Lewis Black would like to see a constitutional amendment that says politics isn’t allowed during the summer.
“It’s too early to talk about the elections. It’s just the same nonsense – two sides nattering at each other,” he says. “Why don’t we just deal with realities. In Greenland, the ice is melting and the water is rising. That’s a real thing. So let’s deal with that. You can’t make everything a political point.”
To prove he means what he says, the Grammy-winning comedian limits his “political” talk to a sliver of his 75-minute act. Then, he gives audience members (and viewers on his worldwide feed) a chance to rant about things he never considered – stuff like pickles or chunky peanut butter.
“Sometimes it’s funny, sometimes it’s not,” Black says. “But it’s giving people a voice. Politicians don’t vocalize what these people are thinking or feeling ... but here’s their chance.”
Born in Washington, D.C., the 71-year-old got his worldly outlook from his parents. “My father told me, at the age of 12, that I should read ‘Catch-22.’ My mother is really acerbic. They set the tone.”
While writing was always a part of his game plan, Black didn’t set out to be the poster boy for anger. In college, he focused on playwriting and did standup on the side.
“I wrote plays until I was 40,” he says, “and then I got tired of dealing with theaters and the lack of respect I felt (for playwrights). It was like living in an abusive orphanage.
“My one-acts have all been published. The play I thought would break me through would get close to getting done and then, nothing.” Eight years ago, he reworked “One Slight Hitch” and it had new life. “It got great reviews, but (Broadway producers) weren’t interested.
“It’s like trying to get a (television) pilot on. I’ve tried to do pilot about travel, but nothing has come along,” he says. Visiting the nation’s untapped gems on his standup tours, Black says a look at places like Huntsville, Alabama, and Dayton, Ohio, might be really intriguing for viewers. “Even Sioux City could be in it.” Thus far, nothing.
As angry as he might seem on screen, Black is fine with the amount of work he already has. Thanks to “Inside Out” (in which he voiced Anger, of course), he got calls to do other animated films. The Pixar gig, however, was “one of the greatest creative experiences I’ve ever had. It was so much fun.”
Black has appeared in countless films and television shows, too, but, so far, no “Lewis Black Show.” Again, he’s fine with that.
“I had started doing a bunch of Conans and a special or two for Comedy Central. All that came into play and then ‘The Daily Show’ pushed me to another level.”
On the Emmy-winning talk show, Black got to rant about hundreds of topics, shine a spotlight on the weird and wacky and prep him for a career of giving voice to the voiceless.
Now on his latest standup tour, Black says audiences don’t really differ across the country. “In New England there seems to be a little more bitterness, but they’re pretty much the same. Basically, I don’t change what I do unless something has happened there.”
While he refines his act before each tour, Black likes to bring the unexpected, the stuff that requires him to “turn on a dime.”
“I’ll have 80 minutes of stuff. I’ll do 60 and then I’ll see what strikes me. At the end of my last tour, I found that in upstate New York, people were charging $750 an hour to hug a cow – cow therapy. Over the summer, I tried to figure out how to talk about it.”
Those outside rants – about pickles and chunky peanut butter – prove inspiring, too.
Called “The Rant Is Due,” the segment is fair game for anyone. All fans need to do is submit their rant on Black’s website (lewisblack.com) and, at a show, he’ll give them voice.
“It’s much better than letting some schmuck politician go, ‘I just talked to this guy about a health care issue.’ You’re dealing directly with people about things that affect them.”
Anger, as always, is optional.