“I hope this doesn’t fuck up your day.” That’s comedian Lewis Black’s apologetic postscript after telling me our interview would be delayed about 15 minutes — just in case there’s any lingering doubt over Black’s reputation for straightforward dialogue.
Needless to say, there is much going on in America that’s well-suited to Black’s comedic style of jaw-clenching exasperation. When he strolls into Cincinnati this week, the main topics on his mind will be health care reform and Sarah Palin, though he isn’t always so certain about the latter.
“I rarely have a crisis of conscience as a comedian, but I really don’t want to do anything that would lend her credence,” Black says of Palin. “That she was nominated for Vice President was pathetic at best, and I just don’t think we need to go through it again. I might just come out and say to the audience, ‘Sarah Palin. Talk amongst yourselves. Be back in 15 minutes.’ ”
Black also happily labels himself a “socialist” (that straightforward dialogue thing again), which, he notes, has recently replaced “liberal” as the national dirty word du jour.
“Compared to me, Obama is a right-wing nut,” Black says. “But no need to worry. There’s only about 10 of us (socialists). We don’t even have meetings.”
It’s probably not surprising, under present political conditions, that Black’s socialist philosophy is most visible when the topic turns to health care reform.
“It’s the most staggering thing that I’ve ever watched in my life,” he says of the insurance debate. “There’s no argument that something has to happen. It’s really extraordinary when you can lead middle-class people to defend private health insurance companies — something that’s so contrary to their own interests — because we just love our capitalism so much.
"But health is not a business and never should’ve been. It’s your health. And sometimes you need government to straighten shit out. You can’t wait for some entrepreneur to rise from the manure. Don’t tell me it’s going to kill my grandma. She’s already dead.”
Although Black is often labeled a political comic, the man himself says it’s a little more nuanced than that.
“I’m more interested in how politics affects people,” he says. “The politicians themselves are pretty uninteresting. They take things that should be common sense and make them into politics. Their argument (regarding ‘Obamacare’) is, ‘Gee, this is too long.’ Yeah, you have to read it, douchebag. You’re in Congress. That’s your homework!”
Black recently turned 61 and, like many of his generation, was influenced by the social comedy of George Carlin, Lenny Bruce and Richard Pryor. It was worth asking if Black felt that stand-up comedy was still evolving or if, like Rock & Roll, it had played itself out and was searching for an identity. Examples are the ascendancy of Dane Cook and an incident where George Carlin, two years before his death, appeared to get “owned” by conservative pundit Ann Coulter during a Tonight Show appearance.
“I thought Carlin’s last album was great, but on the one before that he had some really dark material and I think he just needed to find the right way to deliver it,” Black says. “But I don’t think we’ve peaked yet. For every Dane Cook, there’s a Doug Stanhope. There’s a lot of bright, up-and-coming guys who came of age on Comedy Central the way we did on the old records.”
LEWIS BLACK performs Thursday at the Taft Theatre. Buy tickets, check out performance times and get venue details here.