By Eric Deggans
Lewis Black has a theory about why life seems so jacked up these days.
"In my humble opinion, we all have ADD," he pronounces, speaking in a slightly more subdued tones than the feverish shouting fans know from his standup specials and appearances on The Daily Show.
"I didn't get it until I was 45, but I'm certain I have it now," added the comic, 64. "Twitter and Facebook and all the other distractions we've managed to accumulate in our lives. … Multitasking is just a euphemism for ADD."
So does that mean he's off the social media grid, like some wisecracking, media savvy curmudgeon?
"Well, I got drunk with my friend (and fellow standup comic) Kathleen Madigan and she insisted, so now I'm on Twitter," Black admits with a sigh, saying he only entered the social media world to let fans know when he was coming to their towns. "I have a Facebook page, I have a website, I got all the crap you could possibly have, and people still didn't know I was coming to town."
Welcome to the world of Lewis Black, where no disappointment or shortcoming is too slight to acknowledge with an energetic rant. Or two.
Once upon a time, he was a struggling playwright with a master's degree in fine arts from the Yale School of Drama, who spent 20 years writing plays no one went to see.
"I would get 'em up and done, but mostly nobody showed interest. I think I was mentally ill," he said, shrugging off the suggestion that perhaps he was just a stubbornly creative artist.
"No, I was stupid; stupid is a better word," Black insisted, recalling one 25-minute play in which Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz goes back to her black and white world, only to find everyone got killed by the tornado that whisked her away to the land of Oz. "It's 25 minutes long. By the time you realize you hate it, it's over."
Black's work hosting productions of his plays led to a standup comedy routine that, thankfully, proved more successful — filled with rants and acerbic, borderline bitter amazement at how absurdly disappointing the world can be.
Consider this joke: "In my lifetime, we've gone from Eisenhower to George W. Bush. We've gone from John F. Kennedy to Al Gore. If this is evolution, I believe that in 12 years, we'll be voting for plants."
Or this, on The Apprentice star Donald Trump's possible candidacy for president: "Finally, a leader that talks to other countries the way they deserve; like a bookie from Staten Island."
Small wonder Black found a home on Comedy Central, which broadcast a number of his standup specials and made his rants a special feature on its news satire The Daily Show back in the mid '90s, when original host Craig Kilborn was in the driver's seat.
The big difference between the Kilborn days and Jon Stewart's current reign? Focus.
"Jon really spent a good three to five years getting the show focused," Black said. "They never skipped a beat from losing Stephen Colbert and Steve Carell, which was major. The show became what Jon wanted it be. … It takes the issues we're pounded with every day and says, 'Here's the funny.' "
That's what Black also hopes to do in a new standup special airing at the end of August on a platform yet to be determined. Fans attending his show in Tampa will get a sneak preview of that show, which is a still a bit of a work in progress.
He's also developing a play to be produced in Cape Cod later this year called One Slight Hitch, along with a book project. Through it all, Black holds onto that peculiar mix of hopefulness and cynicism that keeps fans engaged.
"I felt that the election was a reboot," he added. "The American people basically said, 'We do want health care … Somebody has to fix the world, a------.' "
In Black's world, politicians seem like deliberately clueless boyfriends, acting like they don't know how to get things done until their girlfriend — the American people — get tired of asking.
"That's exactly what it is," he said, laughing. "It's really like a bad date."