It doesn’t take much to set Lewis Black off.
Mention Donald Trump and his anger smolders. The president’s follies are familiar to New Yorkers, who put up with his real estate and beauty pageant owner personas. “I’ve been doing jokes about him for 40 years, and I’m sick of it,” Black says.
The Trump administration? “How do you satirize something that is already satirical? It’s beyond a joke.”
Congress? “What’s more appalling, they don’t do anything!” At this point his sentences are ringing with exclamation marks. “There are no adults in the room. Do you find his” – we’re back to Trump – “behavior acceptable? We don’t live in a fucking monarchy!”
Black is quick to point out that his rage extends to politicians and pundits on both sides. “I talked about all of them like this,” he says. “Obama exhausted me with his ‘hope’ bullshit.”
Although as a comedian, Black can wield satire like a blunt instrument or a sharp blade, each blow delivers truth that he believes should be clear. His observations are keen. But the public, elected officials, television commentators, voices on social media – all seem willing to let politics play out like a reality show over which they have no control.
“Goddamnit! – and it’s a Monday,” he says, rising to a crescendo. “The week hasn’t even started yet.”
This is Lewis Black the person, who cares very deeply about issues and the country. The rant is sincere, and no one escapes his critical acumen. It’s a different Lewis Black who takes the stage or sits down for television segments.
In comedy, he says, “The anger can’t be real.” His ability to dial it to the notch where an audience is captivated, provoked and in hysterics is uncanny. He launches into a bit, talking about taxes and infrastructure. People rail against the first, but they do want pothole-free roads – a bipartisan issue.
“It’s a road. There’s a left side and a right side. That’s the joke, assholes,” he says in his comedy rant voice. “You like it?”
It’s a unique approach, one that sets him apart from other masters of social-political satire, like Will Rogers or the Smothers Brothers. His tone changes to one of awe when they come up in conversation.
“I think of them as the ones who were brilliant at it,” he observes. “I’m not in that ballpark.”
One advantage Black has over past comedians is technology. For his “The Joke is on Us” tour – Monterey is the next stop – Black is digitally collecting rants and commentary of locals, with an invitation to submit online. When he finishes his part, Black turns the show over to some of these, offering his own reactions.
The device has worked perhaps better than he expected.
“It evolved into them telling the story of their town,” he says. “A lot of it is as good as what we do, in terms of quality of writing.”
Black has always drawn on the words and actions of others. He sources from the news, history and cultural trends and it has led to a trove of humor. He began as a television regular on Comedy Central starting in 1998. His rants have been featured on The Daily Show since Craig Kilborn was the host two decades ago. And he is listed as one of the top 100 comics in American history by the network.
“The people in charge have always made my job easier,” Black points out.
He continues to tour almost constantly. Dates in Kentucky, Ohio and New Jersey preceded his six-stop California swing. And then he’s on to Wisconsin.
“Apparently someone needs to go town to town and repeat what you read in the newspaper,” he says.
LEWIS BLACK performs at 8pm Thursday, Oct. 24. Golden State Theatre, 417 Alvarado St., Monterey. $44-$88. 649-1070, goldenstatetheatre.com.
Rant ’n’ Roll
Some snippets from the past few decades of Lewis Black and his fiercely funny observations.
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.
And I know this happens because I took economics, and I'd explain it to ya, but I flunked that course. Not my fault. They taught it at 8 o'clock in the morning. And there is absolutely nothing you can learn out of one bloodshot eye.
Growing up, my baseball heroes were Wade Boggs, Babe Ruth and even Joe DiMaggio. They were drunks! They had to overcome their substance! So why can't baseball go back to its roots? Forget the performance-enhancing drugs and bring back the performance-hindering ones! At the very least, do it for the children!
Listen, Osama! I don't care how far you've gone, I don't care how long you've planned. There's no way that you can kill more Americans with your guns then we do with our own. This is the big leagues, baby!
I don't care what this administration thinks of gays. Right now, our military cannot afford to turn anyone away. We need boots on the ground. And if some of those boots happen to be Prada, fabulous!