"Every day is brighter and more wonderful," says Lewis Black, over the phone from his home in NYC. It was a passion for theater that first drew him there, after earning his MFA in drama at Yale. He didn't get serious about comedy until he was well into his 30s, although he'd been dabbling for years. "Every day, the rainbow gets bigger. I wake up happy, and I ask myself, 'How can I be happier?' And I just get happier and happier. How am I? It's unbelievable, the way that we live."
He's being at least somewhat sarcastic, because he lives a relatively charmed life, but Black certainly has his concerns. "We're not doing well, I tell you that," Black says. "And we better wake up."
Clearly, neither of us are morning people, but it was a great session, nonetheless.
Black's performance at the Hard Rock Live this Saturday is the second of three Florida shows scheduled for this tour. He'll be in West Palm Beach the night before, and in Sarasota the night after. He is here on a mission of mercy, to bring joy to progressive audiences in the region who are currently reeling from the November election results and all the horrors implied thereby for our state, and perhaps the entire world.
Black's 14th stand-up special, Thanks for Risking Your Life, was released in October 2020, but it was filmed that March, right at the start of the pandemic. Even a legend like him has struggled to regain the momentum of the pre-pandemic era.
"I lost a bit of my ritual during the pandemic," Black says. "But basically, I wake up and turn on the TV, and I watch what passes for news in this country. Then I look at my phone for a few seconds, and then I have some coffee. What I spend a chunk of my time doing, really, is getting rid of email. 'Nope, nope, nope, nope.' And then I have to get rid of the spam, especially during this last election. It was appalling!"
Black dives in with a verbal style that reflects the outrage of a sensible man forced to live through an era of American history that makes absolutely no sense.
Coastal elites have looked down on the South — Florida in particular — for years, but now their contempt is officially justified. "They think you're a little crazy," he says, on behalf of his fellow New Yorkers. "The ones that really have problems with authority are the ones that gravitate to authoritarians, and I find that just stunning."
Lewis Niles Black, 74, was born in August 1948 in Washington D.C., a place that would, eventually, become the bane of his existence. He grew up in the suburbs of Silver Spring, Maryland, one of those places that has changed a lot over the years, but also not really at all. He was already a veteran of stage and screen before The Daily Show, but it was his tenure there that made him a household name.
Probably 99 percent of his fans first saw him in this setting, where he established a personal brand that will keep him plenty busy for the rest of his life. Those "Back in Black" segments actually predate the show's golden period, when Jon Stewart was the host; Black got started there under original host Craig Kilborn, making him one of the main points of continuity between two very, very different versions of the show. Twenty-five years later, Black remains a featured player on the show, as recently as a month ago.
Black's style is situated in that long tradition of political comedy, a tradition built around legends like Mort Sahl, Shelley Berman, Lenny Bruce, George Carlin, Bill Hicks and more. He doesn't dance around subjects, or couch his commentary in the camouflage of "satire." Instead he dives in, full-throated at full speed, with a verbal style that reflects the anger and outrage of a sensible man forced to live through an era of American history that makes absolutely no sense. If anything, his style is like a cross between Jello Biafra and Sam Kinison.
The business of comedy has changed dramatically since Black first blew up, not just in terms of content, but also in terms of logistics. New comedians face an array of challenges, not least of which is an overall glut of talent. "On the upside, there's all sorts of ways to get your face out there," says Black. "Social media gives you a certain amount of freedom to present yourself to the public. The folks who get that, move faster."
Following these shows, Black will give fans the chance to participate in his trademark "The Rant Is Due" segments, where they have the chance to vent about things that are bothering them, of which there is surely much right now.
"I'm like the town crier," concludes Black. "I'm trying to keep my sense of humor, but a lot of people have lost theirs. Some people are too awake, and some people are too asleep, and they both have a certain grip on their political parties." The radicals don't seem to be losing their grip anytime soon, but their shenanigans just might make Lewis Black lose his own.