“The Democratic Party is the party of no ideas, and the Republican Party is the party of bad ideas,” said comedian Lewis Black in his memorable Black on Broadway special of 2004. “And the only thing worse than a Republican or a Democrat, is when these two pricks ‘work together.’”
Thus, he equally and mercilessly slaughters members of both parties. When George W. Bush left office and people asked Black “What are you going to do now?” he says, “I guess I’ll stop being funny … as if now that we have a new president stupidity has fled the building!”
Yes, Republicans and Democrats suck, so thank God for a third party.
Just as he was giving me his take on the Tea Party, Black — who will perform at the Majestic on February 4 — got interrupted.
“Wait, let me take this call,” he says on the phone from New York. “Hello? Hello?”
“I’m still here,” I say. “Oh, sorry. Wait.” “Hello? Hello?” The process repeats itself three or four times, until he finally tells me, “Screw this. Let me call you back.”
He does so after five minutes, and apologizes. “I don’t know how to take an incoming call while I’m on the phone. It’s very sad.”
“We were talking about the Tea Party,” I remind him.
“Oh, yes,” he says enthusiastically. “I’ve waited my whole life for a third party to show up, and when they do, who knew that they would be insane? But it’s not their fault; they’ve been listening to Democrats and Republicans their whole lives. They have nothing to base their reality on. I mean, if you dress up like Ben Franklin to protest, I don’t even understand what you’re protesting. It’s wonderful that `Franklin` discovered electricity with a key on a kite. That’s terrific.”
Read the complete Lewis Black Q & A here.
Known for his movie appearances and TV shows (including a recurring segment on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show), it is Black in stand-up mode that is the most revealing, exposing him as someone who “is a little quieter but you think he could snap at any moment,” as he puts it.
He could snap, for example, if you still want to argue about whether or not we should have universal health care.
“We can’t continue to argue it, and you can’t repeal it,” he says. “One of the reasons `Obama` won, whether people like it or not, is because Americans want Medicare, Social Security, and `health insurance`. So I don’t care. They can cry all they want about ‘government this’ or ‘government that’ and yada yada yada. If you want to figure out another way to do it, figure it out. But it has to be done. It’s criminal. Every major country in the world has it, and we don’t. Baboons take care of themselves better than we do. But if you took away the government health care of the politicians in Washington, they’d figure it out in 10 minutes.”
He could also snap if you question his socialist credentials, which he proudly displays.
“We’re always worrying about the five percent of people who are going to jimmy-rig the system and get away with murder,” he says. “Well, why don’t we worry about the 95 percent who try to make an honest wage?”
But his is a controlled anger. Unlike his heroes Lenny Bruce and George Carlin (and the majority of comedians, who employ fast, rapid-fire delivery), Black’s style is slow and full of pauses. He calmly walks the stage and speaks to the audience in a conversational tone (he never writes down his jokes or routines) until something pisses him off and he turns into a man ready to explode at any second. But it wasn’t always like this.
“Oh … `when I started` I was horrible,” he says. “It took a really long time for me to relax onstage. I was talking so fast no one could heckle me or say anything. Once I relaxed onstage I got to be much better. Watching me try to light a cigarette onstage was horrifying.”
These days he’s comfortable enough with his own performance to offer advice to aspiring comedians.
“The most common mistake `young comedians make` is that many of them should be studying law or medicine or applying their brain to something that matters,” says Black, who won a Grammy in 2006 for The Carnegie Hall Performance and has hosted two HBO specials. “Another common mistake they make is that the business and the money is more important than their craft, and another one is that just because people are sitting at a table and laughing, it doesn’t mean you are a comedian. If I could have a dollar for every person who came up to me and said, ‘You know, I was told I could be a comedian … ’ Then do it! It’s not just learning how to do seven minutes. `It takes` a lot of time, and energy, and effort to learn how to hold the stage for at least 50 minutes.”
But it was in his Stark Raving Black special of 2010, after reminiscing on the Bush II years, that he gave his best piece of advice.
“If you’re going to vote for someone because you think he’s going to be fun to drink with, you be fucking sure he’s still drinking.” •