Rants on fire: Comedian Lewis Black mixes the laughs and the anger

By : Aaron Alper
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Lewis Black has made a career out of anger. His unique brand of righteous indignation, belligerence and pointed social commentary raised him from the milieu of the 1990s comedy club circuit and turned him into one of the most recognized comics of his generation. He is also a noted author and playwright and Black (who uses “fuck” as a form of punctuation) was cast as a character in Pixar’s box office smash Inside Out, where he played the voice of Anger.

Black is on tour once again with The Rant is Due: Part Deux and is coming to Florida for several shows (Sarasota on Nov. 13, Clearwater on Nov. 14 and Orlando on Nov. 15) to eviscerate the ills of modern life with a heady mixture of intelligence, empathy and a heaping helping of rage. In preparation for that raspy rhetorical roller coaster, Black was kind enough to chat with Watermark about what rants may come once he hits the stage.

WATERMARK: So let me just say one thing. A few years ago, a date and I went to see you live, and we were actually shocked at the amount of gay men in your audience. It was on par with Kathy Griffin. When did you realize you had a gay following?
LEWIS BLACK: It’s weird. It slowly dawned on me. I had a gay following and a military following, and then I began to notice that more and more. I mean, in my early Comedy Central specials, one of my favorite lines was, “Of the things we have to worry about, gay marriage is about No. 52 after ‘Are we eating too much garlic as a people?’”

Give us a brief synopsis for the Rant is Due.
I am currently working on it, but I go through a list of that we’re not doing: mental health, guns, we don’t deal with these things…

Do you think that things seem even more insane now than they did when you were commenting on Bush era America? I mean, with Trump and Kim Davis.
I do think it’s crazier now than it was then, because before you could at least trace it; there was 9/11 and a group of people, many around my age, responding to that…but it was a response to something. But today is just madness; it’s gibberish. Like immigration; how are you going to go around and round up how many illegal immigrants we have in the country? And as for Kim Davis…we don’t have time for this. Can we put some of this shit on hold? Do we want to argue what we’ve argued since the inception of the union that church and state are separate? It’s really pretty simply on paper. There’s no legal argument; you don’t have one. People have tried before and there is no precedence for nonsense. Let’s do this at a quieter time, after we’ve fixed roads and health care. When we do that, we then have a quiet discussion about why you feel you’re getting screwed.

I hate Kim Davis, and yet I am in awe of her. She is kind of a moron-genius, if that makes any sense.
The other thing is you expect the people in charge to step up and diffuse this stuff before it happens. If you know you have a loose cannon, you figure out what you need to do. It’s irritating… it’s like nobody wants to do anything.

Do you think this all might be a diversion thing? That this kind of stuff pops up during election time to divert people from what they should really be focusing on?
I think it’s part of the problem. We have an election season that is endless, and some of the things that we are discussing, like immigration, they should just be doing it. Do we have to wait around for four years for the next person who might do it, as opposed to getting it done?

Do you have legitimate worries that Trump may become president?
I would just leave. Seriously. The ballgame is over. I don’t think it’s possible, but I’m never right. I think it will flame out.

You’re doing the tour now, but I also noticed you’ve been more active as a playwright? Is that something you are going to be doing more of, or are you still a road dog?
It’s still about doing the road. I haven’t had much time to really sit down. Last summer I mistakenly went and toured Europe, thinking it would be kind of a restful thing. Well, I’m a moron. It’s the same thing as performing here. It was great, but I didn’t want to sit down and start writing again. My hope is that this next summer I can get back to writing.

I do hope there will be another book too.
I am fooling around with something. It’s fictional, but it’s based a lot on my first few years in New York City. It was really crazy. We lived right across the street from the St. Mark’s Baths. It was like we arrived and a few seconds later there was the AIDS crisis. That was going on, I was trying to do theater, and I was working in a bar where (laughs) the mob laundered money. I always wanted to put that together and make something.

Speaking of books, what are you reading these days?
A really great book called Look Who’s Back by Timur Vermes. It’s based on the premise that Hitler wakes up in a park in Berlin. He’s the same age as when he died, and there is no explanation. It is really about how Hitler responds to Germany and Germany responds to him. It’s a really good analysis in terms of what’s occurring with social media, yet it’s through the eyes of Hitler. It’s fascinating.

In your comedy you have said you use anger without vitriol. How does a person tell when Lewis Black is genuinely angry in, say, an interpersonal setting?
The boundaries just drop and I bring the dump trucks out. There is no way not to mistake it. And even in my act I’ll go over the line and think “OK, I have gone too far and I know I am stepping into that place.” When you snap, the social antennae goes down and you just let it rip.

Which plays a lot into the improv of your sets; you change them nightly.
Yeah, I do. It all evolves into one thing that I eventually put into a special. I am already finishing the CD. I don’t know what the name of it will be yet. It might be The Rant is Due, but it might be something else. By the time I get to Florida, two-thirds of that set won’t be on the CD.

Who are some of the up-and-comers in comedy who will be taking the reins?
Well, I am not in the clubs as much so I don’t see enough, but people like Judy Gold. I wish people knew more about her. I wish more people knew of Kathleen Madigan; she’s a great comic and hasn’t been given her due. There is a guy out of Canada named Mike Wilmot that nobody really knows here; I’ve tried to help him, and we’ve done stuff in the States together. Also [Canadian comedian] Ted Alexandro, who is really funny; I did his web series Teacher’s Lounge. Also Travon Free, who helped me write some of my “Back in Black” segments for The Daily Show.

Finally, I read that you said moving to New York City the way you did when you first started is now basically impossible without a trust a fund. What advice could you give to young writers and young comedians who are attempting to start a career in such a terrifying time?
The first thing you do is find a place where it’s cheap to live so you don’t have to work a lot and have the time to do the thing that you want to do. For example, I went to Dayton, Ohio. Nobody wants to live in Dayton, Ohio; however, it’s a city that got economically kicked in the nuts. It’s on two rivers and it has an extraordinary history, as well as little pockets of places being opened by younger people. The city offers a plan that if you want to start a business, they will help do all the stuff in order to get people downtown. You have to find places like that and do what it is that you do. I lived broke for a long time, and the thing that got me through was that I wasn’t really thinking about it, because I was enjoying what I was doing so much. And that’s really what’s important.

**For fans interested in getting their own questions answered by Lewis, visit the RantIsDue.com where Lewis will hold a live stream Q&A after each performance. Visit LewisBlack.com to purchase tickets.

More Information:
Lewis Black “The Rant is Due: Part Deux”

Friday, Nov. 13, VanWezel Performing Arts Center, Sarasota

Saturday, Nov. 14, Ruth Eckerd Hall, Clearwater

Sunday, Nov. 15, Hard Rock Live, Orlando

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