Comedians who riff on the day–to–day ridiculousness of the American political scene literally never run out of material. The folks in Washington, God love ‘em, don’t ever let them down.
Lewis Black has been commentating on the foibles of our government for a good 20 years, and he’s become sort of a one–man barometer of national nuttiness thanks to the Back in Black segments on The Daily Show, a handful of cable specials, and near–constant touring.
Black visits Savannah’s Johnny Mercer Theatre Thursday, April 8.
Huffing, puffing, ranting and raving, the 61–year–old Black works himself into a frenzy onstage. But he’s not a pissed–off old curmudgeon; rather, he’s an optimist who just, well, loses it when he starts talking about how the American government is failing us.
A graduate of the Yale School of Drama, Black is the author of well over 100 one–act plays — in fact, he began doing standup comedy as a warmup for his theatre audiences.
Eventually, he gave in to comedy. There was just too much to get angry about.
You refer to yourself as a “topical,” rather than “political,” comedian. What do you mean?
Lewis Black: I prefer to start talking about the big issue, like something about health care, and hopefully as I’m working it rolls along and it becomes more about how it affects people. That, to me, is the key to it. You can Democrat, Republican me to death, all you want, the bottom line is what does it mean to the folks in the town? That’s really what counts.
I think part of what enrages me about the whole thing — and I guess I’m funnier when I’m angry — is that these guys literally don’t get that people are involved any more. I don’t think that they even know that there’s a constituency. I don’t think they have a clue any more.
Maybe we’re all just numbers to them.
Lewis Black: It’s really come down to numbers. Everybody’s just running. They’re just running for office — they don’t do anything. Nobody’s done anything, the country hasn’t done anything. We don’t know how to do anything! We’ve now achieved the ability not to do anything well.
And the best news is that Tiger will be playing at Augusta, and then we will have a whole week where we won’t have to do anything! We can all be on vacation and watch what Tiger’s up to, ‘cause that’s gonna be it: It’ll be Tiger 24/7, and some Afghanistan, and maybe something about some unemployment.
Do you think the air’s kind of gone out of the balloon on Obama, after a year of, well, not much?
Lewis Black: I think it’s unbelievable that people expect him to have done anything in a year. Now we have no memory, so it’s like nothing really occurred before him, and so therefore he just should have been able to move along.
The fact is, that was the deal: You elect somebody who doesn’t have all of the experience you want, and that’s what you get. And if this isn’t a lesson in terms of Sarah Palin, I don’t know what is.
Well, it’s history repeating itself, isn’t it?
Lewis Black: It’s the Democrats repeating themselves. They don’t seem to have any sense of how to lead at all. And the Republicans seem to have a sense of, they really know how to lead, but they don’t really know where they’re going.
And boy, do they love rich people! That’s really my button now. Their love of rich people defies imagination at this point.
Ninety–nine point seven percent of the people who get the estate tax will not be taxed. People who are getting tons of money, you won’t tax them. You have lost touch with all forms of reality.
Is any of this ever going to change?
Lewis Black: Well, what I believe is that idiocy goes somewhere. We had it in the presidency with Bush, and him saying “I’m not gonna listen to you” to the American public. And then that kind of moves over now to Congress. In the next four years, after this, it’ll be the Supreme Court.
The problem with Obama is that he offered hope. And that’s really great if you’re 16. But if you’re my age — ha! You’re just taunting me.
We don’t move quickly as a people. You can’t expect it. We move in smidgens, which you can’t even find on a ruler. It’s unbelievable.
Are your onstage rants spontaneous, or how much is written out beforehand?
Lewis Black: I don’t write anything. Basically, I do it so much I kind of learn it by rote. I learn it while doing it. And also, the audience in a sense helps me write it. And then the next night I do it again and keep what I like. I’d say 80 percent, on any given night, I really kinda know, and the other 20 percent is “I’m gonna find out.”
Why is your tour called In God We Rust?
Lewis Black: Only because that’s the thing on the dollar, and that’s kind of failing. And the fact that money is becoming worthless. It’s like we’ve allowed this whole infrastructure to just completely crumble. That’s the rust.
The water system in this country, the pipes are completely in shambles. No one is paid to maintain the pipes and the water systems in their communities! To me, if that doesn’t show that we are clinically insane, what does?
You wrote a book called Me of Little Faith. Isn’t going after the absurdities in organized religion like going after politics – like shooting fish in a barrel?
Lewis Black: Oh, yeah. Nobody’d written a book, I thought, that kinda took it more personally. As much as you can say “Well, organized religion is completely crazy,” the basis of it you have to kinda say is not that nuts. Dealing with the fact that you die is enough to get you thinking about something.
The other day the Pope said the fact that there was so much molestation in the church had nothing to do with celibacy. How good is that? It is fish in a barrel.
A lot of times I feel as if I’m saying stuff that everybody already knows. I’m just gettin’ paid to stand up and say it!
Do people get in your face, in airports and stuff, and say “How dare you, you son of a bitch”?
Lewis Black: Not at all. It’s weird. They’re very, very nice and very polite. And it’s a lot of families. I still have a big, big family audience. I’m completely counter to what they say about the family–value idiots. Because they really are insane.
I’m thrilled that I make a 12–year–old and an 80–year–old laugh simultaneously. That’s unbelievable to me.
In November, you’re taking part in a seven–day “Comedy Cruise.” Sorry, but that sort of seems like prison on the high seas to me.
Lewis Black: I would do it every three months if I could pick the people I’m on the cruise with — they let me pick the other comics, I mean. And it’s not like the whole boat is crawling with comedy fans, or you’d really lose your grip.
I got seven major headliners, including Susie Essman, John Pinette, Kathleen Madigan ...
I’ve got Mark–Linn Baker, who’s a close friend of mine; he did Perfect Strangers. I’m dragging him along.
Does he do standup?
Lewis Black: That fucker? No, he can’t do that shit. He’ll probably show My Favorite Year, the movie he was in, and he’ll talk about that. I’m going to have him show a couple of his fav Perfect Strangersorite episodes.
One last question: Does saying “I’m a topical comedian, not a political comedian” ever get you out of hot water with the people who don’t like what you say?
Lewis Black: Sometimes they’ll come up to me and go “I’m a Republican, and I still like you.” And I’ll go “What does that mean? What do you think, I’m a Democrat, you idiot?”
It happens so rarely, but if they do, I’ll go “Do you think I affect anything? You’re winning!”
That’s my new thing now. Whatever side I’m on will lose.
Where: Johnny Mercer Theatre, Savannah Civic Center, 301 W. Oglethorpe Ave.
When: At 8 p.m. Thursday, April 8
Phone: (800) 351–7469
Artist’s Web site: www.lewisblack.com