When The Weekender asks Lewis Black how he’s doing, his answer is exactly what one would expect from the sarcastic seasoned comedy veteran.
“Oh, it just gets better all the time,” he replied in his trademark annoyed intonation.
Despite being whip-smart and consistently angry, though, the television commentator, author, playwright, and actor is actually quite warm and humble one-on-one, so we were eager to chat with Black again before his return to the Scranton Cultural Center on April 3 on “The Rant Is Due” tour about whatever was on his mind. As it turns out, it’s always quite a lot.
THE WEEKENDER: So you’ve been busy lately?
LEWIS BLACK: It’s busy. It’s a lot of e-mails; that’s all I do now. I spend a lot of time e-mailing about things. I e-mail about things that are four to six months away, so really the moment doesn’t exist for me. There is no now.
W: You’re obviously not a fan of technology.
LW: It’s certainly going to be great when we figure it all out. To me, it’s the equivalent of… smoking pot. … Between the computer and the cell phone and the iPad and every one of them, it’s like they dropped drugs on us, only they’re not in the shape of a drug. We’re not ingesting them, so we don’t see them as such.
All of a sudden everything seems to be of equal importance. It’s all stuff that can wait. It’s all stuff that waited for a long time, so people actually had to remember this stuff so when they saw the person, they could relate it. And eventually, I guess – I have no clue because I’m no brain scientist – by freeing up our brain maybe our brain will be able to do something else with that space that is now there that we used to keep s—t loaded in.
W: Being born and raised in the Washington, D.C. area., did that spark your interest in government at all or make you politically aware at a young age?
LB: Yeah, it’s right in your face. It’s like being in a movie set, only the backdrop is government. Our local news was national news, and I had a real interest in it, but by being born and raised there, over time I lost interest in it as something that I was going to do.
You lose an election when you’re in school, so you figure it’s not going to really work out. I’d work for people, like somebody in the neighborhood would be running for district court judge and they would drag my ass around to help. … I got to see it all close up from a 12-year-old’s perspective. And from a 12-year-old’s perspective, this doesn’t look like any fun.
W: So that ended those thoughts quickly.
LB: Yeah. By the time I was 16, 18, I had really passed. I came back when I was 21 and worked because my family was there and I could get a government job. What a sin, what a horrible thing to do, to get to take a government job, to actually try to possibly implement the will of the people – what a horrific concept. So I worked for a year with the government and that drove me out too. It’s also because it’s weird there because in Washington, you really get a sense of what it’s about just on a visceral level because every time a new president comes in it’s like a new town.
W: And there’s always such a focus on the next election. In 2014, we’re already talking about 2016.
LB: Now we are – we used to not. That’s partly too because of the whole thing with the computer. We’re oblivious to the present. The present is so s—tty to most of us, I think, that we just kind of hope, “Oh, maybe in two years.” It’s madness. They’re insane. It’s just like Christmas starting in August. It’s the same sort of thing. I get these questions, “Well, who do think is going to run?” I don’t care! Why don’t we talk about what occurred today?
W: We’re also stuck on a lot of things, like Obamacare, which isn’t even really the name of it.
LB: No, it isn’t, and I talk about that in the act, and I keep repeating it partly out of the fact that the whole thing is irritating me so much. Really, the Republicans said it because they’re stupid, then the Democrats repeated it because they’re just as dumb as the Republicans are stupid, and then because Obama is dumb and stupid he started calling it Obamacare. I mean, really? It’s got nothing to do with any of that. It’s Affordable Care. Everybody says, “We’ve got the best health care in the world.” No we don’t! Not on a general level we don’t. There are numbers that kind of speak to that.
The rest of the world is kind of functioning. Granted, if you need 6,000 ways to deal with cancer, we’re great with that. By the time you go through the 376th, let’s hope you’re still alive.
W: You started out with an interest and background in theater. How has that influenced how you approach stand-up?
LB: I was a playwright, so hopefully it’s influenced the writing and the structure of what I do. I feel like I try to structure it. Once I start working on a new special, which is what I’m doing now – I take stuff, throw it out, try it, throw it out – “Oh, this is going to be in there.” Like I’ve got a thing where I’m talking about Congress. Well, by the time I do the special – I mean, they’ll still hate Congress as much – there’s certain things that have come out of that that will be standalone. So I take the pieces out and try to get them strung together.
W: Where do you end where does your character on stage begin? Are they essentially the same person or do you try to keep them separate?
LB: It’s where I used to be when I was younger. If you pushed my button, I could get to that place really fast, like that person on stage – I mean really fast. And now on stage hopefully I create it so it’s funny. That’s really the difference between me and that. That’s where it ends. Now I try to keep him under wraps. If I’m sitting on the plane next to a jackass, I don’t really want to start bellowing at the top of my lungs.
W: What is the best part of your job?
LB: The best part is just showing up. I’ll go to Anaheim tonight or come into Scranton and there’ll be a ton of people who actually want to hear what I’ve got to say. Every night I’m like, “Pardon me, what are you people doing here? Wow. Are things this bad?” It’s being in front of that audience and it’s that energy that you get from them. And then they let me write onstage, which is what I do. I’m kind of writing in front of them. That can lead down some cul-de-sacs, but mostly it’s been pretty good.
W: What is the most difficult part?
LB: The hardest thing is going to sleep. When you yell and scream up until about 10:30 at night, getting to bed is exhausting. You’re energized enough that you can’t sleep, but you’re sleepy enough that you don’t have enough energy to really do something.
W: What do you do to unwind when you’re not performing?
LB: I sit around and hang with my friends and listen to somebody else bellyache about their s—t. Having dinner with friends, I read a bit, and then if I get the chance, I play golf.
W: Why is this tour called “The Rant Is Due?” Is there something specific that you need to rant about this time around?
LB: It changes. In part what’s going on too is the audience can either say something or yell about something they want to do. I basically have the audience send in whatever they want to a certain site and then I get all of their stuff and go through it and then I kind of address whatever the hell’s concerning them. It’s been great because I find out things about the area and what’s going on. Some of the stuff they write about each other is really funny; they have a tendency to not like each other. It’s really unbelievable.
W: So you’re taking fan interaction to a different level.
LB: I’m trying to. It’s worked out. Every night like 80 percent of what they ask for is what I’m talking about. Also, they’ll ask me questions about sex and stuff, which I don’t have a place in my act for. You can’t go, “Oh, that Obamacare, and I dropped a toilet seat on my dick yesterday.” It doesn’t work. It allows me to kind of go off on tangents about other things that normally I’m not asked or don’t talk about in my act.