I’m just about to call Lewis Black’s cellphone for our scheduled interview when my own cell rings. Oh my God, it’s Lewis Black calling!
He asks if we can start early because he’s got back-to-back interviews. Well, of course we can — just please don’t yell at me!
Known for his in-your-face tirades about politics, the health care system, climate change, corporate greed and the absurdity of the human condition, Black screams, curses and ridicules his way through his popular stand-up comedy shows.
Though he seems angry when performing, Black, a Silver Spring native, defies the stereotype of the depressed, self-loathing funnyman who hides his pain behind his humor. In fact, he describes a happy, middle-class suburban childhood with loving Jewish parents who valued education and the arts and taught him to stand up for his beliefs.
On Nov. 12, the Modell Lyric in Baltimore will present “An Evening with Lewis Black,” a benefit that supports the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and Pathfinders for Autism. Black, 71, recently spoke with Jmore.
Jmore: Tell us about growing up in Maryland.
Black: It was good back when we had a middle-class. We had a summer rec program where the kids went from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. You paid for extra things like trips, but otherwise it was free. Now, people say we can’t afford it, we can’t afford anything! The greed index has grown.
How did you get your start in comedy?
I didn’t become a comedian until I was 40. I was into theater. My father used to take me to shows that came through D.C. on their way to Broadway. I was involved with theater in high school and I pursued playwriting at [University of North Carolina) Chapel Hill. Then, I went to the Yale School of Drama and got an [master of fine arts] in playwriting.
So why did you switch to stand-up?
It ended up falling into my lap. I did it on the side because I thought it would be fun. I got tired of trying to get plays produced. I did everything I was supposed to do and I did have plays produced, but it was very hard. In fact, I had a play optioned for Broadway for seven years. … It was easier to deal with people who owned comedy clubs — people who enjoyed drinking — than to deal with people [in theater] who felt they had intellectual prowess. It was an easy transition.
Do you regret making the change?
Sometimes I regret it, but I went back and workshopped one of my plays and it was produced around the country. But it took me becoming a successful comic to get my plays produced.
Do you still write plays?
Yes, I’m working on a play now. It’s called “I’m Dreaming of a Black Christmas.” It’s about how I spend Christmas, but it’s really about being single disguised as a one-man show.
You’re known for being angry, but it doesn’t seem you’re like that in real life.
If I was like that all the time, I’d be dead! People just think I’m funnier when I’m angry.
You talk a lot about politics in your act. What do you think about what’s going now?
It’s appalling! Essentially, I’m just rewriting the same joke every couple of years. It’s always unbelievable. We’ve never had so many with so much, doing so little with it!
I don’t really care about the president. My interest is in social satire. … Health care is in disarray; we can’t figure out how to make roads; our education system is in the toilet. We live in a virtual insane asylum. … A bunch of people elect someone and they’re happy because they got their guy through. But they’re not getting what they want. We’re not getting anything done!
With the affordable health care act, we got somewhere but we didn’t take it far enough. The Republicans can keep voting against it, but people want it.
Do you think President Trump should be impeached?
I do think he crosses the line and says things that are ridiculous like about the Mexican rapists and shooting someone on 5th Avenue. I’m sorry, you don’t get to say those things. I don’t think he understands the effect he’s having. The fact is, there are no adults in the room. Children are listening! That’s what matters.
What was your Jewish upbringing like?
Being born and raised Jewish had a profound effect on me. The sense of being an outsider, my sense of humor, my spirituality, the point of view that helped in the creation of my humor. But I’ve never been someone who’s big on sitting around praying with a bunch of people.
What’s your take on the future of the country?
People think I’m a pessimist, but I’m not. I wouldn’t be yelling and screaming if I didn’t think it could be better. Kids understand. … Being raised by gay parents is not freaky anymore. … That’s one of the reasons the Supreme Court ruled the way they did, because kids are looking at [bias against LGTBQ people] like, ‘What are you nuts?’ They let people say things about climate change that are ludicrous. The adults aren’t doing what they should.
It will get better once my generation gets out of the way. We’re part of the problem.
For tickets to “An Evening with Lewis Black,” visit modell-lyric.com.
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