laughed. “I’m on Viagra,” he said. “So that I can have sex.”
He pulled in a deep breath.
“Anal sex,” he said. “With my husband.”
He lifted his hand, brandished his wedding ring. There was a gasp from the audience in Studio 8H -- and then, the crowd went wild.
Richie Tozier met the man who would one day become his husband when the two were students at Derry Elementary School in Derry, Maine. “It was great,” he says, grinning as he kicks his legs up onto his coffee table. “How many people are lucky enough to meet their soulmate in kindergarten?” Though Tozier speaks of Derry fondly, his childhood was not an easy one. “I was a shrimp, you know, with these great, big, Coke-bottle glasses,” he says. “And I didn’t know I was gay yet, but everybody else did. So you can imagine how popular I was.”
Derry, once a sleepy fishing village, has become something of a tourist hub in recent years. It’s also become synonymous in the national discourse with homophobia, after the murder, last year, of Adrian Mellon, an openly gay freelance journalist, by a group of teenagers in the hours after Derry’s town fair. “It really rattled me, reading about [the murder],” says Tozier. His leg bounces, almost violently; a nervous tic, he says. “I mean, growing up, others kids would call me a faggot, try to beat me up and shit. That whole attitude -- I think it runs deep in Derry.” On one occasion, he says, he was chased from an arcade after his innocent request to play Street Fighter with another boy was misinterpreted as a come-on, and the boy’s cousins threatened to beat him. “You can imagine what that does to a kid, right?” he says. “Being told that there’s something, like, innately fucked and evil about you.”
His only reprieve, he says, came in the form of a tight-knit friendship with a group of other local misfits. “The Losers’ Club,” he says, a smile spreading across his face. “That’s what we called ourselves.” Among the losers was one Eddie Kaspbrak. “Eddie was the worst,” Tozier says. “He was a hypochondriac. He had asthma. He wore a fanny-pack everywhere.” Tozier pauses, his grin now incandescent. “Just a complete and utter dweeb,” he says. “I love that dweeb. I put a ring on that dweeb.”
“I think it was pretty obvious to all of us, even back then,” says Beverly Marsh, the noted fashion designer, who was a childhood friend of Tozier’s and a member of the Losers’ Club. “Richie and Eddie had this very special sort of bond. Like brothers, almost, but more than that. I don’t know that any of us had the words for what it was.”
Ben Hanscom, another of Tozier’s childhood friends, and a self-described “Loser,” agrees with Marsh. “They were off in their own little world half the time, those two,” he says. “It was that whole thing of, ‘I like you, but I can’t tell you, so I’m gonna pull your hair, poke you, call you names.’ That kind of stuff. Richie could really get a rise out of Eddie with these nicknames, let me tell you.”
I’m fortunate enough, during my time with Tozier, to overhear some of these nicknames. Seated in a plush white armchair in his spotless living room, Tozier turns his head and calls down a long hallway: “Hey, Eddie? Eddie Spaghetti? Eds?” There is, from a distant room, a torrent of swearing: “For God’s sake, Richie, how many times do I have to fuckin’ tell you, don’t call me…” And then, in the doorway, emerges a slight man, no taller than five feet or so: this is Eddie Kaspbrak. When he sees me, his kind eyes go wide, and his eyebrows -- thick, bushy caterpillars -- rise up into arcs.
“Shit, Rich!” Kaspbrak exclaims. “You didn’t tell me the reporter was here!”
He claps a hand over his mouth.
“Sorry,” he says. “Are you allowed to say ‘shit’ in the New York Times?”
“Eds, he’s with the New Yorker, not the Times,” Tozier says. “You can fully say ‘shit’ in the New Yorker. They don’t give a shit.”
Kaspbrak sighs, crosses the room, and lightly boxes Tozier’s ear.
“Don’t,” he says, fondly, “call me Eds.”
He leans down, then, and plants the briefest and gentlest of kisses on Tozier’s cheek. It is immediately obvious to me that I am in the presence of two people in love.
For decades, fans have known Tozier as the antithesis of the mild-mannered married man seated before me. In his stand-up routines and in his film and television roles, Tozier has consistently played variations on boorish, womanizing drunks. He could frequently be seen in tabloids, too, photographed spilling out of limousines outside of nightclubs, nearly always accompanied by a much younger model or starlet. “You could say I was overcompensating,” he now says, of this behaviour. “Growing up, there was just something about me -- like, people looked at me and they thought ‘gay,’ they thought ‘faggot.’ I was terrified of that, starting out in Hollywood. I wanted to counter it as much as possible.” He has, he says, never actually been in a serious relationship with a woman. “Or even an unserious one,” he says. The slice-of-life jokes about nagging girlfriends that used to pepper his sets were the work of ghostwriters, and his female companions were often hired by a public relations agency to accompany him to events.
