All the Rage: Comedian Lewis Black at the Wheeler Opera House
If You Go …
Who: Lewis Black
When: Friday, Jan. 30, 8 p.m.
Where: Wheeler Opera House
More info: http://www.wheeleroperahouse.com
“I’m done with winter. I’m ready to move spring up.”
This is comedian Lewis Black, speaking from the road on his way to a gig in New Hampshire, battling a snowstorm, and turning his signature outrage on the season. Even something as inane as talking about the weather easily transforms into a funny mini-rant for the acclaimed comic.
“You guys [in Aspen] are used to it and it’s a money-maker for you,” he says. “For me it’s a pain in the ass.”
Black, who returns to the Wheeler Opera House on Friday night, has made a career out of channeling outrage into comedy. Best known for his “Back in Black” segments on “The Daily Show” and as a frequent guest on news and talk shows, Black is, at heart, a satirist with a brilliant eye for the absurd.
Now 66, Black began as a playwright. He didn’t begin taking to stages as a stand-up comic until the late 1980s. When he was breaking into comedy, ironically, Black was told he was too angry. He said watching Sam Kinison’s intense style catch on gave him confidence to stay the course. His approach of ranting at the foibles of politicians and the dumbing down of American culture connnected with audiences – and continues to – not only because it’s entertaining to watch Black blow a gasket, but because he taps into an undercurrent of dissatisfaction and disenfranchisement.
“The audience was already feeling disenfranchised 25 years ago,” he said. “Now, we’re just sealing the deal.”
His satirical take on our elected leaders’ failure to take meaningful action on issues like income inequality and gun control is underpinned by a genuine concern and despair.
“What goes on now on a daily basis in Washington, I’ve never seen anything like it,” he said. “When I was younger, there were flashpoints that would come on something that the Democrats really believed in, countering what the Republicans really believed in. Now, it’s all politics. It’s not about what they really believe in. It’s show and tell. There’s barely an adult left in the room. And the ones that are adults are barely listened to.”
Turning that kind of bleak observation into comedy takes time. Some topics, he said, have been too heavy to shape into satire. He hasn’t found a way to talk about abortion, the Charlie Hebdo murders and the recent police killings unarmed black men in Missouri, New York and Cleveland, for example.
“First I have to take some time to think about it,” Black said. “Then I have to think about what I think about. Then I think about how to make it funny. Sometimes I’m really slow. Sometimes stuff comes out of my mouth before I’ve thought about it and I nail it. But a lot of the time I’m a turtle, lumbering toward the water.”
But he’s also opened himself up to doing off-the-cuff routines nightly. Since last summer, Black has live-streamed the last 15 to 20 minutes of his shows on his website, and invited fans to submit topics online for him to rant about.
Technology has transformed stand-up comedy in recent years, with audience cell phone footage of comedy sets regularly going up on YouTube. Rather than fight the tide, Black has embraced it with his own streams, which show him doing improve-style takes on the fan-submitted subjects.
“That’s me without being able to polish it,” he said.
The way current events are going, he said, it’s getting more difficult to shape the news into comedy.
“The hard part is getting over the real anger and the real sense of disgust,” he said. “The disgust I have now is beyond anything I’ve felt in my life.”
As an heir to hard-hitting comics like George Carlin, Richard Pryor and Lenny Bruce, Black turns that disgust into comedy that reflects our times.
One thing is always easy to laugh at, though: presidential campaigns. With the new year, as burgeoning bids from 2016 candidates like Chris Christie, Scott Walker and Jeb Bush emerged, Black has a lot of easy targets in front of him.
“The funniest thing is that these people think they can be president,” he said. “Worse than these people is their friends who tell them, ‘Oh, you’d be a great president.’ Those are the biggest assholes. Anyone who tells Scott Walker he’d be a great president is a lunatic.”
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