Since we are on the eve of SuperHumongoColosoTuesday, I thought I woul dig out an interview of mine with Leis Black from the primaries from eight years ago (originally published Feb. 15, 2000 in Boston's Stuff@Night Magazine under the title Born to Rant). At the time, Black was in New Hampshire where it was McCain v Bush and Gore v Bradley. It was the first time I spoke with Black, and I have found him to be a great subject and a good man who supports comedy. What surprised me was that he was so relaxed until we started talking politics, and then he turned into the character we all know from The Daily Show, and turned back once we drifted from the primaries.
I did make one change from the published version. For the sentence about the subway platform, I used my original line, instead of what it was changed to, which was "he'd be the guy on the subway platform you suspect could be a pusher . . . that kind of pusher." I remember meeting Black after the show he did at the Grille 93 (anyone who knows comedy in Boston over the last decade will know how much Black's fortunes have changed just by knowing that's where he was playing then), apologizing profusely for insinuating he was a drug dealer in print while I gave him copies of the interview. He seemed amused by the thought that either of us should care.
When Lewis Black speaks on Comedy Central's The Daily Show with Jon Stewart as "America's Foremost Commentator on Everything," his eyes bulge, his fingers dance, and the corners of his mouth are drawn down into his neck toward two popping veins. If he weren't on TV, he'd be the guy on the subway platform looking for someone to push. Off-stage, Black, who appears at the Comedy Palace in Andover on February 18 and 19, is laid-back and cheerful. Just don't mention politics, or the two Lewis Blacks begin to merge.
How do you balance touring as a stand-up comic and being on The Daily Show?
Actually, it's not too bad because I shoot only on Wednesday nights. I get to perform on the weekends.
You went to the Yale School of Drama, but opted to go into stand-up. Any regrets?
I thought I was going to be a Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright . . . sometime before my death. School at least made me organize the act better. And going to Yale gave me enough anger that I don't think I'll ever lose it. It was a hellish place to go to theater school at that point.
Oh, no. The people I went to school with were phenomenal. The teachers were — some of them needed psychiatric care. There's a problem with a number of art schools in our country, which is that the people who're there want to do it [art], and instead are teaching. They basically end up kind of abusing the student body. You can do constructive criticism. You don't need to damage people in the process.
What were your first routines like?
They were about sex. Because I had a really funny sex life. And all of the stories that I had that were funny were about me trying to figure out really what it was all about. Since the information at that point was — we didn't have the president to learn from. We had to learn from a guy down the street named Stinky. And he didn't have all the information.
You see it as your duty to get after politicians and political candidates?
Yes. I see it as something that I was born to do, because I was born and raised in Washington, DC, and spent a lot of time watching these people. I think it's important for people to realize when they're appalled by what's going on that they have a right to be appalled by what's going on — it's appalling. I'm in Manchester, New Hampshire. I was just at this pancake breakfast, and the whole spectacle of it all was like I was on LSD. And these candidates — there's so little humanity in these people that it defies description.
What do you think of the campaign-finance-reform issue?
I think most of the American people, if asked directly and in a way that is comprehensible — "Do you think that the amount of money coming from Big Money and corporations should be limited?" — I think they would say yes. It's just unconscionable that these guys continue to run a system that has nothing to do with the reality that Americans want.
What do you think of the Republican notion that it's a First Amendment issue?
When they sat down, the Founding Fathers thought, "Boy, when we can get an Exxon-Mobil combination together and allow them to give all the money that they can and control the destiny of the country?" I mean, it's by the people and for the people, you idiot, not by the corporation and for the corporation and let's have another merger next Thursday.
How many of the candidates have you met personally?
I haven’t met any of them. They won't let me near ’em. Well, I met Bill Bradley on a plane, and I asked him not to run because it would mean that I couldn't like him anymore.