Happy Halloween, everyone!
I love Halloween. It’s probably my favorite holiday. And honestly, I had a Halloween post all planned, where I wrote about my various geek costumes over the years. But the more I thought about it, the more self-indulgent it seemed. So instead, I’m going to talk about another October holiday, one that means as much to me as Halloween, because it’s one that I invented: Munch Week.
…Yeah, okay. This is still really self-indulgent, but hopefully it’ll be more entertaining.
Munch Week is the week where we celebrate the character of John Munch and all that he has done for us. John Munch, in case you don’t know, is the detective played by the great Richard Belzer on Homicide: Life On The Street and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit for an unbroken run of 22 consecutive seasons.
A bit of history: John Munch started out as one of the nine detectives on NBC’s Homicide: Life On The Street in 1993. Over the course of H:LOTS‘s seven season run, the struggling show had three crossovers with the NBC hit Law & Order. When Homicide came to an end in 2000, Belzer proposed to Law & Order producer Dick Wolf that Munch become partners with Jerry Orbach’s Lenny Briscoe. Wolf loved the idea, but he’d already hired Jesse L. Martin as Briscoe’s new partner.
Luckily, Wolf was in the midst of creating SVU at the time, so Baltimore homicide detective John Munch became NYC SVU detective John Munch. Belzer continued playing Munch for an additional 15 seasons on SVU, finally retiring in the episode “Wonderland Story” in October 2013. In the real world, NYPD detectives face mandatory retirement before their 63rd birthdays. Belzer was 69 when Munch was put out to pasture. And he’s come back for two guest appearances since then.
That run alone would be impressive enough, but Munch didn’t stop there. Somewhere along the line, Munch became TV’s crossover king. He’s shown up on shows as diverse as Sesame Street, The Wire, Jimmy Kimmel Live, The X-Files, 30 Rock, and Arrested Development. Munch got a mention on the BBC show Luther and made an unnamed cameo in Kim Newman’s novel Johnny Alucard. His father Pete Munch appeared in Vol. III of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. As of this writing, Richard Belzer has appeared as Munch in a staggering 459 episodes of television, showing up in ten different series across seven different networks, more than any other fictional character. That’s an achievement that I think should be celebrated.
Richard Belzer has also had a pretty amazing career beyond Munch. He was reporter Joe Klein on the 1990 Flash TV show. He played Inspector Henderson on the first season of Lois & Clark. He was the warm-up comic for the original Saturday Night Live. He worked on The National Lampoon Radio Hour with John Belushi, Gilda Radner, Bill Murray, Chevy Chase, and Harold Ramis. He’s a frequent guest on Howard Stern’s radio show. He’s opened for Warren Zevon on tour. He’s written books on stand-up comedy and the JFK assassination. And he’s sued Hulk Hogan and bought a villa in France with the settlement money.
But he’s still best known as Munch. Belzer has become so identified as a cop that a shoplifter once surrendered to him while he was shooting Homicide (Belzer testified on the guy’s behalf, saying that the look on his face when he realized his mistake was sufficient punishment). The lines have gotten so blurred that Belzer even co-wrote a 2008 mystery novel entitled I Am Not A Cop!, where Richard Belzer the actor has to solve the disappearance of his friend, NYC medical examiner Rudy Markovich. The book did well enough to get a follow-up, I Am Not A Psychic!, the next year.
When I learned that Munch’s TV streak was coming to an end in October 2013, I suggested to Comics Should Be Good’s Brian Cronin that we devote that week’s The Line It Is Drawn to John Munch mashups as a tribute to him. Brian agreed, and so we all drew Richard Belzer into our pieces for that week.
It was a funny week and it went over well, so I half-jokingly suggested in the comments that we make Munch Week an annual feature. One commenter strenuously objected. His comment was so funny that I shared it on Facebook. It just came up again in my “Memories” feature, so here it is:
“Please do NOT make this a recurring bit. I don’t watch ‘Law and Order’ so this was a complete and total waste of space (and talent). This is nothing more than a worthless niche week. Why not have a week of comic book characters as the stars of obscure 1960s Polish arthouse films? It would be no less boring for people who like ‘The Line It Is Drawn’ but are forced to muddle through a week when there’s little to interest them.”
I think it was the use of the word “forced” that got me. Like we were holding his family hostage or something. He had to look at free artwork online that didn’t exclusively cater to his personal wants & desires. The HORROR.
Never mind that doing comic book character mashups is pretty damn niche to begin with. Or that, when you’re doing something every week, you’ve got to break the pattern every once in a while, just to keep things interesting. And hell, how is featuring a long-running, nationally-known television character “niche” anyway? After all, more people watch Richard Belzer on TV every week than read comic books.
So the next October, Brian & I decided to do Munch Week again, partly just to piss this commenter off. This time around, it even got a little bit of outside coverage. And then we did it again in 2015. And really, what’s more American — or Munchian — than starting a brand new holiday out of spite?
But sadly, Munch Week didn’t happen over at CBR this year. It’s my own fault for not pestering Brian about it, but with job stuff, helping launch AJS, and getting used to writing a weekly column, it just kind of fell by the wayside. But that’s okay. That means that 2016 is what we here in Munchville call a rebuilding year. And I’ve put some thought into how we can make Munch Week even bigger and better than before.
For starters, October isn’t necessarily the best time of year for Munch Week. We only did it in October because that was when Belzer left SVU, not because it had any resonance beyond that. Looking at it three years later, that seems like a weak rationale. This should be a celebration of Munch, not just the anniversary of Munch leaving our TV screens. And, let’s face it, Halloween is always going to own October. So if we’re going to continue to make Munch Week a thing, I think we need to find a better time of year for it.
And so, as the creator of Munch Week, I hereby declare that as of 2017, Munch Week is shifting. It will now be the first week of August, in honor of the Belz’s birthday on August 4th. This also coincides with my own August 1st birthday, so it’ll be easier for me to remember. It’s right before the new TV season, which brings with it the potential of new Munch appearances. And, as an added bonus, August is the only month without a national holiday in the U.S. Sounds like the perfect time of year for some extra Munchness.
…So how do you celebrate Munch Week? You can do what we did over at The Line and create a mashup between Munch and your favorite character. Dress up in a John Munch costume. Post about Munch on social media (If you do, CC me at @TrumbullComic or the AJS Twitter page). Get the #MunchWeek hashtag trending. Research your favorite conspiracy theory. Question authority. Defuse a tense situation by being devastatingly funny. Hang around Ned Beatty or Ice-T. Declare that you are NOT Montel Williams. Whenever you do any of these things, the spirit of Munch lives on.
So go ahead and mark August 1–7 on your 2017 calendars (I’ll wait). I’ll be posting about this again on Monday, July 31 to kick off Munch Week 2017. I’m going to try to get as many different people and sites involved as I’m able. Together, we’re going to make it the biggest and best Munch Week of them all.
Munch Week. It’s a thing.
See you next (non-Munch) week.