The pre-eminent mad comedian talks with the Alibi
Lewis Black makes a living being angry on television. On a recent “Back in Black” segment on “The Daily Show,” he railed against the merchandise tie-ins surrounding Eat Pray Love. On another he lambasted Glenn Beck for his incessant Nazi imagery. Black throws his hands every which way, seemingly in the midst of a nervous breakdown. His eyebrows sink into a sharp V and you can’t help but think: Man, this guy looks pissed.
But he has a lot to be happy about. He just won a Grammy for his album Stark Raving Black, his second, beating out Margaret Cho, Kathy Griffin and Robin Williams. He snagged his first in 2007 for The Carnegie Hall Performance.
But all you have to do is ask him what sets him off and you’ll get an earful. This week it’s that the average American worker’s wages have not increased in 20 years, but the top 1 percent of earners have seen theirs skyrocket 33 percent. His rage extends to the politicians on both sides of the spectrum who let it happen, as well as the fact that mentioning it seems to cause people to get nervous about the dreaded “S-word”— socialism. “I know it’s offensive; I know it upsets them,” he says. “Oh, we’re going down this socialist road. ... Somebody said the rich should be really rich. I just don’t get it.”
Though the injustice in the world gets him going, he admits he isn’t as mad as he seems on television, and that if he were, he’d be dead by now. He was calm and collected, his voice measured and steady when we discussed literature, hecklers and game-show-playing computers.
What do you really think about Eat Pray Love?
It's basically a book that I couldn't read. The only way I could watch the movie is if I was on a plane and it was the only thing on for two hours. Even then, I'd probably pass out.
My next question is what pisses you off the most, but we may have all ready covered it.
Stupidity. When someone feels entitled. A lack of simple etiquette and common sense. Those things really get me going.
You spend your time making other people laugh. What makes you laugh?
My friends who are very funny. And my golf game.
How is your golf game?
It's funny. My golf game is, I finally realized, similar to what my sex life was when I was really young: stumbling around in the dark.
“What weirds me out is trying to deal with my phone. It just seems to do what it wants to. I'll get weirded out when it begins to show signs of free will.”
Do you still get heckled? I saw a documentary about Joan Rivers the other day, and there she was, still getting heckled.
Oh yeah. From time to time. Part of the time they are just drunk. Part of the time they are really excited and just want to yell out. About a quarter of the time it's people I don't even know how they ended up at the show.
How do you deal with a heckler?
It's not too tough anymore. Basically I take them with a grain of salt. I don't get upset. You have to laugh them off. The audience didn't pay to hear you get heckled. If they keep it up that's when I just bury them.
My mom wanted to know how you do that thing with your hands. She's been trying to do it, but it hasn't worked out for her. What's the secret?
I have no idea. A lot of it has to do with being on stage.
Do you worry about the world getting less crazy and depriving you of material?
No. It wouldn't bother me if the world got less crazy. I don't think we're dealing with that anymore for a while. I think we are stuck with crazy. If it's not one thing then it would be another. When I first started out I had 45 minutes about the weather.
A computer just won on “Jeopardy!” Does that weird you out?
Did it win? Not really. What weirds me out is trying to deal with my phone. It just seems to do what it wants to. I'll get weirded out when it begins to show signs of free will.
What are you talking about on your tour?
What is worse: pollen or pollution? The whole idea of technology, smart phones, apps, Facebook. I had a thing in my last special about getting older, and I kind of continued that. Legalizing pot. I'm working on my next special at this point. Health care and the economy. All the funny stuff that makes life worth living.
What are some misconceptions people have about you?
That I'm like this all the time.
How long do you see yourself doing this?
As long as there is an audience coming to see me and I feel as if I am growing and my work is growing. And I am enjoying it. As long as the act is getting better. Some people get upset that I don't yell and scream as much as I used to, so they don't think I'm as funny. I like to think my act is modulated, has a sense of highs and lows. I feel it's grown—but what do I know?