Asked about the ethics of all of this, Tozier hangs his head, unable to meet my gaze. “I mean, yeah, it’s scummy,” he says. “I knew it was scummy as I was doing it. But I had all these people telling me, like, ‘This is what you need to do to survive,’ you know?”
After graduating from Derry’s high school in 1994, Tozier hoofed it to Los Angeles, where he waited tables and performed, without payment, at amateur nights in various comedy clubs throughout the city. “I was so hungry, man,” he says, slinging his fist into his open palm. “I mean, hungry for a break, but also in the most literal sense. I wasn’t making jack shit. I survived off the stuff we scraped into the garbage at the end of my shifts.” He lived this way for many years, eventually becoming known as a reliable presence in the Los Angeles comedy scene, available for bit parts and opening sets. This phase of his career was not without its starry moments; he opened for Dave Attell and Jay Mohr when they toured in town, and appeared in an episode of “Friends” as a one-time love interest for Jennifer Aniston’s character. “I did get some calls after ‘Friends’ aired,” he says. “Some auditions, I mean.”
One audition, in particular, proved decisive in setting the course of Tozier’s career -- for all the wrong reasons. “It was a romantic comedy,” he says, although he declines to name the film. “Big director, big screenwriter, big, big leading actress attached. They were looking for an unknown for the male lead, kind of an everyman, and they brought me in.” Tozier did well enough in the first round of auditions that he was brought in for a chemistry reading with the film’s starring actress -- and here, he says, things went awry. “They asked her to leave the room,” he says. “And it’s this panel of guys -- the director, some producers, casting director, whatever. And they’re like, ‘Do you even want to be here?’ And I told them yes, of course, and this one producer goes, ‘No, I mean: do you even want to fuck her?’” Though none of the men on the panel explicitly said so, Tozier left feeling as though he’d failed to convince them of his heterosexuality.
“It was just this awful rude awakening,” he says. “Like, if you want these roles, you’re going to have to put on a disguise. You’re going to have to work really, really fucking hard to put that disguise together.”
Tozier, in the years that followed, would fill his routines with references to girlfriends, and go on pre-arranged, intricately choreographed dates with women. He was not out as gay, even to his close friends. “I will tell you right now: I had no idea, none,” says Ali Wong, the comedian, a good friend of Tozier’s. “He and I have talked since ‘SNL,’ and every time, I’m just like, ‘I wish you’d told me, dude. I wish you weren’t carrying this shit all by yourself all these years.’” Tozier says he felt fully disconnected from the gay community, neither seeing men in a romantic capacity nor befriending other gay men.
“It wasn’t like I was seeing men in private,” Tozier says. “Like, not even one-off things. I was so scared that word would get out. I didn’t so much as kiss a guy, all those years.”
He pauses, and his hand snakes behind his glasses, wiping away what looks to be water pooling beneath his eyes. He pulls in a deep breath, drops his hand, and meets my gaze again.
“It was a lonely time,” he says, and his voice shakes a little. “Really, really fucking lonely.”
One evening in the spring of 2016, Tozier took the stage at Los Angeles’ Laugh Factory for a set which has since become infamous. Just before his routine, he had received a call notifying him that a childhood friend of his, Stanley Uris -- another member of the Losers’ Club -- had committed suicide. “I was just beside myself, absolutely fucking beside myself,” he says, raking his hand through his messy hair. “I shouldn’t have even done my set. But there were, like, a few hundred people out there, and they’d paid good money to see me. So I did what I had to do.”
After vomiting into a garbage receptacle in the wings, Tozier walked onstage, visibly distraught, and proceeded to bomb. Clips from the set went viral; online, observers wondered if he was mentally ill, or perhaps on drugs. After a masochistic evening of scrolling through Twitter, Tozier deactivated his social media accounts, disconnected his phone, and boarded a red-eye flight to Bangor for Uris’s funeral.
“You have to understand, we had no idea what was going on,” says Patrick Houston, Tozier’s manager at the time, from whom he’s since split. “He didn’t tell us about his dead friend, didn’t tell a soul he’d gotten on that plane. Just deleted everything and left. You can understand why we worried. Why all the rumours started.”
In hindsight, Tozier says, he should have handled the situation with greater tact. “But I really wasn’t thinking straight,” he says. “I mean, this was my friend, and he was dead, and…” He swallows, and issues a dismissive wave of his hand. “There was other stuff going on, too,” he says. “I can’t really get into it. Not drugs or mental health, but… bad stuff. I just had to get on that flight. I had to be with my people.”
Upon returning to Derry, Tozier arranged to meet with his friends, the surviving members of the Losers’ Club, at a local Chinese restaurant. “I was expecting to sit in a circle, share memories, whatever,” he says. But as soon as he walked through the door, his eyes fell on Kaspbrak, whom he hadn’t seen in over two decades. “And everything came rushing back,” he says. “I took one look at him, and I just lost it. I was a mess. A fucking basketcase. I got drunker that night than I think I’ve ever gotten in my whole entire life.”
