It doesn't take much to set Lewis Black off. The comedian, author, and actor -- well-known for his appearances on "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" and his own Comedy Central show, "Lewis Black's Root of All Evil" -- has made a prolific career ranting about the things that agitate him. Madly gesturing with his hands and furiously shouting, Black lets his frustrated rage fuel his comedy. And to great effect: Black has won Grammy Awards for his stand-up albums "The Carnegie Hall Performance" and "Stark Raving Black."
Black has called himself a social satirist, using his comedy to yell about everything from the gridlocked political system to the TSA and life in New York City. And almost like the last reasonable voice (masked in rage), Black is regularly interviewed by the media for his commentary. Recently, Black, along with W. Kamau Bell and Laura Krafft, joined a discussion on NBC's "Meet the Press" about the role satire plays in politics and if it was making Americans more cynical. (The discussion can be found at nbcnews.com and is well-worth viewing.)
Black is currently on tour and will make an appearance at the Auditorium Theatre (885 East Main Street) on Thursday, January 8, at 8 p.m. More information can be found at rbtl.org. On this tour, the last 15 minutes of each set will be dedicated to a Q&A with the audience, and live-streamed online at therantisdue.com.
City Newspaper called Black while he was at home in NYC and talked about his "Meet the Press" segment, if the news is moving too fast, and how to come back from the absurdity.
City Newspaper: I caught your "Meet the Press" segment from Sunday. And you've said this before in your stand-up, it seems like sometimes you're shocked that the press will ask you about these social issues -- you're a comedian, but they still ask you about things that happen in society. Is that still foreign to you?
Lewis Black: It is when they call. When CNN calls me because something happens and they want a comedian on, I find that f***ing absurd. There are too many people now traveling, going on TV, and talking anyway, giving their opinions. Well, I don't need opinions. Everyone has a goddamn opinion now. At the beginning, when I started to become somewhat known and then they'd go, "Well this thing happened," or "There's an election and we want to know what you think about it." Really? You want to know what I think about it? Why don't you ask real people who f***ing have to live with it. It seems to me that when they come to me, it's kind of like everyone's died. It's like "Meet the Press" called a bunch of people and they said, "Nah, we can't do it. We're not going to talk about the economy, so bring in the clowns."
Do you think it's because the reality is so depressing that they have to ask comedians for a ray of sunshine in all of this?
I don't know what it is. Partly it's because news is desperate to become part of the entertainment industry, and really, it should stick to what it's supposed to do. And partly it's caused by numbers. It's all about numbers now. CNN I keep on in the background because it's unbelievable to watch. The desperate need to maintain a story is beyond belief. This plane went down, and that's the theme of the day.
It seems that in the last 5 or 10 years, the delivery of news has been ramped up to a hyper speed because of social media. Does that affect your comedy? Do you have to turn around material faster because everything is being delivered so quickly?
No, because most people are still getting it. The speed of information is amped up, but people are still moving around slowly. We're never going to move as fast as they are. Something happens two weeks ago, it's still relevant. Part of it is people are still trying to digest it. I still don't know how to put Ferguson and Eric Garner in context, to be honest.
I liked your point on "Meet the Press" about how we're getting ever closer to the intersection of reality and satire. But how do we come back from that?
It's difficult. You wake up in the morning and you look at the front page of the paper and it reads as if you're reading a novel about what's going on. Someone would have to make this sh*t up. I have friends still smoking pot, I go, "Why? Do you need to make it crazier?"
I don't know if there's much else that could push toward the crazy, now.
With me, it really started with Sarah Palin. As someone who wrote plays for a long time, I couldn't believe I hadn't thought of a character like that. It was beyond anything I had thought of. You find this woman and run her as the vice president of the United States, and the quotes coming out of her mouth were like a Vonnegut novel.
After 25 years, does this get frustrating? You've been really active and have commented on a lot, but it seems like things continue to grow more absurd.
What's frustrating is trying to find a way to encompass -- how many different ways are there to say the Democrats are dumb and the Republicans are stupid? It's funny and yet takes it to the next step to include what they've done over the past two years. That's the hard part, that's the frustrating part. I basically feel I have to be somewhat crazier than what I see. I'm being sorely tested.
I've always liked your routine about how America should elect Santa Claus for president. It seems like we're at a point where that might actually work.
Anything would work. I don't like talking about 2016 -- people usually ask and I go I don't want to talk; why don't you deal with what happened yesterday? The idea of an election coming where it's going to be Jeb Bush versus Hillary Clinton, I go well now we're in quick sand.
Do you plan on doing this forever? Is the immediate future to continue touring or do you have other plans?
Yeah I plan to keep doing it. Basically I'm trying to think what's next, but the next two years I'm going to be doing this.
Is it going to come to the point where you have the heart attack on stage and they have to cart you out?
No, I have perfect blood pressure. I do! I just had a physical and my blood pressure's perfect. Everything else is going to hell. But no, part of it is it helps to get up there and scream about this stuff.
What is the idea behind doing these Q&A's?
I just thought it would be fun. I like doing Q&As. It's a way that I could find out really if I was talking about what they were interested in. And find out what was happening in the town that I didn't know about, some of which is astonishing. Some of the stuff they write about is funny. And it just takes the wall down for 15 minutes.
They're not giving me a TV show and I'm tired of trying. I spent 20 years giving them two shows a year and hearing "No." Now I can go ahead and be what the hell I want to be without dealing with some f***ing jackass at a network telling me to be something else. This allows me to go ahead and get my stuff out. I went from theater into stand-up and the reason I went into stand-up is so I could avoid all of them. It's just me and the audience; I don't have to deal with nonsense.
With this Q&A has anything come out that's stopped you dead?
There are things that are just really crazy, you just kind of go, "Wow." Still, it's mostly just kind of seeing what the audience dynamic is.