Bleep! Talking with angry comedian Lewis Black
Nov 15, 2011 (The Virginian-Pilot - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Hell, yeah, his anger is real. Lewis Black says you can't grow up around Washington, D.C. -- where politicians throw around billions within the earshot of some of the (bleep) worst slums -- and not be angry.
But -- and you can picture the comedian's manic fingers slowing as he says this -- the apoplectic, near-coronary rant that is his trademark? No, that's for the stage. Does he want people to get ticked or tickled when they hear his stand-up?
"I want them to laugh," Black said recently during a phone interview.
Black hits the stage Thursday at Christopher Newport University's Ferguson Center for the Arts. Black is considered one of the most prolific and popular comics today, known for his sarcastic and biting commentary on everything, particularly politics.
He performs more than 200 nights a year to sold-out crowds around the world, and when he's not on stage, he can be seen on Comedy Central and during regular runs of his HBO specials "Black on Broadway" and "Red, White and Screwed." Black says he likes our area, he knows it well because he grew up in Silver Spring, Md., in the 1950s and '60s. But as he said during one of his last shows here, people still don't know what the (bleep) Hampton Roads is.
"They vaguely know Newport News," he said. "They know Hampton, vaguely. Virginia Beach they know the best because it has the word 'beach' in it, and people realize that's a place they can go swimming."
Kidding and ranting aside, Black does have a soft side. Despite what people think, he said, he does not wake up angry.
"Every morning I actually wake up filled with hope," he said. "But then I pick up the newspaper."
He said the fire started burning for him when he was a teenager and began understanding life around him. Or tried to understand it.
"They build a beltway that's supposed to help transportation, but you're 18, you have your license, and they build three lanes on the Maryland side and two lanes on the D.C. side," he said. "Really?"
He went to the University of North Carolina, where he took a stab at politics.
Black got elected to the student senate during an era of revolution, 1969, and a time of student strikes. Yet, one guy who ran an "important" committee, Black said, called for several meetings in one day, knowing half the students wouldn't show. When they didn't, the guy pulled out the rules and regs and had people dismissed.
The liberal wing, Black said, screamed that it was a misuse of power and asked Black to file the articles of impeachment. He said he'd do it because he agreed that the guy was a (bleep) but someone else had to handle the trial. They agreed. But, of course, the day of the trial rolled around and Black was the only one at the table.
The opponent was a law student; Black, a drama major.
"I was a theater student but not a good acting student," he said.
The episode left Black with a bad taste for politics that still exists.
"After an hour, I stood up and told them they could go to hell; I had better things to do with my time."
He did. He graduated, later studied at Yale School of Drama and worked as a playwright, doing stand-up on the side -- "a perverted hobby," he said. "Like some people collect porn."
Black realized his comedy could get him on stage more readily than his plays and was pursuing stand-up full time by the late 1980s. He still writes for the stage, has a number of books, but he sees himself as a comic.
And a guy with a heart.
Black works with several organizations, such as the 52nd Street Project in New York, which pairs economically disadvantaged kids with artists to create pieces for the theater. Black likes to play golf to raise money for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, though he says golf does not like him.
"I'm limited because of time, but if I can help somebody, if I can get money to organizations, I will," Black said. "I think a lot of things I'd raise money for should be paid for by the government, but don't tell them I said that or, you know, people will get upset."
Denise Watson Batts, (757) 446-2504, firstname.lastname@example.org
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