Lewis Black is angry. That makes me happy.
I’m not alone – because with the anger come great things. Like laughter, and challenging thought. And higher ratings for The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, the program that allowed Black to gnaw his acidic observations into the consciousness of national audiences.
“People find me funny when I’m angry,” Black concedes.
At this particular moment, that anger, wrapped in his sandpaper rasp, is rubbing a government raw.
“Just make sure that a chunk of the money that this country produces goes to the common good,” he growls. “It’s f****n’ absurd. You know that’s the way this country was founded.”
While he loves to police politics, his is an equal-opportunity anger: Black gets as upset at the people with their tentacles on the controls of the country’s tax revenue as he does at those in command of dairy-product derivatives.
“Lactose intolerant milk?” he says on the HBO special Nothing’s Sacred. “Kiss my d**k. If you’re lactose intolerant, you can’t drink milk, so what’s in the f*****g carton?”
(Meanwhile, pity the soy product that crosses the path of his wrath. “I will punch people for saying soy ‘milk,’” he says, trademark index fingers erect, “There’s no soy milk, because there is no soy titty, is there?”)
His reaction to a suggestion that Barack Obama will be harder to critique than George W. Bush offers compelling evidence of his willingness to attack administrations with equanimity, and helps confirm what he said an election earlier – “If you want to elect Bush, that’s the prick that I’m gonna yell about. If you want to elect John Kerry, I’m gonna be yelling about him. My problem is with authority.” With either McCain, Obama or Bush, he maintains, the little guy is still getting screwed (not that he won’t acknowledge, however begrudgingly, some hope).
“Well, at least somebody’s talking to us now,” he says. “At least if I am getting f****d, I’ve got a soothing voice to go with it.”
This is from Wikipedia. A definition. “Lewis Niles Black (born August 30, 1948) is a Grammy Award-winning American stand-up comedian, author, playwright and actor. He is known for his comedy style which often includes simulating a mental breakdown or an increasingly angry rant, ridiculing history, politics, religion, trends and cultural phenomena.” Would you revise that?
It’s pretty good. I mean, basically it’s an expression of frustration. Really. You know that’s really it. That’s where it comes from.
A staffer for our local Congressman reminded me that our biggest economic engine locally, beyond agriculture and tourism, is the military. So you see comedians get a little tenderfoot around that subject when they visit here.
I used to be in the USO and the problem with the military is the people who are in charge in the military. It’s not like the military got together and said, “Boy, let’s go to Iraq.” They take orders. So I’ve never really had a problem with the military, as much as I’ve had a problem with the people that think they know what to do with the military. I mean, it’s unbelievable. They sent those guys over there basically without means, without a plan and then they have to go “figure it out.”
I’ve always admired the role comedians play in our society – part truth-tellers, part philosophers, able to access things and address issues people don’t in typical dialogue. How much of that is conscious?
It’s not really conscious, it’s kinda based on instinct – and, basically, what pisses me off. If something pisses me off, generally that’s where people find me funny: When I’m angry. Generally that’s how I get to it. I guess you find it in serious places, or just reading. Did you know the Yankees are selling the seats for $2,500 a game?
YOUR CONCEPT OF HOPE IS WHEN YOU’RE STAYING AT THE HOTEL AND THERE’S A BREAKFAST BUFFET.
That’s not a whole luxury box?
That’s one seat, one game. I mean, you get free outdoors. And that’s a city-funded project. Are you f****** kidding me? That’s when I start yelling about it and I find out something about it that relates to people. It’s like this guy who killed his wife and his whole family, he lost his marbles and the police said, “In these tough economic times there are other options.” That’s what the police chief said. Like, yes! Most people go home and kill their families? No – most people don’t even have that in the option file.
So, I mean, it’s not hard to find stuff…
You know what? I’m so angry about the money situation that occurred. Now I’m stuck reading the f****** business section, which really pisses me off. All I’ve heard – nothing but – for 30 years: “Oh they know what they know. Business will run everything. You know government really doesn’t know how to do stuff. Business really knows how to do stuff.” F*** you. F*** you all! Idiots… and then they’re still going with it. They still try to run and give money without any sanctions. It’s f****** nuts.
