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Q&A: Lewis Black
His standup routine has been described variously as angry, rant-filled, and bilious. This month, Lewis Black, longtime veteran of The Daily Show, brings his comedic wrath to the Taft. Fair warning, gentle reader: Mr. Black says what he feels and does not hold back.
Anything nice you want to say about Cincinnati? [Long pause] I’ve always had trouble with your chili.
Is that it? I think it’s a very pretty town. And I occasionally root for the Bengals, especially when they play Dallas.
You recently did a bit on The Daily Show about Rick Perry that ended with a long queue of New Yorkers enthusiastically saying “Fuck Texas.” Were you surprised when that clip went viral? Ever since “viral” came into the vocabulary, whenever I’m doing something to promote something, they’ll go, “Let’s do something that goes viral.” Well, you know, you can’t just do something that goes viral, asshole! If you could do that, then you could write a TV pilot they put on the air, or you could write the great American Novel, douchebag. But…I knew. And I’m never right when I predict stuff, so I was very excited.
A lot of your favorite targets are politicians, on the left and right. Ever been asked to run? For office? God, no. Be in a room with those people? Sixty percent of them would be great. It’s that 40 percent, you know? You know how when you’re in the TSA line, and there’s that 10 percent of the TSA that are so thrilled that they finally got a uniform? Well, 40 percent of these people shouldn’t be in office. They have no clue as to what it’s about, except to hear the sound of their own voice.
You recently did your very first commencement speech at UC San Diego. What took them so long to ask you? I don’t know. I really don’t know. They were probably worried about me offending people, but that’s stupid. I’m not going to do that at a commencement. I’ve been on three USO tours, for Christ’s sake, and the Army didn’t fucking fall apart. “He brought the military to its knees! The next day in Kabul, every man put down his gun.” The only message I had for the kids was to do what you want to do. Your parents bought your education, but they didn’t buy your life.
You got a little emotional at the end of that thing, which I found both moving and unsettling. Look, talking to a bunch of kids about their lives and what they should do with them is a huge responsibility, and being asked to do it is a huge honor. So that kind of hit me. There’s this kind of softy spot in me that just irritates the fuck out of me at times.
I imagine you get a lot of people asking what pisses you off. Anything make you particularly happy? Finding good music, finding a great book. Playing golf. Golf is great, really, because you have no thoughts except stupid ones, ones that have nothing to do with the rest of the universe. It’s like going away, really far away, like to a nuthouse, where you’re allowed to have thoughts like: Maybe if I just breathed through my ass, I would hit it better.
You graduated from the Yale School of Drama, and spent quite a few years writing plays. How common is that, to transition from playwriting to standup? I don’t know of anybody else who’s done it. Shakespeare didn’t try it.
Why do you think that is? Not a lot of people set out to become playwrights in the first place. You really have to be semi-delusional. “Boy, I’m gonna make a living doing plays.” I was crazy. That was just crazy.
If you couldn’t do standup or write plays, what would you be doing? This is what I’ve always said, and it’s true: I’d be teaching drama at a Southern girls’ school, where they’d never met a Jewish man before.
Originally published in the October 2013 issue.