When I reach politically enraged comedian Lewis Black by phone on an early February morning following the Iowa caucus, I expect he’ll be ready with one of his signature rants, and after a polite exchange of salutations, he does not disappoint. Black immediately unleashes a torrent of frustrations. Clearly he wants me to listen—which is really the only choice, as he does not pause often for breathing or questions. He tosses out fuck and schmuck like confetti, and his quick-witted cultural jabs change lanes like a getaway car.
Black’s bringing his It Gets Better Every Day tour to The Paramount Theater on February 28, and he says that sometimes audience members don’t get his live act. They comment after the show that he didn’t mention “him” enough, or sometimes the show wasn’t political enough. (He refuses to call Trump by name or title.) But Black is a master craftsman in the art of wry exposition. In a career that began with playwriting, then took off through standup and a recurring role on “The Daily Show,” his agility at doling out whip-smart observations in the guise of a cranky narrator has earned Black legions of fans who do get it.
C-VILLE Weekly: Here we are in an election year and you’re a political guy…
Lewis Black: I would consider myself more of a social satirist than a political satirist, because it’s more of what these guys do than who they are. It’s a big differential, it’s literally an endless list of jackasses.
I have an inordinate amount of trouble with both parties. With the Democrats, I’m so astonished, I mean you’re impeaching the president..and that night you have a debate…and you go after each other. It was more important for you to be elected than for you to deal with what was happening historically. Seriously.
They can be just as tone-deaf as the Republicans. There’s no defense of it. None. …Screw you! I’m sick of it.
This must be a good time for your social commentary?
It is to a point. People say he must be good for comedy…about “the leader,” as I call him. I say he’s good for comedy in the way that a stroke is good for a nap.
Who is the funniest person in politics?
I don’t think any of them are funny. I think there’s not an adult among them. …The basic behaviors, the basic lack of a sense of history, and the lack of you know, basic knowledge.
Do you think the last election was rigged?
No. No! Seriously? No. You know why? They’re not that competent. None of them. No, it wasn’t rigged. You know what was unbelievable. Nominating two candidates that no one liked…You’ve got to show up in states you’re supposed to show up in to win! The arrogance on both sides is beyond belief.
Have you always been angry?
About the state of government? Somewhat. I was born and raised around Washington, D.C., so yeah. Stupidity has always gotten to me. From the time I was a kid and they said “In case of nuclear attack get under your desk.” I said, “Really?” …That was literally when my train went off the rails. I’ve never been big on authority. You have to take authority with a grain of salt…most authority tries to be about its power and you know, “Fuck you!”
You’ve logged 23 years on “The Daily Show.” Who’s your favorite host?
There’s something I like about all of them. I have more freedom now. But the most freedom I had was in the beginning. They needed material and I had material…I would go on and improv.
Who opened the door for your brand of humor?
All sorts. Carlin, Pryor, Bruce. I think I pale in comparison.
I met George a couple of times, and he was really instrumental in my career because he started to tell people to come and see me…and that was just huge to me. At that point it didn’t matter how I did…if he liked what I was doing, then fuck ’em.
These days you are well-known, but who do you get mistaken for?
So do you ever just pretend you’re Al Franken?
No. I get livid. I know Al and I say, “Really?” First off, I’m better looking than Al, so get over it.
Any regrets about the Opie and Anthony Naked Teen Voyeur Bus stunt? Would you do it again today? (Black and 14 others were arrested in 2000 for a radio show bus ride that featured nude or semi-nude models in the windows.)
I wouldn’t do it now, because essentially, I don’t need to. It was advertising. But I’m not embarrassed by it on any level.
To be honest, if I was sitting on the bus ogling them that would be one thing. Here’s the choice: Sit in a studio with two schmucks, or get in a bus that’s going around New York City with five topless girls.
Those are the choices?
Those are the choices. What are you gonna do? You tell me? I’m not selling anything, I’m making nothing off of it. …Also, there was nothing against the law!
Those women chose to be topless…I’m watching the reaction of the people on the street to see if that bothers them…and nothing. There’s old ladies waving, happy. It was just before Christmas for god’s sake. It was spectacular.
Which is worse, that I did that, or that Giuliani had us stopped because Bill Clinton, of all people, was going to be coming on the road we’re on a half an hour later. We were three minutes from the studio when we got busted. We were taken in and held for a day and a half.
What were you charged with?
Disrupting the public, and public nuisance, and some other thing. I got off that bus and had a show that weekend. You couldn’t get a ticket to my show. For me, it flipped everything around.
Tell me about The Rant is Due, which takes place at the end of your shows.
That I am very proud of. …For the people in Charlottesville, anybody in the state of Virginia, or folks around the country…the audience is asked when they come in, is there anything you want to yell about or include about your town? I pick the ones I think will work…and it’s livestreamed throughout the world for free. It becomes a show written by people in the town.