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Anger Is His Energy...
By Gary Wien
originally published: 03/01/2004
Lewis Black is not only known as the angriest man in America, he's damn proud of it too. The stand-up comedian, who is seen weekly on "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart", will make an appearance at the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank on March 26th. Black took out a few minutes to speak with me while he was in California getting ready for the start of his tour.
People who know you know that this "angriest man" thing is really an act.
Yeah, but even as an act, it's still me even if I'm acting being the angriest guy... I'm still hopefully the angriest guy.
Why does anger work so well with comedy?
I think it's got to do with... well, it's kind of more real than Mr. Happy. Happiness doesn't work for comedy. Comedy is in part about misery in a sense. And the other reason is - to be honest - it's hard to describe, it's like the physics of comedy. Those harsh, guttoral big barks have a tendency to push people to laugh, I think.
There's a fine line between being angry and playing angry. How do you straddle that line?
It's a bit easier after the years. I think I've finally gotten it down and when I really go over the line, I laugh at myself about it.
Ever gone over the line at a party?
Oh yeah... I've done that. Somebody will say something I just find appalling and I'll have a tendency to snap. It's like when people say the President is really genuine and start building up this case on the basis of his personality. And I have a tendency to go completely crazy!
You attack both sides. Which side (Democrats or Republicans) gives you the most material?
I think whoever is in power gives you the most except when the Democrats were in power you still had guys like Trent Lott and Tom DeLay giving you stuff on a regular basis.
I think the thing that's interesting is the Democrats do crap and they hide it and then you've got to find it. The Republicans do the crap in public and act like because they did it in public they don't think there's anything wrong.
Which President has given you better material - Clinton or Bush?
I think both are pretty even for me but for different reasons. I'm not a comic that talks about sex enough or about sex much at all. Clinton gave me that and all of a sudden I could talk about it.
Bush has just got a quality of arrogance that really brings out the best in me. I mean it's one thing to be President - you've just got to show some humilty. And now he comes back and he's doing it again... his real humble crap.
Even though you attack both sides, do people still label you as a liberal?
Sometimes I'll hear that I'm liberal and I go, 'on what basis?' I've been under the radar for so long that these people don't have any idea about what I've said about people.
Many people obviously know you best from your weekly segments on "The Daily Show" - how does your standup differ from those segments?
I think it's the same kind of a line but on the Daily Show my anger hits about a 7.5. On the stage it ratches up to about a 9. It's more intense, at least I hope so.
Jon Stewart recently performed at the State Theatre in New Brunswick. Now, he's a Jersey guy himself but he let us have it. Do you have your own Jersey material to unlease on us?
Oh yeah... I'm coming after you guys!
Why is New Jersey such an easy target for comedians?
In part it's because you're stuck next to New York City, so since you don't live in New York you kinda look like sissies! And you've got that stuff - the Jersey Turnpike with that Elizabeth stretch and all of the gas companies there belching. How can you not make a joke about that?
Makes a great impression, huh?
Yeah. And then you've got Atlantic City, if you guys were anywhere else it'd be different.
You started out as a playwright and currently have one of your plays (One Flight Hitch) running in California. Is this your first production in a while?
It's my first one in a while.
Were you doing stand-up early on when you actively writing plays?
Yeah, I was doing stand-up on the side, but I was mostly focused on theatre.
Is getting a sitcom the next step?
Yeah, there is something in the works. I'll actually know more tomorrow. This guy has written a pilot for me for ABC through Paramount. It's the guy that wrote Andy Richter's show.
Why do the comics with no acting experience always get the sitcoms?
Well, you can never underestimate the intelligence of the people running television. One of my best friends (John Bowman) probably has the strongest acting background of any comic. He's a phenomonal actor and they never paid attention to him. It's unbelievable.
Among the people on the circuit today, who do you find funny?
There's a lot of them actually. It's a pretty amazing time. I did this tour with David Attell and Mitch Hedberg - both extremely funny men. And I love Dom Irrera and the best female comic, Kathleen Madigan.
You mentioned the Comedy Central Tour, could you have ever imagined 20 years that a channel like Comedy Central would become such an institution?
No, I wouldn't have had a concept. But it certainly wouldn't have happened if cable didn't come along.
Have there been talks about getting your own show on Comedy Central?
Yeah, we've been talking about it. We've kind of fooled around with things. There's something that may happen. It all depends on this thing with ABC.
One thing people may not know about you is your involvement with several charities. Tell me about the 52nd Street Project.
Well I used to do a lot with them, I've been so busy I can't do much more than try to get people to give them money. I contribute as much as I can to them. They're a group that mentors inner city kids through theatre. It's really a one on one mentoring program, or as close to one on one as you can get.
I used to work individually with the kids. I would write a play for them and then we would perform it together. They have an ongoing program in a space on 52nd Street.
We're setting up a scholarship fund so that when these kids go to school and they maintain a B average, which I think is the thing, we give them some money each year for school. It was named after my brother who passed away.
And you also work with the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.
Yeah, they have a major golf tournament that I host each year. It's five days long and they raise a ton of money each year. This year it's at Pinehurst.
So, what's your gut feeling??Are we going to have 4 more years of material with Bush?
Either way. I think we win either way. I mean, as a comedian. Dean would have been spectactular! And I think Edwards too. That kind of essentially cracker-smiley thing. I think it would wear thin pretty fast. Bush... coming from people who are in a state of shock - Bush is really printing my money right now!
Gary Wien has been covering the arts since 2001 and has had work published with Jersey Arts, Elmore Magazine, Princeton Magazine, Backstreets and other publications. He is a three-time winner of the Asbury Music Award for Top Music Journalist and the author of Beyond the Palace
(the first book on the history of rock and roll in Asbury Park) and Are You Listening? The Top 100 Albums of 2001-2010 by New Jersey Artists
. In addition, he runs New Jersey Stage and the online radio station The Penguin Rocks
. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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