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Thursday, March 1st, 2012

Lewis Black – The Beachcomber Interview

We spoke to comedian/author/playwright/ social critic Lewis Black from the road, and his current tour will stop at Niceville’s Mattie Kelly Arts Center in Niceville March 4. “I’m heading toward Nashville, so I’m trying to stay calm,” he tells me over the phone. Black still appears regularly on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and a new Epix special, In God We Rust, airs March 17.

What’s on your mind?

It’s mostly just that we don’t seem to want to deal with any of our problems. None! If we put half of the energy we put into focusing on Whitney Houston’s passing away, we would probably be much further along.

Are you optimistic about the future of our country?

I’m optimistic about the people, not our leadership. I think it’s like—this is a weird thing to say—there’s a play by Thornton Wilder, The Skin of Our Teeth, that seems to nail it. The world’s not gonna end, rocket ships won’t take us away. We’ll be in the shitter, but we’ll be okay. That’s what’s appalling about people my age (Black is 63)—we’re still going through it. We’ll bounce back and move on, but in the midst of it, you’ll be selling Facebook stock for billions and wonder why the economy is whacked. It’s just madness (laughs).

You’ve carried on the good fight against what George Carlin called “stupid bullshit.” With that in mind, have you been following the Republican debates?

In order to maintain my sanity, I can only go so far with it. I have to find a way to be funny about this stuff, but it pushes me to a place I call Onset Autism. They leave me speechless. Seriously, to have been born in 1948 and come to this level of discourse is beyond disturbing. To watch people my age and younger not being able to discuss problems, just talking in generalizations…I have never ever seen anything quite like it.

Are you still a Twitter hater? Because I found Albert Brooks’ tweets during the debates more useful than any of the mainstream media’s coverage.

I hate it, but I do it. Albert’s funny.

Was there a single event in your life that helped shape your comic persona?

There were a few events. My friends and parents. The school I went to got what a sense of humor was—they didn’t punish me for being funny. Books, listening to comics like George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Shelly Berman, Bob Newhart, Jonathan Winters…the guy who wrote the magazine The Realist, Paul Krassner. He’s still writing. I get his emails. He’s living in Palm Springs of all places.

Last September, you released The Prophet, a late ‘80s show. What was your intent on bringing that recording out? For me, I thought it helped tear apart the revisionist history that Reagan was a great president.

Part of it was to give a sense that the problems we had then we still have. Talking about the Exxon Valdez, it’s the same thing that happened in the Gulf. Two Iraq wars. I wanted to find another f---ing title, but it was about the fact that the more you think it’s changing, the more it stays the same—the constant thread of stupidity that runs through our history.

There was nothing “way back” from my stuff. This was partly me saying, “That was a time before anyone found me,” and I thought I wasn’t half bad. Back then, I was really frustrated. No one was paying attention to me on a larger level. A young comic can listen to that and what I do now and learn something, (the same way) you can watch a writer mature.

You’ve championed a lot of your fellow comedians, Kathleen Madigan for one.

Kathleen, she’s terrific, and she’s about to explode. She’s gotten remarkable in the past two years—she’s really come into her own. Most of the time, the morons in charge pick someone and try to exploit it rather than getting someone who’s right. She’s been there for the pickings for 10 years, and she’s gotten better.

There’s some really great comics that have been working 20 or 30 years. Comedy Central is up its own asshole about its demographics instead of (focusing) on people who’ve been working for a long time. People like Dom Irrera, who’s been doing it forever, and one of the funniest storytellers. Dave Attell doesn’t get his due. There’s a bunch of them. Some of them are being found through podcast things and Sirius Radio.

You’ve done some film work. Any thoughts on this year’s Academy Awards contenders?

I’m in that lucky position that I get the screeners (laughs). I wish I could watch movies more in theaters, but I don’t have that luxury of time. This year, I think there are films that don’t belong. Moneyball is fine, but an Academy Award for a movie that is essentially a 45-minute story blown up to two hours? And I’ve tried to watch Tree of Life. I can’t do it. And I’m a huge fan of (Terrence) Malick—he had a huge effect on me as a writer (Badlands, Days of Heaven). I watched the first 10 minutes, but it doesn’t work for me. I’ve read the glowing reviews, but I guess you have to watch 20,000 movies to like it. I don’t feel emotionally involved at any level.

I liked The Descendants and The Help a lot. The Help is a good old-fashioned movie. If it weren’t for American history, that movie could have been made in the ‘60s! Or the ‘30s! A kind of amazing story in that it took that long to be told.

The documentary Basic Black (a bonus fea ture on Black’s Stark Raving Black DVD and also available on Netflix streaming) shows you traveling by bus and checking out the towns prior to your performances. Is that something you’re planning to do in Niceville, because we can show you around if you like.

A lot of times, it depends on timing. Usually, we get in about 2 or 3 o’clock, then I wander around and have to take a nap. Next time, I’d like to do my act from a gurney with an IV drip.

We’re putting you on the cover of this issue. Any thoughts on that?

I’ve been on a number of covers. I’m usually lucky, because I’m who’s there that week. If it’s me or Bon Jovi, it’s gonna be Bon Jovi. It’s not as much about press, but people seeing things. They’ll see that picture of me on the cover and go, “Oh! Lewis Black’s in town!”

Part of the collateral damage of too much information is not enough information is retained. It’s part of my act now, that I think one of the major problems we should face at some point is that everyone in this country has ADD. And if you don’t think you have ADD, you really should see a doctor as quickly as possible.