Lewis Black talks politics, playwriting and the funniest person in America
Often outraged and always outspoken, Lewis Black is perhaps best known for his blistering “Back in Black” commentaries on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
But the 62-year-old has also appeared in several movies, including Man of the Year and Jacob’s Ladder, penned some 40 plays and authored a handful of books. His latest, I’m Dreaming of a Black Christmas, offers a hole to the soul of the comic, who spills his guts about his hatred for holidays and killing it onstage for the troops overseas.
Black, who performs March 10 at the Straz Center in Tampa (ticket start at $39.50; click here to purchase), spoke with us recently from his tour bus. And he didn’t scream even once.
What is the state of our union?
I see it as beyond any point of insanity I imagined in my lifetime. I mean, they really are crazy. And they’re completely out of touch. They’re out of touch with themselves!
You mean all politicians?
Yeah! I would say 95 percent of them. You can’t say, “This is what we’re gonna do” without a plan. You have to actually spend the time and work on the plan. You can’t say business is going to create jobs, or government’s going to create jobs, without telling me what your f---ing plan is. (President Obama’s) saying that we’re going to have to do these things, right? Fuel-efficient cars, we’re going to have to come up with alternative energy, we’re going to have to work on the infrastructure. All of the things that we have to do, be they Republican goals or Democratic goals, are goals that were things that had to be done 40 years ago when I was a kid. And they’re still talking about the same thing! It’s beyond belief. They’ve made no headway.
You think Obama’s got a shot at a second term?
Yeah. I think he’s got a shot. I also think, possibly, if Facebook gets bigger, maybe a cartoon character? If Sarah Palin’s viable, what’s to say Snooki isn’t?
What do you like about the president right now?
I like the fact that he speaks in paragraphs. And he seems to enjoy his family. There’s a minimal amount any of these guys are gonna do when they get in; that’s the one thing you learn over time. He changed the way the world looked at us. That’s huge. Because the world really wasn’t happy with us. Then we went, “Well, you thought Iraq and Afghanistan was crazy, wait till you see this.”
What about your pal Jon Stewart?
I think he’s learned to trust his voice. Either he trusts his voice, or he’s not listening to anything he’s saying! (Laughs)
You’re involved with too many causes too name here, including Autism Speaks, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and the 52nd Street Project.
It’s the stuff government used to do before they decided that government shouldn’t really be creating these kind of things that really might allow people help. Because, really, you have to do that on your own. A lot of why I do this stuff is because I’m lucky enough to be able to direct money toward things that I believe in. But I’m astonished that this funding hasn’t been created through charity.
Your thoughts on this discredited British study linking autism to vaccine?
I went to high school with 512 kids. We started in the seventh grade together and went through senior high together, and I would have to say that there wasn’t a lot of autism. There wasn’t a lot of autism in my neighborhood. I mean, it used to be one out of every 5,000, now we’re at some sort of epidemic. So something is up. It’s just too bad they led us down some path that we didn’t need to spend time looking at.
Most people don’t know you were once a playwright. What was your first play?
The first play I wrote was a really, really bad play, a one-act play about, of all things, abortion. About a guy and a girl arguing about an abortion. Horrible, horrible, horrible play. Horrible. I wasn’t mature enough to be writing about the subject. I was a terrible writer at that point. They actually did a reading of it, and I faced the wall while I was listening to it.
Who won the abortion argument?
I think the woman. All I knew is, by the end of it I had to write something else quickly.
So what made you decide to transition from theatre to comedy?
I know exactly the moment: I was in Houston, Texas, and I had a play with a friend of mine had written. This Alley Theatre gig I thought was really going to put me and my friend and another friend of mine on track to really be able to make a living doing this. And then it all went up in smoke there. … It became a catastrophe in some ways. I went across town and auditioned at a comedy club, to see if I could get a job and come back and perform there. I did 20 minutes, and the guy who managed the club said, “That’s great. I could use you here in January, if you’re free.” And it was perfect, because now I could afford to come back and see my play. … I thought, I’m 40 years old, enough is enough. So at 40, I went out on the road and played clubs.
Who’s the funniest person in America?
(Pauses for 16 seconds) Could be John Boehner. Because he absolutely appears to have no sense of humor. Which creates funny in its own way.
He does cry a lot.
And crying is funny. Especially from a grown man about things that are really — you kinda go, “Really? You’re crying about that?” (Another 10-second pause) I think the funniest person, seriously, is Kathleen Madigan. I’ve known her for a long, long time, so I’ve watched her develop over time, and her humor has become much sharper and razor-like. And she can just go and go and go and go and go. She’s got an intensity about her funniness that’s remarkable.
Are you a comedy or a tragedy?
Good, because you sound happier than you often appear.
Well, I’d have to be a prick not to. I worked all this time for this and I’ve gotten it, and I’m lucky. There are a lot of people who deserve it who don’t have it. … This is the third or fourth time I’ve played Tampa Bay, where it’s sunny. You can’t beat that. I may not have been able to get my plays done up on those stages, but at least I f---ing got up there.
-- Patrick Flanary, tbt*