A “pissed-off optimist” who yells so you don’t have to, Lewis Black became infamous for his righteous rages on The Daily Show, which led to specials on Comedy Central and HBO and now a Broadway engagement called Running On Empty (October 9 through 14 and 19 and 20). The vein-throbbing comic will bring the Great White Way much satirical fuming about everyone in politics (he’s an equal opportunity distruster) while a more upbeat comedy he wrote, One Slight Hitch, plays simultaneously at the George Street Playhouse in New Jersey.
I called Lewis for a refreshing taste of calmness management.
Hi, Lewis. Is your Broadway show basically a rant, I hope? Yeah, and then I have my quieter, more pensive moments.
Is there any multimedia involved? Some slides? No, there’s nothing—just me. Boy, do I wish there were slides and a bit of Q&A and rapport with the audience!
Will you have to update the show every night to mirror current events? You don’t have to update because nobody can keep up with this shit. I’m keeping up with it, and I’m a week behind. Every channel repeats the same stuff, so by the time you reach 8 at night, you feel like most of this stuff happened weeks ago. We’ve had two years of both sides telling us where they stand and how important what they think is. If you go to the other side, somehow the planet will spin off its axis and crash into an asteroid, and we’re all gonna die! You can’t be serious. You’re gonna tell me again that the Democrats lean more toward government and the Republicans lean more toward business? We get it! Sit down and discuss it with the other side and don’t involve me any more—just do it! It’s like high school. There were people who cared about what was on the homecoming float, and the rest of us didn’t give a shit.
Your thoughts on Paul Ryan? The thing that scares me is his eyeballs. When you look at somebody on TV, and they look crazy, they’re crazy! I look crazy on TV, but I’m portraying a character. That’s really him. And America wasn’t just done so everybody can grow up in the fictional world of Ayn Rand. It’s clinical insanity that his inspiration is someone who wrote fiction.
Well, he wrote fiction with his convention speech. And Romney? A black man is elected, so Republicans have to respond with the whitest man ever. I thought George Bush Jr. was the whitest man ever and one of the most uncomfortable people I’ve ever seen inside their own skin, but compared to Romney, Bush looks Jamaican.
No wonder Mitt has been laying on the bronzer lately. But surely you have problems with Obama, too. People say, “You don’t do enough jokes about him.” But he’s not funny! The Democrats aren’t funny! He speaks in paragraphs. Most people can’t get through the first two. It’s like you’re watching a giant tortoise that’s on its back and can’t flip itself over. And Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi are creepy in their own way. Pelosi reminds me of my second-grade teacher, who caught me cheating. When she talks, I go to the bathroom in my pants. The Democrats keep saying, “Show more tax forms.” But what more do you need? We already know he’s paid 13 percent. He brags about it. Make an issue of that, you assholes!
Let’s go back to some theater talk. Do you actually see any shows? I’ve gone to Broadway or Off-Broadway shows and sometimes go, “Holy shit, this is awful.” Of course, they’re stuck up there, but it would be worse being in the audience. Onstage, time passes a little quicker. If my name weren’t on my play [One Slight Hitch], I don’t think anybody would believe that I wrote it. It’s a romantic comedy and a farce. I’d written a lot of plays, and they were dark and strange. I realized that if I wanted some sort of an income, I’d have to go after a larger audience. This play is so accessible, it freaks me out. It’s not me, the comic. It’s me, the playwright.
Yikes. Are you a deep-down romantic? Deep down, I’m an optimist. Romantic, that’d be a push. I admire it in people, but only in small doses. You have a friend who’s in love, and he goes on and on about it. “Can we move on? Do I have to sit here and be reminded that I am alone?”
Speaking of which: Why are so many women comics lacerating and bitchy? My friend Kathleen Madigan is not so much that. She’s a straight-out comic. I think a lot of the lacerating comes from a workplace thing. It might be that they’re really angry. It’s a male-dominated field for no other reason than it’s been tough for women to do all that touring of comedy clubs. It takes a lot for a woman to go into a comedy condo and live with two shleps. Then there was that thing, “Women can’t draw.” But I think you’ll find that flipping over again. Comedy’s evolving so quickly because of YouTube.
And Broadway, too. Break a leg, kiddo!