While he can come across as a cranky curmudgeon with a short fuse, veteran comedian, author, actor and commentator Lewis Black is actually quite the optimist — despite what to him seems like blatant lunacy in Washington and around the country.
“I find that most Americans basically want the same things,” Black says in an interview with Charleston Scene. “They want to be protected from idiots and maniacs. They want to have a decent shelter and a decent living wage. They want to avoid the constant panic of paying a gazillion bills. The real reason I’m optimistic is that whenever a catastrophe occurs, we respond. The federal government is never the lead on that. People drop what they’re doing and start doing something. It’s amazing. Do you think you’ll ever see those idiots in Washington try to harness that for good? Please.”
Black, who has released eight stand-up comedy albums and has published three best-selling books, returns to the North Charleston Performing Arts Center this week as part of his The Rant is Due tour, an audience-interactive trip on the heels of “Old Yeller,” his ninth official comedy special (released digitally through InDemand in August).
“Some of this Rant is Due thing involves taking messages and tweets from people and just going off on them,” the Grammy Award-winning stand-up comedian says. “A lot of time, it’s more fun to go off on something spontaneously than to do a bit you’ve working on for months. The ‘Old Yeller’ title is pretty obvious. A friend told me, ‘You really should call this Old Yeller,’ and then I got excited about putting my face within a yellow lab’s face.”
Black has been a fixture on the U.S. comedy scene for years. His fevered frustration and fascination with politics and current events has fueled his observational humor on stage as part of his edgy stand-up performances as well his hilarious, tirade-like, profanity-laden “Back in Black” commentaries on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart,” which date to 1996.
“A lot of my rants stem from reading well-written editorials, because those writers actually do research, so I don’t have to spend my day wandering around looking for it,” Black says of his daily news searches. “A lot of it comes from well-written analysis online. Most of the time, I feel like I’m in college doing a term paper.”
As he’s done on previous specials like “Me of Little Faith” and “In God We Rust,” Black rails against what he considers to be blatant incompetence and irresponsibility of elected officials in power.
“They really are functioning in a bubble,” Black says of the current government. “They have no clue as to what’s really going on outside and the way in which we feel. But it’s not really about the politician or celebrity; it’s about the effect. They’re the starting point for how their stupid point of view and their nonsense affects us on a day-to-day level.”
When Black headlined the PAC last year, the 2012 presidential race was in full swing. As always, national politics played well into his set as he commented, grumbled and raved about the characters and issues involved.
“Much of what I’ve come up with recently comes from the staggering inability for us to really do anything collectively anymore,” Black says. “That’s what’s been on my mind this year. It’s as if somehow, if we were to function as one, it would be seen as communism. It’s beyond appalling at this point.”
Black’s gruff, amusingly combative style is aimed at the most ridiculous aspects of current events, American pop culture and the seediest corners of world politics.