Many people expect popular comedian Lewis Black to be angry, but hardly anyone expects him to be speechless. But during our interview, there were times when that is exactly what he became.
Blame it on the 2016 presidential election. It is a topic that can get Black revved up into what could become one of his trademark rants in a matter of seconds, but can also leave him at an occasional loss for words due to its unprecedented nature. As someone who has cracked up crowds by skewering politicians and policy throughout his career, the nature of our current presidential candidates makes his task a bit harder than usual.
“I’ve got two candidates that nobody likes, then you don’t need me,” the 68-year-old comedian said. “My job is to find chinks in the armor. I don’t need the chinks to be the lead.”
He wasn’t done.
“How does democracy, which is supposed to truly be the greatest way to do things,” he says, citing the democratic vote, “and we have a two-party system that can’t find people that people like. It’s never been like this.”
Still not done.
“She (Hillary Clinton) has a focus group within a focus group within a focus group within a focus group, and he’s (Donald Trump) working off some sort of psychic mud.”
I’m funny when I’m angry and people laugh at my delivery. If they didn’t, I’d be writing essays.
Luckily for Black and his fans, he still has plenty to say about politics and plenty of other topics with a fury and volume that doesn’t seem to diminish with age. Over the course of a stand-up career that began in the 1980s, the Grammy Award-winning comedian has hit numerous stages, shouted many punchlines and wagged many fingers in specials for HBO, Comedy Central and other networks with all-too-appropriate titles, whether it’s 2006’s “Red, White and Screwed,” 2009’s “Stark Raving Black” or 2013’s “Old Yeller: Live at the Borgata in Atlantic City.”
Even though Black started in New York as a playwright, became an author and has written hours upon hours of original material, you could argue what helped catapult his career to the next level was the comedian in smaller doses. He regularly unleashed his signature style tackling more obscure news topics during his popular “Back in Black” segment on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” which he continues to provide for the satirical news franchise under current host Trevor Noah.
“I get to yell about stuff for three minutes,” Black said. “It was an appetizer. That’s what I always saw it as.”
Ever since his regular small-screen exposure, more and more people wanted to come out and hear Black’s take on the absurdity of life or the frustration of politics for more than a few minutes at a time. He said when discussing political issues, he tries to be even-handed while focusing on what the person is saying rather than their actual personality. Regardless of their political affiliation, audiences are still able to laugh watching Black as their aggravation representative.
“That is apparently a lot of it. If they don’t agree with me, they know something that’s going on in their head,” he said. “They are being driven crazy by a group of people (Washington D.C. politicians) that really shouldn’t be allowed to drive you crazy. It’s like all the adults left the room.”
... We have a two-party system that can’t find people that people like. It’s never been like this.
While Black has served as the voice of anger for his audiences on stage, he is also getting a younger generation of people who appreciate his delivery from playing the actual angry voice in someone’s head courtesy of Disney and Pixar’s hit animated film “Inside Out.” The way he tells jokes or delivers a line has helped make Black a memorable comic presence, despite the fact what he says occasionally gets overshadowed by how he says it.
“You make your own bed, you lie in it. I’m funny when I’m angry and people laugh at my delivery. If they didn’t, I’d be writing essays,” he said. “You kind of go, well, OK. I’m lucky that it works.”
To say it simply “works” is an understatement. People have been packing the Marquis Theatre this past month on Broadway in New York for the comedian’s newest “Black to the Future” stand-up performances, where he opened his run on Sept. 12 and continues almost every Monday up to election day. When he’s not giving audiences his take on trending topics like the presidential election or subjects he’s passionate about like mental health, he hits the road to deliver a portion of this act on “The Emperor’s New Clothes: The Naked Truth Tour,” which comes to Richmond on Thursday at the EKU Center for the Arts.
After his run of road trips and big Broadway shows, Black said he will continue to treat TV viewers to his “Back in Black” segments and possibly write a book, but they are not his immediate plans once his performances and this election is over.
“Then,” he said. “I just lie down.”
Blake Hannon: email@example.com.