I knew comedian Lewis Black would provide a conversation laced with passionate vulgarity aimed at folks manning positions in Congress and the White House, but even I was a tad unprepared for how little buildup he required. He went from zero to 100, as Drake would say. From pleasantries of, “Nice to speak with you, I’m in a car so the call may drop” to “All of you are pieces of sh-t, f–k you.”
“There [used to be] a level of civility,” Black says of elected officials. “Their job in Congress is to negotiate with each other, and they’re not. They haven’t for so long; it’s like, stop it already. As much as I’m into the future more than these people are, I want to get to a place of moderation.”
A ton of Black’s onstage material reflects the politics du jour. He shouts, he stammers, he stomps. Moments in his set resemble a child throwing a temper tantrum after not getting their way. However, the 70-year-old comedian isn’t begging his parents for a toy or game; he’s simply making observations about the world we all live in. And he’s not afraid to vocalize how seemingly everything – from a crappy vacation with poor service to a Chantix prescription – pisses him off.
“I stumble onto stuff when I’m looking around for things,” he says about crafting material. “I’ll read something and go, ‘Oh, look at that.’ It starts from what makes me angry, and [I] want to know facts about it.”
“Yeah, it means a lot,” he says of performing in the DC area. “It’s always important because I get to see friends of mine. My roots are there.”
After almost 40 years in the business, Black is basically the angry elder statesman of comedy. He once said during a special that part of his job was to take the craziness of the world and exaggerate it onstage. This formula has seen him rewarded with success and accolades in abundance. But lately, reality is finally mirroring – or in some cases out-crazying – his satirical outbursts in terms of shock value.
“It’s consistently hard to find something that I can open with that nails it on a lot of levels and is funny and says what I want to say. It’s finding those moments. How do you do this? How do you make this funny? I don’t care what side people are on; they’re [all] anxiety-ridden.”
Finding things about life that piss him off has always been easy for Black. He’s held an overtly sarcastic, skeptical point of view since his teen years.
“Near the end of my junior year of high school, I was the sarcastic one. I’d be the guy telling people they were idiots.
Somebody once told me, ‘On your tombstone, it’s going to read, ‘I disagree.’”
Lately, he isn’t the only person ranting and raving over the news. In the past few years, Black has featured fan-submitted complaints as part of his “The Rant is Due” initiative. He encourages people of all viewpoints to submit their own complaints, whether politically aligned with him or in disagreement. Before reading selections onstage, he whittles down the entries to a handful, looking for funny, timely fits of rage.
“It’s remarkable and it’s evolved over time,” he says. “I’ll show up there to do the show, and by the time I’m there, there will be three or four rants about the county or questions they have, or even little biting sentences. It’s great; it’s a show that essentially, I’m kind of producing, but is really a product of the community. I’m just selecting, because I’m going to do the reading.”
Despite being eligible for social security checks, he still brings tremendous energy to the stage. His routine is probably not dissimilar from a guy operating a flamethrower at an ice sculpture exhibit – nothing is safe from his opinionated wrath. He cathartically lets his rage out and it’s entertaining, no matter what side of the fence you’re on. Like most comedians, he only has one rule in his own comedy and in fan rants.
“What it comes down to is: What’s funny?”
See Lewis Black at Strathmore on Sunday, April 14. Show starts at 7:30 p.m., tickets are $35-$89. For more information on the comedian, visit www.lewisblack.com.
Strathmore: 5301 Tuckerman Ln. North Bethesda, MD; 301-581-5100; www.strathmore.org