When you think about it, there’s absolutely no way Lewis Black could possibly be “Lewis Black” in everyday life. “If I acted like I did on stage, I would’ve been dead ten years ago,” the cantankerous comic said in an interview last week. Better make that 20.
When not in front of an audience erupting with hilarious anger at the world and everyone who lives in it, Black said he’s a “less intense” guy who finds joy performing on the road, enjoying mild celebrity status, and feasting on headlines that send him over the edge. Speaking of which, the former “Daily Show” contributor is taking his show on your road this summer in support of the recently released cd/dvd combo “Stark Raving Black.”
The album was recorded at the Fillmore Theatre in Detroit, and finds Black aiming his snarky bullets at Wall Street suits, growing old, and those who question if he has enough angst in a post-George W. Bush world. We know that answer definitively without getting the cd. On a recent Monday afternoon, I spoke to Black in the midst of a promotional day for “Stark Raving Black.” In abnormally calm form, the Aruba pitchman assured me while he’d spoken to a few reporters beforehand, he was in good form to speak. “You’ll do fine. You’re at the breaking point. It’s that poor son of a bitch calling at 2:15 that’s going to be in the shitter,” he said. Lucky me.
Why did you decide to film the Fillmore show?
What really drove me nuts – [we had] this deal with HBO who kind of said they’d basically produce me every two years and then reneg’d on it. So I lost a special in the process, and I just said we got to get it done, and I can’t wait around anymore.
How is this special/cd different than previous ones?
What makes it unique is it’s the best looking in terms of the amount of cameras and the way in which they chose to shoot this one.
I know you address a post-Bush era, but are their some subjects that you haven’t discussed before but do here?
Well, there’s aging – the fact that I’m old and consider myself old. People are dying later and living longer thanks to whatever drugs they’re pumping into themselves, but 60 is old. People need to stop acting like it’s the new 40. I also talk about death. That’s how you know you’re old. When you’re 22, you’re not thinking about it unless it’s [wondering] what disease you’re going to get. By the time you get to 60, people around you start getting sick, having problems, and drop like flies.
Harrison Ford, I think, is the reason why that “60 is the new 40″ tagline comes from. Can we expect you to get your ear pierced?
That’s not happening. No tattoos. It’s kind of silly. It didn’t work for me when I was younger, and now I’m going to do it? Unless I can pierce my head and make hair grow…
If I can do that, I don’t have to do this for a living anymore and I can hire you for my infomercial and you don’t have to work for them anymore. It’s a billion dollar industry. My mother said something today and it’s a great quote. She said, “I just watched your ‘Back in Black’ special and the thing is you still have the same amount of hair as you did then. Which means you’re just as bald now as you are then.”
You must get your sense of humor from her. Speaking of which, when you did “Back on Black” on Broadway, that must’ve been a trip considering you originally were a playwright.
Yes. It was different then I envisioned. I envisioned standing in the back throwing up. I never thought I’d be on stage. It was great, and a great theatre and it made me wonder “why didn’t I go in this direction in the first place?”
Would you ever go back to writing plays?
Once I went into comedy that was that. I still work in theatre – the Williamstown Theatre Festival, I work for them for ten summers, and I’ve done benefits for theaters. For the past five years, I’ve worked on plays of mine – everything has been done but none of the plays have been seen by large audiences.
Well, you’re on the road now being seen by masses of people. Would you say you’re more at home on the road?
Probably, and it’s not bad on the tour bus. I don’t think it’s as bad as people make it out to be. I really like seeing the country.
I can’t help but bring up Aruba. Can a guy like you be relaxed on an island like the one you’ve been promoting?
What’s great about that ad is the ad guy figured out to go the opposite way. I’ve been able to relax on an island a little. Once I get away from a newspaper and news, and read books again, I can kind of relax. I think some people who’ve seen that ad don’t know I’m a comic, and that’s hysterical. It’s great. They say ‘you’re that Aruba guy.’ [Pauses]I am the Aruba guy.
How do you read a newspaper without getting material? It must be a constant stream…
It’s kind of a constant stream. I’m kind of slow. I do try to pick theme – something seems to be happening and I start there then try to find a thread of a story. God bless all things are online [but] finding simple information – just information unsullied by viewpoint – is impossible. You just go through the whole thing and simplify it. You go to an oped page or go to the Huffington Post and find a column where the person has found two nuggets of clear information. That’s really the hard part. It’s like panning for gold.
You’ve become a celebrity out of your spots on the “Daily Show” and elsewhere, how do you deal with it?
I’m a celebrity on the fun level – just enough so it’s fun. People recognize me and they’re nice. But nobody’s really interested in what I’m doing. I’m not on the celebrity level of Entertainment Tonight or any of those things. So it’s great. Like I go into town, like I was at Boston recently, and a guy walked up to me and said “Hi Lewis.” I don’t even get hate mail. People are smart enough to know I have no effect.
Speaking of celebrity, what’s your take on Lady Gaga? I’m curious because you often rant about politics as opposed to personalities without suits.
Where do we start – you went from Better Midler to Cher, Madonna and now Lady GaGa. And next will be a singing lollipop. I look [at her] and say that’s the most insane thing I’ve seen people put on. I can’t even imagine staying that long dressing. The only thing I will say is it’s a step ahead of “American Idol.” I know this person worked her way through clubs, and performed until she defined herself.
How do you feel about “Idol?” You paid your dues in the industry I’d imagine you’d be pretty pissed off at the road to instant success.
You might’ve done this or that but it’s like you know when they go on the road they’re going to have to figure out how to do a concert. These people go from maybe clubs to a TV room that seats whatever to hockey rinks. Really? From the moment it started it made me insane.
And the fact it’s successful probably drives you more nuts.
Well, that’s part of it. I think it’s what keeps me awake.