Lewis Black ('The Carnegie Hall Performance')
'Black Is Back ... Live!'
Lewis Niles Black was born of Jewish descent in Washington, D.C. and raised in Silver Spring, Maryland, graduating from Springbrook High School in 1966. He was exposed to playwriting as an undergraduate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where he was also a brother at the Pi Lambda Phi fraternity. He earned a Masters in Fine Arts at the Yale School of Drama in 1977.
Originally, his career was in the theater as a playwright. He has written over forty plays besides serving as the playwright in residence and associate artistic director of a Hell's Kitchen theater bar and restaurant on 42nd Street in New York City from 1981 to 1989.
Black's stand-up comedy began as an opening act for the plays as he was also the master of ceremonies. After a management change at the theater, Black left and began working as a comedian as well as finding bit parts in television and films.
Lewis Black's style of comedy is that of a man who, dealing with the absurdities of life and politics, is approaching his personal limits of sanity. Sarcasm, strong language, shouting, and trademark angry finger-shaking bring emphasis to his topics of discussion. He once described his humor as being on the Titanic every single day and being the only person who knows what is going to happen.
Chatting recently with Lewis, and noting that he was a guy who publicly vents at the world for its stupidities and eccentricities on a regular basis, I first wondered if he was also like this away from a microphone?! "Er, ... ya! Not a lot, but when I’m watching TV, like when I’m watching Meet The Press or I find myself reading the paper with a cup of coffee, something will be right there and I’ll just go nuts for a while!”
As you paid mention to on your new CD/DVD ‘The Carnegie Hall Performance’ once you’ve played there there really is no place but down. So, was the Carnegie Hall show truly your pinnacle of exposure thus far? "Well, there have been shows that I’ve also been proud of, but that certainly was the one that I always wanted to work.”
Were you nervous playing this Carnegie Hall show? ”Not much, nah. I’d actually worked Carnegie Hall as the host of a anniversary show for Caroline’s Comedy Club in New York, so I knew it was gonna be fun ‘cause it’s a great room. So, to be honest I was on stage for three minutes, when I first worked it, and forgot I was in Carnegie Hall. I just remember thinking that it was just a good room to play.”
Do you ever go back and look at your work to see what could be done better the next time? ”No, … well, occasionally I’ll hear stuff, but it always drives me f**kin’ nuts. The CD before this one some people didn’t like it. But, when I was working on the CD before this one I really liked it because it was really done on the run and we only had the one shot at it. Because usually I’ll work in a club and work on it three or four times. But, it was really only going to be like a twenty minute CD, but we did a longer one. And when I heard it six months later a lot of this stuff that I’d been working on had come to fruition. ‘Cause a lot of the stuff that I’m doin’ I’ll be in the middle of really working on something and not have finished it. Then by the time it’s done, I think ‘Ah f**k, I wish I’d done it now’!”
Is there a skit from this new ‘Carnegie Hall’ performance that has subsequently turned out to be your favorite? ”Well, I knew that the thing about Candy Corn was gonna be funny. I’ve done that a million times and I’d done it on television, but I was never really satisfied with the one that I did on TV. For this new CD I was asked to go back out after I was finished to go do some more stuff because there may be an hour special to fill aside from the CD. So, off the top of my head I went back out and did the Candy Corn skit … and this is a better Candy Corn,” he laughs.
It’s fair to say that not too long ago you were practically broke, virtually unknown - basically a struggling playwright and comedian hoping for a break. What was the acorn of luck that got you where you are today and how easily could it all come crashing down around you? ”I think it was a combination of The Daily Show and Comedy Central putting on a bunch of my specials. And then I’d done more Conan’s than anybody else, and he just gave me the opportunity to keep coming back and I keep using it as I had all this material that had been sitting around. I think all of that stuff together is what pushed it forward.”
You’re new book ‘Nothing’s Sacred’ is quite candidly self-deprecating for the most part, but in life is there something, anything that is truly sacred enough to you that you wouldn’t dare to rant on? ”I find that the only thing that I can’t really rant on is abortion. I haven’t been able to come up with a joke, although I’ve heard a couple of good ones done by guys. I just find it tough to bring it up as before you even get to the joke people are too uptight to even hear the joke.”
Do you believe that your fame can all come crashing down one day and if so what would be big enough to do such a thing?! ”Well, I hope not,” he laughs. ”I don’t even think a sex video would bring it down! What would bring it down is if we all go to Utopia tomorrow. If we all wake up and it’s Utopia tomorrow.“
OK, talking about that celebrity sex tape, if there ever was one of you that hit the market, who would you be performing with?! ”This week it would be Charlize Theron. She just works for me!”
Tell me more about your new upcoming movie ‘Farce Of The Penguins.’ ”Well, it’s based on that ‘March of The Penguins’ movie. It's penguin footage only it’s Bob Saget and I as best friends doing that trek together and he is looking for a girlfriend and I’m just looking to get laid.”
And ‘Unaccompanied Minors’? ”This is the last movie I did which is a feel-good movie about kids in an airport. I call it ‘The Breakfast Club’ meets ‘Home Alone.’ But, it’s basically these bright kids from different backgrounds who hook up and I’m their enemy and so they bond around their dealing with me.”
And ‘Man of the Year’? ”This was kinda probably the biggest thing that’s happened to me outside of doing stand-up. I worked with Robin Williams, Christopher Walken, Laura Linney and Barry Levinson and that was a huge step forward for me. Robin is running to be The President. He’s a comedian that has a show like Bill Mahers and he starts running for President. I’m his head writer and then I become his speech writer.”
Please tell us more about your role in the Naked Teen Voyeur Bus … and your subsequent arrest! ”Yeah, that was really good,” he laughs. ”Opie and Anthony, who went on to Sirus Radio as a result, had a bus come to town called The Voyeur Bus in which they took topless girls around the city. The bus had an open side and the girls were topless and kinda danced around. Another comedian and myself, Jim Norton were promoting something and one of the producers got on the bus and drove it around the city. It was spectacular! The girls were great and the people would stop and watch. And the thing is it’s not against the law to be topless in New York if you’re a woman because a group of lesbians had filed suit in the state of Rochester and won! So, this bus went around the country saying that by doing this they were protecting our 1st Amendment rights ... and I said it was the equivalent of being able to say f**k in a movie theatre if there’s a fire!"
But you also got arrested! ”Yes, I did get arrested, but we were only in jail for about 18 hours and it made for a great story. Although we did lose our minds in jail and some of us even got closer! But it got me this huge audience! It actually changed my audience in New York City.”
Will we ever see the return of your musical 'The Czar of Rock & Roll'? ”Yeah, we’re trying to get it done again and it’s just a question of where.”
Describe the every day Lewis Black in five words ”Hopefully polite and kinda calm.”
Finally, what’s the biggest myth that’s been circulated about you and how close to the truth was it?! ”The biggest myth, and this is true, that was circulated about me recently was that I was dead. I’d just finished this movie and I was on this tour bus and we got a phone call from the guy who put the tour together. He said he’d gotten a phone call from my friend David Attell who’d gotten a call from Sean Rouse who’d gotten a text message from New York saying that I’d passed away.”
Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk
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