Kaspbrak, at the time, was working as a risk analyst for a firm on Wall Street, and had been married, to a woman, for several years. “I hadn’t seen Rich in, oh, twenty years, give or take,” says Kaspbrak. “Not since our high school graduation.” They hadn’t kept in touch, Kaspbrak says, because Tozier was hard to contact, “especially after he started getting roles and stuff.” He was unprepared for the emotional reaction he’d have when he laid eyes on Tozier. “I was doing pretty well for myself,” he says. “I had a wife. I was making a decent living. We had plans to start a family. And then Trashmouth here…” He pauses, nudging Tozier with his elbow. “He walked into the room, and all of a sudden, I couldn’t stop thinking about what I was missing.”
The two of them decline to discuss precisely what took place in the days that followed. “A lot of really grim, uh, funeral stuff,” says Kaspbrak. “I’d rather not get into it,” Tozier agrees, nodding. “It was pretty bleak. Harrowing.” They do share, however, that on their last day in Derry, Uris’s wife, Patricia, distributed letters that Uris had written before his suicide. “I was reading, you know, this letter from a dead man, this guy who had been my friend,” says Tozier. “And it hit me, like, life is too short. And I’d almost lost -- I mean, I had lost someone who meant a lot to me. I thought about getting back on the plane, going to Los Angeles without saying anything, and… I couldn’t. I just couldn’t do it, man.”
Mere hours before Tozier’s flight was due to depart from Bangor, Tozier called Kaspbrak and asked him to accompany him on a walk to Derry’s “Kissing Bridge.” The bridge, a spindly old footpath overlooking the river that runs through Derry, has long served as a lovers’ lane, its wood pockmarked with names and initials of sweethearts past. “He walked me out to the bridge,” says Kaspbrak, “and then he stopped, suddenly, and he told me, ‘Hey, Eds, look.’ And I looked down, and there, in the wood…”
“I’d carved R plus E,” Tozier says. “When I was just a kid, like, twelve or thirteen. And it was still there.”
As Tozier looked on, Kaspbrak kneeled before the letters, withdrew a pocketknife, and carved their initials deeper. “I was trying to say -- without saying it, because I couldn’t really talk -- that I knew,” Kaspbrak says. “I knew, and I felt the same way, and I always had. And I don’t know why it took us so long.”
“Oh, man, Eds,” Tozier says, clearly moved. “If we didn’t have a reporter sitting on our couch right now, I’d bend you over and --”
Initially, Tozier wasn’t certain he’d even return to Los Angeles. “I was burnt out on the whole celebrity lifestyle,” he says. “And I think my professional bridges were pretty good and burnt, too.” Indeed, bombing at the Laugh Factory and disappearing without a trace had not endeared him to his management, nor to his fans. Upon his return to Los Angeles, he found that his agent and manager had both dropped him, apparently out of concern for his mental health. The tabloids, too, had manufactured all manner of rumours about Tozier’s disappearance; when Tozier initially declined to speak to reporters, he only fueled these rumours. “I just wanted to get my life in order, man,” he says. “I’d wasted so much time. I’d lied to so many people. I knew that if I was going to come back to comedy, I wanted to do it honestly.”
Kaspbrak followed Tozier to Los Angeles, quitting his job and filing for divorce in the state of New York. Theirs was an acrimonious split, and Kaspbrak declines to discuss it in detail. “I wish we could have stayed friends, at least,” he says, laughing nervously. “I’m so bad with conflict.”
“You are not,” Tozier interjects. “You’re the br--”
“Bravest person you know,” Kaspbrak finishes for him, rolling his eyes. “I know.”
In the months that it took to finalize his divorce, Kaspbrak aided Tozier in moving out of his one-bedroom apartment -- a “total roach motel,” he says, shuddering, as Tozier protests: “It wasn’t that bad!” -- and into the home where they now live. At the earliest available opportunity, they wed one another in a small, private ceremony at El Segundo’s town hall, in the presence of the other members of the Losers’ Club. “Not a dry eye in the house, I’ll tell you that much,” says Beverly Marsh, recalling the event. “I just can’t believe Richie showed up in a fucking Hawaiian shirt,” says Bill Denbrough, the author, a friend of Tozier’s, who served as one of his groomsmen. “Like, dude, I know this is a low-key deal at the town hall and all, but this is your wedding.”
“Yeah, well, Bill can go fuck himself,” says Tozier, when I tell him of Denbrough’s comments. “That Hawaiian shirt was comfortable as fuck.”
