Story by Gordon Friedman
Rant comedian extraordinaire Lewis Black has a lot to say. And he’s yelling while doing it.
He erratically gyrates across stages, teeth clenched, ears getting red. Fingers pointing in fury, Black calls attention to some of the irritating absurdities in our society. He’s sarcastic. He’s hyperbolical. He’s irate. He’s a madman. He’s a genius.
The raging and foul-mouthed comedian, who has referred to himself as a lunatic, has been called the 21st century’s George Carlin and has fumed himself into a rare level of success as one of America’s most popular comics.
The Yale Drama School graduate playwright turned angry stand-up comic found himself leaving the theater and ended up on The Daily Show in 1996. His recurring segment, Back in Black, a five-minute rant on literally anything, is wildly popular. Nearly 20 years, four Comedy Central specials, two HBO specials, three books and a Grammy later, and he is still on top.
Black gave Ethos 20 minutes of his time to discuss life, humor, and current events. Here are the highlights.
GF: What have your previous experiences in Oregon been like?
LB: I like Oregon. You all drink a lot which seems to help you. You guys seem to have less anxiety than just about everywhere else too. But the thing is, I can’t sell tickets in Eugene. I can sell in Portland or even Medford, but what is it with you guys? Maybe you all are out picking mushrooms or watching Ducks football. I really don’t know.
GF: What is it like to literally be the voice of anger in a Pixar film (Inside Out 2015)?
LB: Well, it was a perfect fit. They literally just called me up and asked me if I wanted to do it. I said, “Are you crazy? Of course I’m going to do it.” And you know, I play the voice of anger inside the head of a 12-year-old girl. How could I not do it? It was really neat to see it all come together. Those guys, they have such a large team, and seeing all these artists come together was incredibly neat.
GF: Are you really that angry?
LB: I think a lot of it comes from my mother who is easier to get on a tirade than I am. You know, it’s just the bullshit that sets me off. And the finger pointing thing, that was just natural. I didn’t even notice I was doing it, really. People on the street would come up to me doing it and I’d think to myself, “What the hell are you doing?” My friends started telling me that I’d be doing that on stage and I honestly never noticed. I’m thinking way too much about what’s going on in my head to notice what my hands are doing.
GF: What makes you angrier, ISIS or Ebola?
LB: It’s not really either one, it’s the coverage. It’s the coverage of both that sets me off. I can’t think of another time when there’s been so much fear mongering on TV. It’s the coverage that is so fucked up. What the hell do these people think they’re doing on TV? It’s not helping.
GF: Do people ever think your humor goes too far?
LB: The thing is, I really stay under the radar. Sometimes I come off stage thinking, “Wow, I could really get in trouble for what I just said.” And people post on the FUCKU [Black’s fan club] Facebook page and people talk but it doesn’t usually get back to me. I have just enough celebrity to enjoy it and then be unnoticed otherwise. I’m not on TV enough for that.
GF: Do you consider that a blessing?
LB: Yes I think it is. The thing is, I did get asked to apologize for speaking up about voter rights the way I do [in this ACLU video] and that just sets me off. Are you fucking kidding me? It’s not some political issue. It’s a right. This isn’t something that should be left or right. It’s people going to vote. And you know, I’m not an ACLU lawyer, I just care about the issue. So what the fuck are people supposed to do? People don’t even fucking like to vote. Just give them the option to, what’s the problem?
GF: Just yesterday a federal court reinstated a Texas voter ID law that’s estimated to keep 600,000 people from voting. Your thoughts?
LB: Yeah, just watch. The Supreme Court will say, “Fuck you,” on that one.
GF: Do you have a life philosophy?
LB: I wouldn’t say I have some sort of philosophy. But I believe everyone should be given a fair chance. And you know, people don’t like to do that. You have to reach into your pockets or go to some damn meetings or some bullshit but it’s still the right thing. You people in Portland and Seattle do it, but not everywhere else. But who’s going to fix this shit? You know, people are so cynical. The middle class is gone. The debt is shrinking, but you know $16 trillion for a war is a huge tab. How about this though, if the next generation decides to start a war at least fucking tax yourselves while you do it.
GF: Complete the sentence: The thing people would least expect about Lewis Black is…
LB: He is actually a nice guy.
If you see it:
What: Comedian Lewis Black
Where: Hult Center for the Performing Arts
When: Thursday, October 30th
Tickets: On Ticketmaster, by phone at 541-682-5000, or in person at the 7th and Willamette box office. $29.75-$59.75