Interview with Comedian Lewis Black
With his trademark shouting and finger-waving rants, Lewis Black has gradually become a revered elder statesman in the world of stand up comedy. Originally starting out as a playwright, Black would eventually turn his talent for language and performance into an almost 30-year career that has encompassed three books, four one-hour specials, eight comedy albums and countless appearances on late night TV and Comedy Central.
At 62 years of age Black shows no signs of slowing down as he regularly tours North America, selling out theaters at a constant pace. His unique comedic style is something to be witnessed, as he rants on a variety of subjects from the hypocrisy of politics to the different absurdities found in American society. We were fortunate enough to have a chance to talk with Lewis Black and discover what it was like spending his formative years in Maryland, and the poetic irony of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show.
So, you went to Harvard for college?
Lewis Black: Yale, and for drama. I went to UNC for college and Yale for playwriting.
Did you ever stumble across Skull and Bones?
(Laughs) No, because you avoid that kind of shit.
They keep it very secret, and there’s a lot of money and powerful people involved, so they want to keep whatever it is that they do in private. Which is probably just touching each other.
How come nobody talks about this though?
I think they would care, but… they don’t care now, when the president talks to them and his face doesn’t match the words that he’s saying.
So you grew up in Maryland, home of… Francis Scott Key (star spangled banner)? Is that Maryland’s claim to fame?
Yeah, and crabs.
How is life in Maryland, growing up and full of crabs?
You’re born and raised in the suburbs, which is like being born and raised nowhere. It prepares you, basically, for space travel.
Too bad not much is going on there, aside from trying to legalize slot machines. What’s going on in Maryland with slot machines?
Oh, that they’re trying to get them in there? They’ve been trying to do that forever. It’s because Delaware’s got ‘em and Jersey’s got ‘em. It’s because they’re trying to save the racetracks. Those haven’t really been big sellers, so Maryland is trying to get the slot machines in to keep people interested.
Are you for or against legalized gambling?
I just think… it’s just insane to me. Its like, “Let’s create another problem.” I’d be for it if I knew the money was really going somewhere. The amount of money that’s gambled, and the amount that ends up in the right hands after its all said and done, it just doesn’t make sense.
Are you referring to the slot/racetrack type or the pseudo gambling Lotto machines that State’s have set up?
Both. We had a state lottery system, and if people are really gambling that much, how come our education system doesn’t reflect it? You never get a real idea of where that money is going. The budgets are always strapped, but meanwhile people are buying lotto tickets in chunks. I don’t see the money that’s generated to be that much that it helps.
What news outlet would you recommend to someone to stay a brisk on current events?
Okay. What about NPR, though?
NPR. The (New York) Times to a point; although they can be so thick at times. For example, when I was trying to read up on the Enron story, and I’m a fairly bright person, and I can’t follow what the hell they’re trying to tell me. It’s tough. Time and Newsweek do a pretty good attempt at telling you at least something of what’s going on. It’s ridiculous.
I get a lot of my news from the Internet, and the Daily Show. How sad is our media when the Daily Show provides the majority of non-bias current events on cable television?
Well, it’s not sad in a sense, because at least it helps young people develop a point of view.
I meant sad, because when you turn to a news channel…
Yeah, the sad thing is about all those channels, is that they’re attempting to make it entertaining, which is not their job. That’s why we’re better at it then they are.
You are a regular commentator on Daily Show. Let me ask you, how come the Daily Show doesn’t have imitators? Usually successful programs have clones, albeit bad ones. Saturday Night Live has Mad TV, late night talk shows have Jimmy Kimmel, etc.
It’s because the other networks still can’t believe that it worked, I think. They’re idiots. Never underestimate the entertainment industries ability to be stupid. There should have been imitators… there should be a lot of things. Even on the goddamn Daily Show, Comedy Central doesn’t allow certain things that could be spin-offs that would work. And that the Daily Show has shown it could work. Tough Crowd is the only spin-off they’ve let go through, and it’s not really even a spin-off at all. Certainly others and I have approached other networks about putting something satirical on the air, and they show no interest. We tried to talk to NBC, the late night divisions, for something to go on after Saturday Night Live, but they’re not smart enough.
Are you censored a lot on Comedy Central?
