Black Humor


Lewis Black, who does the “Back in Black” segment on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show, still laughs about his early stand-up routines. “Back when I was no good,” he recalls, “there was a guy who called out, ‘Why don’t you go home and gargle with razor blades?’ I was laughing so hard, I told him he won, that I had to sit down. That was a good heckle.”

Although the ranting and raving comedian who just won the Best Male Stand-Up award for 2001 on the American Comedy Awards show rarely gets heckled these days, his commentary cuts as sharply as ever. In fact, fans who think the Lewis Black on TV is angry have seen nothing until they’ve seen him live. He’ll be at Stanford and Sons through June 2, and he issues a fair warning: “If my anger is a six on The Daily Show, it’s a nine onstage.”

On The Daily Show — a comedic spoof of newscasts that considers itself to be “the most important television show ever” — Black delivers the news from his own perspective. Black — who actually yells his newscasts — doesn’t mind being called angry, and the only qualification he cares to make is, “It’s also frustration. Frustration with stupidity as a daily occurrence.”

Regular newscasts are, according to Black, “made for the attention span of a hummingbird.” What’s impressive about the “Back in Black” segment is that although Black takes only a few minutes of viewers’ time, he manages to make at least one well-substantiated point from a unique perspective while harvesting more than his fair share of laughs — all in the time most newscasters waste dumbing down the top story with bullet points.

Take, for example, Black’s assessment of the Bush presidency. While most news stations evaluated the president after he’d been in office for one hundred days, Black figured Bush was “so damn corporate and efficient” that he could do it after 81 days. “That way,” he explained to viewers, “I can use the remaining nineteen days to pack for Canada.” Bush dodged press conferences hoping to avoid scrutiny, but Black remained irreverent. “Let the scrutiny begin,” he boomed. “He’s banned aid to family planning, eliminated the office on women’s issues and cut back on health coverage. Great. Now we can have more daughters who we can ignore when they get sick.” Months later, Black doesn’t feel that he was too quick to judge the new president. “My opinion of him hasn’t changed,” he states bleakly.

All he’d tell the Pitch about his live show was that he’d be taking aim, as always, at a variety of targets, including the two Starbucks that opened across the street from each other in Houston.

Stand-up comedy, he has found, is a better way of dealing with anger than gargling razor blades. Humor gives him a release, but his show also serves a purpose. “My interest is in making people laugh about things so they don’t think they’re crazy. I reassure people that the emperor has no clothes. They’re not seeing things. He really is buck naked.”

Let the scrutiny begin.