Lewis Black has been working himself into a humorous lather for over a decade now, either in his wildly popular standup act or as part of the “news” crew at Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart,” where he lets his anger rip every week in his segment “Back in Black.”
Whether talking politics or lambasting the idiocy of the general public, Black is right on target and very, very funny. He’s been with the show since the beginning, and has watched his profile rise in the comedy world. Now he joins his cablemate Dave Attel, the hard-drinkin’, hard smokin’ host of “Insomniac,” in a double-pronged assault on the Santa Barbara psyche at Thursday night’s show at the Arlington Theatre. Black was interviewed as he was waiting for a flight to Lebanon, N.H., for a gig. This cell phone conversation took place in the midst of crying children and a persistent tannoy speaker.
QUESTION: Would it be fair to say that you are “The Daily Show’s” Andy Rooney?
ANSWER: No! Andy Rooney? No. Andy Rooney doesn’t have half the bile I have.
Q: Who are you then?
A: When I started the show, I said I was like John Chancellor, if he was still alive and on acid.
Q: Onstage and on camera you indeed have a lot of bile. Offstage are you very calm and collected? Are you doing yoga?
A: I’m not doing yoga, that’s pushing the envelope. But no, I’m pretty calm. It takes most of my energy to work up to get to the point to do what I’m doing in the evening. If I was like that all the time I’d be dead.
Q: How has your act progressed since you’ve been on “The Daily Show”?
A: With or without the show there would have been a progression. I think I know how to bring people along in the subjects that they don’t really want to deal with. But 80 to 90 percent of the audience are ready for anything. The remaining 5 to 10 are disturbed by everything. I was in the West Coast when Schwarzenegger won. I brought that up and there were people who were booing before I even said anything.
A: The illness is deeper than I imagined. I’m serious. I cannot get over it. I told you people, if you elect this guy and then leave the state, don’t tell anyone you’re from here. Because they will beat you up. You may think it’s cute, and you may think it’s charming, and you may think you’re doing something historical but the rest of the country thinks you’re mad as hatters. OK? If you keep going with this kind of nonsense you will lose your statehood. I just think California governed itself better when everybody was on drugs.
Q: How are you received in other countries when you tour?
A: The jokes go well. You know, some people say, “Gee, it must be tough to play New Zealand.” Hey, imagine playing Toledo for four nights. The New Zealanders get it; they’re just reserved, even more than the British. They haven’t been exposed to a lot of comedy. They have a very polite laugh. The Irish are dead on, they get it. The Irish like a good joke and like it when you’re pissing on somebody. So they like me a lot.
Q: If someone described you as a political comedian, would you back off of that statement?
A: There was a time when people thought I was a political comedian but it was just five minutes of my act. It depends on what gets me going. Clinton did a lot of stuff that got me going. Now, just listen to (Vice President Dick) Cheney or (Secretary of Defense Donald) Rumsfeld talk for 10 minutes. If you can’t get worked up you don’t have a pulse. I’m a social comic more than a political comic.
Q: However, “The Daily Show” is fairly political.
A: But I’ve been on the Daily Show doing jokes about monkeys. I’ve done half and hour on taxes. I don’t think there’s a comic in the history of America who’s done two minutes on that. It is the biggest bane of people’s existence and nobody seems to touch it. I was really proud of that. I thought that was kind of amazing and psychotic at the same time.
Q: Because of your success, you must be offered to star in sitcoms.
A: Oh yeah, I’ve had a lot of that. Every year. There’s been four sitcoms in the last four years that I’ve been attached to and two of them I helped write. None of them have seen the light of day. Everybody sees me as the crazy neighbor but in the last few years, people have realized I could play a father – I’m just a father who yells. A lot of kids say they like me because I’m just like their father, only I’m funny.
Q: What are you currently working up your bile about?
A: You can start with sports. The New York Yankees, who I can barely tolerate, are going to rebuild again. It’s literally like rooting for a multinational corporation. They need another $100 million in ball players; it’s just so not competitive. I’m thrilled when they lose, but, Jesus, God, any other team – even the Mets say, “If we can get this one guy we’ll be happy.” The Yankees have so much money it doesn’t even disturb them.
Q: Anything else?
A: The whole other thing with these idiots and the war. They won’t accept the responsibility of the level of (screw up). If they had waited three months to set up a coalition it would have made no difference (to us). And now we have to pay for it. And then Halliburton – this is unbelievable. Halliburton has the largest contract over there and didn’t compete for it? I mean, just pretend! Can’t you just accept a bunch of bids and go, “Oh, Halliburton was the lowest.” You know, make it up! I’m sitting and watching Dick Cheney say he had nothing to do with this. Are you kidding me? I mean, please. No acceptance of responsibility: That’s the theme with authority. They’re constantly pontificating to us about the way we should be, but these people have not accepted responsibility for anything they’ve ever done. Just say you made a mistake. And then there’s Bush using 9/11 like a sledgehammer. He did it on 9/12! He went out and said in his speech about how the war started the day after 9/11. I mean, come on, if you want to have a war that’s great, but you’ve got to manipulate me better than that. That’s your job!
Q: When you’re not touring, where do you reside?
A: New York City.
Q: In Manhattan?
A: Right on 42nd Street, Times Square. Right in the heart of the heart. Just in case they need me for a Broadway show, I can walk right over.
Q: And if the Broadway show needs a crazy neighbor, you can come jump onstage.
LEWIS BLACK and Dave Attel
When: 8 p.m. Thursday
Where: Arlington Theatre, 1317 State St.
Cost: $28 to $36
Tickets: At the box office, Ticketmaster locations, by phone at 583-8700 or online at www.ticketmaster.com