Comedian Lewis Black talks anger, politics and laughs: ‘It’s just common sense’
By Steve Wildsmith | (email@example.com)
He’s a regular contributor to Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” and he doesn’t pull punches when it comes to politics, so it’s understandable when Lewis Black gets labeled a liberal comedian.
He’s the sort of guy who gets poor-mouthed on programs like “Fox and Friends,” the sort of guy commentators like Glenn Beck hold up to scrutiny and use to rile up conservatives with the everyone-on-TV-is-against-us rallying cry.
The only problem is, to slap a liberal label on Black isn’t exactly accurate. Because he’ll be the first to tell you: He’s even worse.
“I’m a socialist!” he told The Daily Times this week. “Socialism, it’s an adjective used for something that’s awful. And talk about frustrated: I don’t even have a political party. Bernie Sanders up in Vermont, that’s who I’ve got. I’m no threat as a person.
“And really, in the end — as a comic and in the way I feel — it’s all about compromise. The things I want from conservatives and from Democrats, I’m not getting anymore, which is the thing they set out to do. Democrats would say, ‘We’re trying to take care of as many people as possible; can you help us?’ And the Republicans would say, ‘We’re trying to take care of the individuals, can you help us?’ And neither is doing a good job of defending the group or the individual.
“I’m not this liberal comedian who’s plotting against them,” he added. “It’s just common sense.”
Unfortunately, common sense and politics seem to repel one another, according to Black. And while that’s a kick in the pants for Americans who want to see something productive out of Washington, it’s a gold mine of material for Black, who’s made a career out of channeling the anger of everyday people into comedy gold.
“Initially when I went on the road, before it exploded and during the years I was wandering around the country and doing clubs, people would say, ‘You’re from New York; you’re angry; you do some political things – this isn’t going to work,’” he said. “Then I realized almost immediately — these people are angrier than I am! I’m angry, but these people are really fed up!”
Born in Washington, D.C., he fell in love with theater as a kid and pursued a career in drama at the University of North Carolina. It was there that he first tried his hand at stand-up comedy, a calling that, it turned out, he had a knack for, thanks to his upbringing.
“My family was a family that literally yelled at each other,” he said. “If you loved somebody enough, you could yell at them, and if you yelled at them, that meant you loved them. It was a form of communication.”
After a time in New York, during which he served as playwright-in-residence for the West Bank Cafe Downstairs Theatre Bar, he devoted himself to stand-up full-time in the late 1980s. It was in 1996 that he was first introduced to a national audience, through a weekly segment for the “The Daily Show.” It was a precursor to his famous stand-up routine — a three-minute rant about whatever was bothering him at the moment. It evolved into its own segment, “Back in Black,” and today Black continues to make regular appearances on “The Daily Show.” He’s also taped specials for Comedy Central, created over a couple of other programs and has recorded several comedy albums — including “The Carnegie Hall Performance,” which won a Grammy for Best Comedy Album in 2007.
Over the past decade, he’s spread out — appearing on various late-night talk shows and political programs, penning bestselling books and developing HBO specials, one of which was nominated for an Emmy. He’s been a regular contributor on “Inside the NFL,” been asked to participate in Comic Relief and earned small roles in various TV programs. His most recent special, “Old Yeller,” was simulcast on pay-per-view and satellite TV, and he continues to tour — he’ll perform in Knoxville next week.
What he often finds, he said, is that he’s preaching to the choir. He’s a conduit for the frustration and rage and contempt everyday Americans have for politics and politicians, and while his rants might do little to spur change by those who are the target of his material, there’s something therapeutic about what he does for people who don’t have the same sort of national reach that he does.
Because deep down, they hope that if Black yells loud enough and long enough, some of the suits in D.C. might actually take heed.
“I’d like to tell them to stop worrying about being reelected and start worrying about what needs to be done,” he said. “Their job is not to defend an ideology — the ideology will be fine on its own. And I would also tell them to get out of their bubble. I don’t care what they say, they don’t care what any of us are thinking.
“These people are totally out of touch. I’m out of touch, but at least I’ve got a sense of it. When 90 percent of the American people don’t approve of what you’re doing, you’ve got to take a good long look at yourself.”