Lewis Black isn’t holding back. And he currently has no shortage of fresh material. Now that we are in the post-election-daze of President-Elect Donald Trump, veteran standup comedian Black is blasting out his on-point observations from his preferred platform: the stage. A decades-long presence on the comedy scene, Black has amassed a larger audience, thanks to his ongoing, aggro-political “Back in Black” segments on The Daily Show. Yet while the popularity of standup artists is won with their observations of the universally mundane, Black’s volatile mix of cynicism and intelligence slices through the bone of contemporary life, exposing the raw absurdity of it all. It’s this kind of take-no-prisoners approach that has created a loyal fan following for Black, who expect (if not demand) that the now-68-year-old comedian continues to keep politics, hypocrisies and our world gone mad in his crosshairs.
Local fans can check out Black when he returns to town with his “The Rant, White & Blue Tour” at The Florida Theatre on Jan. 13.
In conversation, Black is never a “sound bite” interview, as his mind spontaneously pops off insults and insights at a rapid-fire pace. Over the course of a half-hour phone conversation from his New York home, Black shifts from the thoughtful to the irate, at times in the same sentence.
Folio Weekly stepped up to the plate to get Black’s take on Trump, the Twitterverse, the media and the mutilating origins of “branding.”
What follows are some highlights from our conversation.
Folio Weekly: So what will you be decimating on your “The Rant, White & Blue Tour”?
Lewis Black: Well, I’m going to try and figure out what’s going on because I don’t know. And apparently there seems to be 18 or 20 percent of Americans who seem to be really comfortable with all of this. And the rest of us are like, “This is no way to do this.” I mean, there are certain chunks of material that I already have in place that I’ll be doing. I talk about stuff like mental health, which I think really is the main theme. It’s been a big theme in my act recently and it will probably become bigger because I think we’ve all lost our minds. We have gone off the deep end. We are now traveling on the road to complete madness and there doesn’t seem to be an adult who knows how to stop it. There doesn’t seem to be a break. News no longer knows how to react. “Well, he tweeted again.” The President-Elect tweeted again. What the hell is wrong with you? C’mon. It’s like living in Oz and you know what the wizard fucking looks like. And you’re taking him seriously.
It appears that Trump inexplicably cracked social media early on. That whole realm is bizarre in the sense of words like “branding” or “trending” are attributes. If you told someone they were branding or trending 20 years ago, it would’ve probably been an insult. Do you think people have just given up and now enjoy the taste of the feedbag?
I don’t know. I don’t understand. You trend now for like 18 seconds and then something else trends. So the world doesn’t even apply to what they’re talking about. Trending means it’s over time. Now we’re looking at films of that buffalo who sings. No! Fuck you. But you’re right. “Branding” has always been disturbing. Even when they started talking about me, the folks around me would say, “We have to brand you.” And it’s like, fuck no.
Going back to Moses and over the greater course of history, branding was what they would do to runaway slaves.
Absolutely! “Get in line; it’s your turn for branding.” [Laughs.]
Trump ran an inventive and highly unorthodox campaign in the sense that he just repeatedly shared that he hated everyone.
After Trump was elected, I had a run of five dates when I was on the road. I was going to places that were supposedly “Trump Country.” Well, it’s not Trump Country. First off, 60 percent of the American people didn’t like him for starters; highest disapproval rating outside of her [Hillary Clinton] high disapproval rating. Who starts an election like that? If we play this game, we should be able to vote from our computers and we have an up-and-down, and the thumbs go up and the thumbs go down. Sixty percent don’t like him and only 48 percent of Americans found the energy to go vote. And 60 percent of that 48 percent don’t like him. What does that leave? Eighteen percent of the American people actually had committed to vote for him. The rest were voting against Hillary.
Even after twice voting for an African-American president, do you think many Americans are still simply not ready to vote for a female president?
Fuck you! What about the Jews? We’re at the back of the line! No, but I do think it somewhat played into it. I think somebody put it well when they pointed out that she went after Obama so much when she was running that it didn’t put her in good standing with the black community. Which explains why they didn’t show up to vote for her.
Not so long ago, there was just “the news.” Now we have so-called liberal news, conservative news, and now fake news sites. Where do you see this new open range of news media weirdness leading?
My hope is that it rolls back to a group of journalists who get together and figure out how you can present the news in a fashion where people will pay attention. And I’ve said this years ago: If you want people to vote on a school board issue that’s really important, the lede has to be that they’ve found out that the head of the school board and someone else on the school board are fucking. And the reason they were fucking is they wanted this bill passed. And then you might get to the bill.
[Laughs.] So you make the news a Lifetime network movie?
Oh, yeah. [Laughs.] It has to be. Part of it is the news has to get out of the story. And that’s really hard because they’re addicted to it now. Once they replaced the soap operas with the news — everything is a story. So, Trump tweets in the morning … you don’t need four people on any of those goddamn channels discussing what one person can tell you. I don’t need their goddamn fucking opinion! I just heard what he said!
Do you think Trump somehow worked a strategy in exploiting the fact that that news is based on excitement and the sensational? He’s inherently dramatic and draws attention. You know, it’s always at the end of the news when they tag on, “And here’s a squirrel roller-skating.” That’s not exciting. Well, it is to me, but maybe not to most people.
[Laughs.] I don’t think he’s that smart. He just did what he does, which he’s done in New York City for years. He’s a peacock that needs a mirror. Most peacocks just strut about and go, “Look at this; I’ve got some plumage.” He needs people to go, “Yes, you have plumage. And it’s really great plumage.” He’s a narcissist. Most Americans would learn that if you go out with a narcissist twice, you don’t do it again. I didn’t care that there were these people in the audience who wanted Trump. They hadn’t lived with him. And New Yorkers did. We tried to warn you.