For much of the year following their wedding, Tozier and Kaspbrak lived a very private existence. Kaspbrak took up gardening and enrolled in art classes at a local community college. Tozier binged stand-up specials and worked on new material, jokes he wasn’t sure would ever see the light of day. For the most part, they simply enjoyed one another’s company: lying around the house, going on trips to Catalina Island, and, just once, hiking in the Hollywood Hills. “Never again,” laughs Kaspbrak. “We are not active people,” says Tozier. “We are never going to be, like, Instagram influencer fitness gays.” They adopted a dog, a feisty Pomeranian who remains cloistered in a bedroom upstairs for the duration of our interview. (“He’s a biter,” says Kaspbrak, apologetically. “We’re working on it.”)
After his first few months of married life, says Tozier, he was happier than he’d been in years. “Actually, no,” he adds. “Happier than I’ve ever been in my whole life, I think.” He was keen to return to comedy, but, he says, he had no idea how to orchestrate such a return. He was no longer on speaking terms with his management, and he’d been out of touch with many of his fellow comedians. “I was a little shocked when I got his call, I have to say,” says John Mulaney, the comedian, who is a friend of Tozier’s. “Last I’d heard, he’d dropped off the face of the Earth without so much as leaving a number.” Tozier met with Mulaney, and a handful of other comedians -- among them, Ali Wong -- to review the material he’d written and discuss a possible comeback.
“This stuff he’d been working on, it was just unbelievable,” says Wong. “The best of his career and then some. I was like, ‘You have to put this out. Let’s get you on a stage.’ But he was really nervous about -- I mean, it all revolved around coming out. He knew he would have to come out before he performed a word of this stuff.”
Through the grapevine, Lorne Michaels of “Saturday Night Live” heard that Tozier had been workshopping new material, and offered him a prime hosting spot. At first, Tozier wasn’t sure he should accept. “I mean, it was clear to me: this is it,” he says. “Now or never. You’re not going to go on ‘SNL’ and not come out.” Kaspbrak, too, was hesitant: the two of them had spent their first year of marriage in more or less complete seclusion, and coming out on national television might rupture the fragile thing they’d built. “I was afraid for him, I guess,” says Kaspbrak. “Maybe that’s dumb. But people are mean. I didn’t want to open the mailbox one day and see a bunch of letters talking about, I don’t know, ‘Dear Richie, you are an evil sinner,’ you know?”
“That’s what you were worried about?” Tozier laughs. “Hate mail? Actual, physical hate mail? Letters?”
“Well, why wouldn’t I be?”
“This one’s not on Twitter,” says Tozier, aiming his thumb at Kaspbrak. “He doesn’t know. Doesn’t get it.”
In the end, “Saturday Night Live” won out, and Kaspbrak flew, with Tozier, to New York City to take in the show. He watched in the audience as Tozier’s monologue went off without a hitch, watched as the skits rolled by, tight and funny and laser-focused. At the conclusion of the episode, Kaspbrak joined Tozier onstage, looping his arm around his husband’s waist and waving goodbye to guests. As the credits rolled, Tozier leaned in and kissed Kaspbrak on the mouth. The audience erupted, once more, into cheers; musical guest Lorde looked on, eyes nearly falling out of her head, visibly astonished. A gif of the moment became ubiquitous on social media. Critics posted raves. All, for the moment, was well.
The roaring success of Tozier’s “Saturday Night Live” episode, for which he has been nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series, has enabled him to mount a nationwide tour, which will begin in Los Angeles this fall. Some performances, he says, will be taped for Netflix, though details are fuzzy at the present time. “It’s a hard show to talk about,” says Tozier. “Like, it’s very much about falling in love and getting married and coming out, but it’s not sappy stuff. And it’s not political material, either. It’ll be just as dumb and grody as everything else I’ve ever done.” This is, after all, the man who came out to the public via a joke about anal sex on national television.
“I mean, I have the highest of hopes for him,” says Mulaney, who’s been aiding Tozier in rehearsals for the tour. “I think it’s going to be just spectacular. Really something we’ve never seen in comedy before, and something we need really badly. This show could -- actually, no, I’m going to say that it will cement him as a legend.”
Kaspbrak, for his part, is more modest about what lies ahead for him. “At the end of the day, man, it’s just me and my husband and my dog,” he says. “And if I bomb, if the show fails, I still have that. I still have this guy and his sweet, sweet ass to come home to.”
Kaspbrak, not unkindly, drives an elbow into Tozier’s side. Tozier giggles, twisting to escape this assault on his person.
“Sorry!” he shrieks. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that, Eds.”
“For God’s sake,” Kaspbrak says, “don’t call me --”
“Eds,” Tozier coos, and plants a kiss squarely in the centre of his husband’s forehead. “I love you.”
Kaspbrak lets out a sigh -- exasperated, but very fond. “I love you, too, you dick.”