No. I mean, someone goes thru my material but no. There’s been nothing major censored on either the Daily Show or Conan that I can remember. The only thing that we’re censored on in terms of Tough Crowd is products. There were certain products you couldn’t mention because they advertised on the show.
Will cable be allowed to swear?
Out of the all the content on your DVD, my favorite had to have been the Taxed Beyond Belief.
That was actually a pilot for a series of specials we had, but the show didn’t get off the ground. They had a deal with me to come up with a series. I came up with 500 ideas, and they, you know, (makes la, la, la noises) We’re were going to do a series of specials, like, going on vacation… there’s a million things you could do and yell about. I had thirty minutes on taxes, and nobody has ever done anything on taxes.
That might be because nobody really knows about taxes.
They would if you would read the goddamn book. That’s what’s so funny about taxes, that nobody can read any of that. I don’t think it’s the forms, it’s the people. I don’t think they’re that intelligent.
So we don’t need taxes on our wages?
Oh yeah! We should be paying more, until the country can get enough money to fund its education properly. Our education is in the sewer, and it’s because nobody wants to pay for anything. The state of California doesn’t want to pay for education anymore? What fucking planet do you live on? These people; where’s the money gonna come from assholes? What, you’re going to dig for oil somewhere? We gotta pay for shit somehow. We’ve got roads and fucking bridges. They constantly say, “Fuck this, I don’t wanna pay taxes.” Fine, let’s take the marshals off the planes, unsecure the airports, have another 9/11. You know? It’s fucking unbelievable. They’re saving twenty cents to lose ten million dollars. It’s constantly within the structure.
Will a politician with a tax plan that is in favor of current or increases in taxes get elected?
No! Nobody wants to say that. Look at the state of Alabama. That shithole, (laughs), they’ve voted to stop taxes… how do they think things will get paid for? I’m a socialist; so all this stuff is nonsense to me. I don’t really like to talk about it because nobody wants to listen. If you want to raise the quality of life, then you can’t make over 10 million dollars a year. What, you can’t live on 10 million? How tough is it?
So I’m guessing you were 100% against the Bush tax strategy?
What planet is he living on?! We’re broke! Every city is cutting out essential services. Every one! And you’re going to cut taxes AND you can’t give us money to keep those essential services going? And then see that as stimulating the economy? What kind of man are you? They won’t even vote for the 1% of the $600 billion dollars that’s the tax write-off for the rich, to pay for the war in Iraq. It’s beyond belief.
Do you think we’ve been shocked so much by everything; we’re buying ‘it’?
I don’t think we’re buying it, I think that we’re worn out. They’ve worn us out. Turn on the TV, look around. There’s nobody inspirational. There’s nobody that’s inspiring you to move, and you need that! That’s why the leadership is so appalling.
I hear Arnold Schwarzenegger inspires people.
Arnold… (Sigh) yeah he inspires people. He inspires them to listen to AC/DC or whoever that fucking idiot is. Rick Dee or whoever.
Dee Snider, from Twisted Sister.
Oh yeah, that’s it, that prick. It’s like, if you’ve got a state and your state made a decision to leave reality and live in the movies. I don’t care what the constitution says; they should remove your state hood.
You’re a busy guy; I know you have more interviews today. I’d like to finish up with your thoughts on a few people...Rush Limbaugh:
Fatty fat. How can you take that many painkillers and still be fat?
Al… wow. Al is… he really screwed up with that Harvard thing. Boy, you don’t send out those letters on paper with Harvard letterhead. There again, it’s like Arianna, you’re a comic or you’re a political analysis.
Reverend Al Sharpton:
Unbelievable. Every so often he’s got something smart to say, but when you live in New York City, the fact that he defended Tawana Brawley and made a case for that, it makes you wonder how nuts he really is. Plus, we go from Martin Luther King to Al Sharpton. What’s next? It makes me pine for Charles Barkley.
I like Michael. He’s kinda found a way to do both, where he’s, well, untimely, a great satirist.
John Ritter: Good die young. I think he was overblown. I mean, the thing was, it was a guy on TV. And that’s the thing about TV; everyone thinks they know you.
Osama Bin Laden:
Get him! Just get him. I don’t even care. How do you not catch him? He’s got asthma, one eye, diabetic, married to 19 women… how do you not fucking find him?