Not one leader, not one – not Obama, not McCain – nobody said anything about our economy. Up until five months ago our economy was great. I want an explanation of what happened the night before – before I woke up one morning and Secretary of Treasury Paulson was flipping out because of the economy. No one noticed. That really enrages me. It’s disturbing at best that none of these people noticed. These people are supposed to have their fingers on the pulse and nobody knew. You know?
Let’s say we give you a chance to push the reset button and save us. What’s step one?
You have to have a watchdog to talk tough s***. Let me have a rule that says, “Pay attention to the money – you give to a person, make sure the person you give the money to has the money to give it back.” The [SEC] didn’t have it in their regulations. They can go f*** themselves!
Thanks for doing your duty as a citizen to identify stuff we should be worried about. I’m wondering, as part of your ongoing research, if you could rank some of the scariest nightmares we have on the way.
Maybe the most scary thing is that we don’t seem to want to educate our children. Nobody seems to wanna pay for it. That’s, to me, the freakiest thing of all. That’s the whole key to everything. That’s it: There’s no discussion, there’s no argument. I wanna talk about it with people. That’s first, everything else is second. Everything lines up behind education! Everything! And the fact that my generation dropped the ball on it – ’cause I guess that my generation didn’t want their kids to be smarter than them – is appalling, because in essence we were the last really well-educated generation. It’s pathetic and then they expect to find the best people to teach if you don’t pay a salary. Somehow teachers are Mother Teresa. They’re not. Inspiring teachers are worth millions, you f***** morons.
Tell me a little about your book, Me of Little Faith, and how that dovetails with what you’ll do at the Golden State show.
People started approaching me to write a book about what I thought about religion, so I wrote about religion from my point of view… It’s really a book for people who are stumbling towards the light.
The major thing with religion is that finding faith is exhausting and, you know, part of the reason that it’s tough is that you gotta give up part of your brain! And your brain doesn’t wanna do that. It irritates it…
What else are you going to get into here?
My intentional focus is what irritates me and the most shocking material I’ve been working on is: I turned 60. I’ll bring that back to apply to Obama because I bring it back to the fact that the guy is basically lactating hope. And I’m too old for hope. Where’s my piece of the pie, you prick? Hope has passed me by. Hope, as you call it, by the time you’re 60, hope is out the window.
And so what have you got?
What do you got? Your concept of hope is when you’re staying at the hotel and there’s a breakfast buffet.
That’s something? That’s the way to start your day?
One step at a time, you know? Wow! It’s gonna be a good day – they got the sausage patties rather than the links.
You prefer the patties?
Mmm hmm! The bounty is much better.
OK. How do you explain the phenomenon of the index fingers?
Well, I had no idea the index finger is something I do when I improvise. It’s literally just the way I talk. I was unconscious of ’em until people started doing it to me and then I turned to my friends – “What are they doing?” – and they say, “Well, you do that on the stage.” “No, I don’t” (laughs).
Do you ever get the impression people don’t appreciate the work that goes into comedy – its blue-collar character?
Yeah. It is a blue-collar gig. And the way you get to where you are is like being a club fighter. You go to these places that nobody knows, a place that used to be a disco, a place where the TVs are still on and you’re up there talking. You know, you just go in and you take a billion punches and you come out the other end and hopefully you’re funnier because of it.
Thanks for taking some time to talk. Looking forward to seeing you lighting a fire under our area – we can be a little conservative.
You know, I’ve been to a few places – I don’t care who’s in the audience. I do the same act. But I gotta be honest: In terms of the mood, I’ve never, from the time I started working, you know, about 15 years ago in San Diego and stuff, I never paid attention.
George Carlin said it best: The comic’s the guy that’s driving the bus so either you’re on board, or you’re not on board. If it’s not funny to you, it’s not funny to you and there’s nothing I can do except send people out to tickle you.
The exciting thing to me is that I’ve had, from 10 years ago on, I’ve had an increasing military presence in my audience. I’m really proud of that. “How could you have a military presence in your audience?” Well, because if anybody gets my jokes it’s somebody that’s gotta deal with authority everyday, in their face.