You know him best from the “Back In Black” segment on "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart," as well as his own show "The Root Of All Evil" on Comedy Central, but Lewis Black is so much more than a raving maniac frothing at the mouth or an aneurism waiting to happen. He’s a virile stand-up veteran in the vein of his heroes Carlin and Bruce, with seven albums and 30 years on the mic under his belt – not to mention a drama degree from Yale and the experience of starting his very own theater in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen.
Black’s comic flair lies in the ability to make people laugh at the baffling absurdity and hypocrisy that dominate modern American politics. As one of the country’s foremost social satirists in the nightmare reality of Bush Americana, he grabbed American’s attention by the throat with his volcanically frothing social “commentaries on everything,” hands shaking worse than Michael J. Fox on crystal meth. His comedy style is off-the-cuff, a testament in itself to how sharp the guy is. He gets up on stage and just starts talking about something that makes him angry until he’s so red-faced that he’s got to move on before he has a stroke.
His Carnegie Hall performance won a Grammy last year for Best Comedy Album. He is also a bestselling author (Nothing’s Sacred), star of two HBO specials, and an actor appearing in a number of films, most of which we’re sure he’d rather us not mention. His achievements go on and on, and he’s showing no signs of slowing.
We jumped at the chance to pick the brain of one of the most biting minds in comedy as he promoted his latest comedy album, Anticipation.
Crave Online: You’ve got a big landmark birthday coming up for you…
Lewis Black: Yep, 36.
Crave Online: Making any plans? Going into hiding?
Lewis Black: No, F*** no, you don’t hide. You never F***ing hide from anything. I’m gonna perform. That’s usually what I do on my birthday. I’m not a big birthday guy, I never have been. Who the F*** cares? Nobody needs another reason to celebrate. Life is full of sunshine.
Crave Online: I just realized that you were in Jacob’s Ladder, which is about as non-comedy as it gets.
Lewis Black: Yeah, I just played the doctor. If you look at the scene, the dog’s actually really good in it. Watch it; you’ll see what I mean. I put him in the ice tub, and he comes out of the ice tub and is looking at me, and the dog acts better than any of us. I’m serious.
Crave Online: Your rise to success has run a parallel course with Bush’s time in office. Is there a connection?
Lewis Black: There is a huge amount of material to pull from. It’s the most fertile comedic soil this country’s seen in ten, fifteen years. Every day these guys do something more outrageous. I just start yelling about it all, and there is my act. But it’s not like the well’s gonna dry up once these idiots are out of office. We can barely breathe with all the bullshit around us.
Crave Online: So why the name Anticipation?
Lewis Black: It’s the theme of it – all the moments that lead up to the real moment are the best moments there are. When we anticipate, we’re the happiest. Unless you’re on antidepressants. The reason you take antidepressants is because you can’t anticipate. You think everything’s going to be horrible, so it usually is.
Crave Online: The greats like Pryor and Carlin each have about 500 albums recorded. They made an art form of recorded comedy. What’s your take on the comedy album these days? You qualify as a leading mind on the issue, with six or seven of your own.
Lewis Black: It’s the way you leave a record, I think. No pun intended. I do it for myself, really. Like we worked from here, to here. This album should’ve come out about 6 months ago. That material has evolved since then, since I was doing other stuff in the time between then and now and didn’t have time to go on to new material. It’s a good way to keep track of what you do.
Crave Online: Is it true that you don’t write your jokes down?
Lewis Black: No, I don’t. Occasionally I’ll write something down, but not very often. I go with what I’m working on at the moment. Stuff I’m working on now is mostly about oil and economics, the stuff that comedy’s made of. More than a third of my act is about the economy. I turned to Jon Stewart the other day after the show, and said ‘you know, I’d like to talk about sports teams.’
Crave Online: You’ve professed your adoration of George Carlin and Bill Hicks… are there any comedians out there now who have the chops to pick up that torch?
Lewis Black: Bill Maher, Doug Stanhope, Marc Maron. The angrier ones.
Crave Online: You’re playing shows pretty much every day for the rest of the year. Have you found a consistent formula that you stick to on tour?
Lewis Black: Oh Christ no. Evolution is the only thing that keeps me going. The reason I write while I’m onstage is to stay present. As long as I feel like I’m going somewhere with what I’m doing I’ll keep doing it. I don’t know where it’s going now, but mostly the ‘let them eat cake’ thing has really come true. We just don’t know what the F*** we’re doing anymore. I don’t know when we stopped figuring that one out.
Crave Online: You’ve been in numerous films, you’ve got 7 comedy albums out, you’ve been arrested in a bus full of naked teenage girls… what’s next?
Lewis Black: Breakfast buffet. I don’t know, I’d like to do another movie. But if not, I’m really happy doing this. I don’t give a shit.