Lewis Black is pissed. Of course, this is no surprise to the many fans of the comedian, who’s known for targeting, impaling and gleefully slaying sacred cows. While Black is perhaps best known as a regular on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, he’s also a New York Times best-selling author (his books have been touted by both The Washington Post and Stephen King) and has been a screen and voice actor in more than 20 movies, animated films, documentaries and TV shows.
And though the now-66-year-old Maryland native has found mainstream acceptance, rather than playing it safe, Black’s onstage comedy remains fueled by a radical sense of outrage aimed at worthy targets like politics, religion, and other traditions and institutions that make daily life miserable. Black will most likely eviscerate all of the above when he returns to Northeast Florida for his “The Rant Is Due: Part Deux” standup tour at UNF on March 12.
Make no mistake — Black is the most dangerous kind of satirist: erudite, relentless and unapologetic, traits that make him more of a countercultural-style force than an aim-to-please funnyman riffing on pop culture, relationships and celebrities. Black is firmly entrenched in the styles of Richard Pryor and George Carlin, but his knowledgeable, take-no-prisoners approach puts him within the lineage of earlier satirists like Jonathan Swift, Ambrose Bierce and Mark Twain, albeit with many more well-placed F-bombs.
Folio Weekly spoke to Black while he was on the road in Cincinnati. We talked about well-armed college kids, the LGBT community and its ongoing struggle for civil rights, and the ephemeral anger racing through social media.
The Florida Senate just approved a bill allowing a citizen to carry concealed handguns on state campuses. What kind of heat will you be packing at your upcoming University of North Florida appearance?
Wonderful. I won’t be appearing. But thank you for the heads up. You can tell them the show’s been canceled. But no, that’s good news because as we well know, now all of those campuses will finally be safe. Because what you really want at a Florida State/Florida game are people carrying handguns. I’ve been there for the tailgate party, and the amount of liquor consumed is pretty close to what was consumed during the entirety of World War I. But this is smart of Florida to do — because if anything is vital to the education of our youth, it’s the ability to carry a loaded gun at school at all times.
At this point, are even comedians tired of making fun of Florida?
No, because Arizona gives you a good run for the money. It’s almost like Florida does something crazy and Arizona says, “Yeah? You think you’re nuts? Watch us.” Well, they’re the ones worried about gay people getting wedding cakes.
Well, after Florida legalized gay marriage, the Duval County Clerk of Courts decided to end all courthouse weddings. We got skewered on The Daily Show. So that’s more good press for us.
Yeah, Alabama followed suit with that one. If you really want to whip up support for gay marriage, why don’t you set up a kind of fake thing in a classroom for straight people, where you go, “Uh, hey — you can’t get married.” Tell a heterosexual couple they can’t get married and all of the sudden you develop empathy. You know, people say, “Is it ever going to change?” Yeah, it’s going to change, because a) these people, who I like to call the dinosaurs, will pass from this earth, and b) while they’re here, they continue to make a case for wondering, “Would you rather deal with these assholes or simply deal with the gay couple that lives across the street?” And they make a good case for dealing with the gay couple.
With the prejudice against gay marriage and these things that create a really valid kind of outrage, do you think our constant access to this information and news stories actually propels people toward legitimate activism?
I don’t really know, because I think we’re so in the middle between where we were. I’m not sure how to describe this, but look: I was born and raised in what we will call an Industrial Age. And now we’re at the beginning of a Technological Age. But we’re not in the age. We’re literally smack dab between the two of them. So it’s hard to say, “Oh, this is really going to make a difference in our lives” — you don’t know what the fuck it’s going to do. With all of this technology, it’s like you gave the entire world LSD and now you’re waiting for the experiment to end.
I wonder, too, if this constant newsfeed can be polarizing if anything, since a lot of the information is one-sided and could be misinformation. You know, there are “two sets of news” while things are perpetually “trending.” Maybe it’s just my Facebook feed, but people are fired up about something and then two days later, there’s just more shit about cats. You need to really absorb and process information quickly.
Yeah, that’s probably true. But I do think it’s a way for people to anonymously vent. I think, for whatever it’s worth, when I started touring the country 25 years ago, people would say, “Oh, you’re really hard, you’re really angry, you’re from New York … ” Amazingly, no one ever said, “And you’re Jewish!” But what was amazing is that they were angrier than I was. And they’ve been angry for a long time and a lot of what’s being vented is because they’ve been so disenfranchised by their government, and that’s where I think the need is. That’s what’s bleeding out into the Internet. You put too much water in the pot and it’s gonna boil over. Congress and the president need to wake up to the fact that they have a constituency that doesn’t give a shit about their ideologies any more.
I know you’re a big fan of people like Paul Krassner and Lenny Bruce. Do you think that style of purely antiestablishment comedy has been pushed aside by the more popular “play it safe”-style of observational humor?
I hope not. [Laughs.] Because I’ve got a few more years in me. Jesus Christ, first with the guns and now I’ve gotta do observational humor. Fuck! But no, I don’t think it’s been pushed aside. I think what’s basically happened is that comedy has become a legitimate form. I still don’t know why they think they need “alternative comedy.”
What do you mean? Are you opposed to the label? I mean, someone like Paul F. Tompkins is probably considered “alternative” and he’s flat-out brilliant.
Yeah, I know Paul and Paul is fuckin’ funny. We’ve actually worked together. If Paul’s alternative, what is he wearing a fuckin’ suit for? What he’s really doing is taking a structure and turning it inside out. Now there’s like 450,000 people trying to attack comedy. In the end, it’s the same thing: It better be funny or go fuck yourself.