Lewis Black seems to eat, breathe and even sleep pissed off. But that's part of the reason millions tune in to Comedy Central each week to watch his recurring "Back in Black" segments on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Root of all Evil, which Black hosts. The cranky veteran comedian/actor/author/TV show host speaks to—and possibly for—so many Americans, dissatisfied with the current political mess.
When Black called Boise Weekly from his bus, he was in Michigan for a wedding and about 12 shows into his "Let Them Eat Cake" tour. It was not quite 11 a.m. in Michigan which, in the world of stand-up comedians, is like 5 a.m. to you and me. Early as it was, Black was on his game.
His conversation was punctuated with half-begun exclamations, "I just ..." "If I ..." "How can ..." before each statement. It's easy to imagine him as he is on stage: flexing his index fingers, gritting his teeth, his gravelly voice just decibels below a scream.
Black started off the conversation by explaining that he travels by bus because if he had to be in airports as often as were necessary, he'd probably be arrested. But only because of the nightmare that airport travel has become, not for what he might do to an eager fan who recognizes him.
"They say, 'It's you.' I always say, 'Yep, it is me.' They're very nice. I apparently say things they want to say, but don't," Black said. "Then they scream things like, 'You're awesome.' It helps make your day. It makes it a lot easier to be in an airport where you feel like slitting your wrists."
A question about whether he'd ever been tagged for a special screening in an airport led—not surprisingly to anyone who is familiar with Black's stand-up—to a diatribe on TSA (Transportation Security Administration).
"I was tagged a lot before. Especially when we were flying every morning and we were half hungover, half in the bag," Black said. "I just can't stand [flying]. This is the best we can do? It's beyond belief. I've never seen a nation ... it's insane how quickly we respond to a problem without thinking about it and then how slowly we really try to solve the problem. It's like, the TSA is trying to decide if they should ban handguns in airports. And I can't take hair gel."
Black is incensed at America's political administration and sees the upcoming elections as offering a sense of relief to voters but, due choice of candidates, little else. He's also exhausted from watching McCain and Obama work their way to the center. "There is no visionary. There really isn't. Obama used to sound like a maverick, used to sound like a visionary. Now they both sound like idiots.
"They don't stand up to the pressure, the press and the polls. You can take the polls into account. As opposed to a president who is deaf. There's got to be somewhere between being stupid and being deaf."
Black's comedy is both hilarious and enlightening, a level to which many comedians strive, but only a few—the late George Carlin being a shining example—achieve. Black is a well-educated, well-informed, well-spoken example of everyman, who delves into the murky dredge pond of the current climate and then pulls from human history to try to make a connection that everyone can understand. One example is a very funny bit on the Old Testament.
"[That] stuff came from idiots pontificating about gay marriage as if gay people don't exist. [I] was like, 'Do you know that gay people live in this country and there are a lot of them?' I started to figure out where they came up with these ideas and I realized it was from the Old Testament. And then I realized people actually think the Old Testament is the word of God. [Even the] Jews that created the book don't think that."
To Black, it just doesn't matter what deity a president does or doesn't believe in, if any at all. And he sure as hell doesn't care whom a president sleeps with.
"I don't care if you want to be married to a Shetland pony," Black yelled. "Just be able to lead. A blow job in the White House is the equivalent of George Bush going on Deal or No Deal. Which one was more crippling to the psyche of America?"
With a brand new comedy CD, Anticipation, on store shelves, Black has more than enough material to spend an entire day in front of crowd. Though he loves the material on the new CD, he's constantly adding to his repertoire and by the time he hits Boise, what would have made up 35 minutes of his routine, might only take up 15. He not only comes up with new material while he's on the road, he makes much of it up on the spot. Black's ability to take the very worst parts of our current political state and make it germane to an American audience is something he's not only very good at, but something he actually enjoys.
"I really prefer to find something that's political and show how it affects us personally. That's really where I'm happiest."
Lewis Black happy? Who knew?
Sunday, Aug. 24, 8 p.m., $45.50-$52.50. Morrison Center, 2201 Cesar Chavez Lane, 208-426-1609, mc.boisestate.edu.