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In the age of Trump, Lewis Black is angrier than ever

  • Black

  • Lewis Black will be at the Capitol Center for the Performing Arts on Oct. 15. Courtesy

  • Lewis Black will be at the Capitol Center for the Performing Arts on Oct. 15. Courtesy



Monitor staff
Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Lewis Black is still mad as hell, and he’s not sure how much longer he can take it.

The stand-up comedian and social critic has been harping on the Washington establishment for more than 20 years, but the current political climate – and the reality of a Donald Trump presidency – doesn’t have him laughing.

“Trump, he’s already satirizing himself,” Black said in a phone interview. “He’s the satire. So now what am I supposed to do?”

Black isn’t handing the mic back yet. He still has a lot to say since the 2016 election and subsequent shift in power in D.C. 

The Rant, White and Blue Tour swings through Concord as Black will perform a new stand-up act at the Capitol Center for the Arts on Sunday at 7 p.m. He spared a few minutes to chat with the Monitor from his home in New York City before embarking on the New England leg of his fall tour.

How is your approach to social commentary different now than in the late 1990s or early 2000s?

I don’t know if it’s that much different. I don’t really care. When the audience might give me s---, it’s like ‘Seriously?’ We’ve been doing this together for too long. I’m not going to listen to your nonsense about this, you know? A lot of it is it’s always the same. It’s no different from when we were entering the Iraq War than we are now. There’s this same kind of (sentiment) that ‘Oh, we’re America. Boy, we’re the most important country on the planet Earth.

How much do you listen to that reaction, particularly the criticism, from the audience?

Unless it’s really legitimate, I kind of fend it off.

You’ve made a living pointing out the ironies and contradictions in society, especially in politics. Do you feel like the absurdity has reached its high point?

Yeah. The ironies are at an all-time high and the blowback is at an all-time high. Somehow they can yell longer and louder that they’re correct about the ironies because they have information that is not based on anything, not based on fact. And then the news channel has to tell you that what the president said wasn’t true. We don’t have time for that.

The irony, we’re beyond irony. We’re dealing with pathology. I wake up every morning and go ‘This is not a political question. It’s a pathological question.’ It’s a personal pathology that’s going on with him. And we’re just supposed to deal with it? I think there’s a level that this kind of represents the whole idea of Facebook and Twitter and all of that. That ‘By God, we are all important and you pay attention to me!’ And he’s the king of it!

If you could go back to 2002, how would you describe what the U.S. will be like in 15 years?

I’ve always said that if you think what’s going on is crazy now, wait six months because you ain’t seen nothing yet. 

How do you keep up with all of this? What’s your daily routine for gathering news?

I’ve kind of avoided it a bit lately. I watch CNN, maybe a little bit of CBS if I’m up early enough. The CBS (Morning News) has a vague sense of news still. Then I watch CNN until they start repeating. Their initial breaking news somehow becomes breaking news again. I’ve tried to avoid it. I took kind of a break from it over the summer so I could clear my head.

You’ve said it before: The line between satire and reality is getting blurry. How does that affect your job and goal in setting out to make people laugh?

When Obama was president, people would ask why I don’t make jokes about him. Well, Obama wasn’t funny. He wasn’t a funny guy so there’s nothing to be funny about. It’s partly because stupid is funny. It was hard to figure it out with him. Essentially, you go to what they’re not doing. 

A lot of what I was yelling about is kind of the same stuff, like about health care. I watched the Democrats pass health care. That’s all well and good but this doesn’t work if you don’t get everybody involved. Now you watch these guys and they say they’ve been running on (repealing Obamacare) for seven years. It was great when you ran on it seven years ago and actually had people who agreed with you. Now people just want this fixed. They don’t want you coming up with a new idea. They want you to fix it. 

The fact of the matter is the instinct of the American people is obvious. These three hurricanes hit and instinctively Americans respond and ask how they can help. It’s the same thing. I don’t know how they don’t get that that’s the instinct of our people. So figure out how to pay for it because the instinct is we want to take care of everybody.

Is it therapeutic at all to get up onstage and yell about this stuff?

Oh yeah, it makes me feel better. When I really feel better is when I come up with what is funny about it – when I can get people to laugh at what is truly appalling. Now more than ever. Now I’ve lived through it long enough. I’m too old for this s---. It was one thing when I was 19 and screaming about this stuff. I’m 69. I don’t have time. I don’t want to discuss this with people my age. I don’t really care. If somebody who is living in the rust belt wants to yell at me about something, okay. But someone my age should really know better by now. 

Did you set out to be a social critic? How did that happen?

These things always drove me crazy, but it wasn’t a part of what I thought my act would be. There was always a little bit of it. I kind of got labeled with it early on, I don’t know why. Even before the Daily Show. But when I started, I also had 45 minutes about weather. My early stuff, it wasn’t so much political as it was social commentary. ‘How does this affect you?’ Now, it’s about ‘What did dopey say today?’

I’ve seen you on the “Daily Show” and I’ve seen you on CNN. How do you approach those appearances differently?

The nice thing about Comedy Central is we spend a couple days working out what I’m going to say. CNN, it’s more like “We’re just going to do this.” I avoid CNN more and more because they just enrage me in terms of what they are ... look, just report what’s going on. Don’t insinuate yourself into what’s going on. I didn’t like being associated when they had people come on and just yell about Donald Trump when he was running. They’d already created him, and they should be taken to task for that.

The next presidential race is already starting to take root in New Hampshire. Are you ready for 2020?

I’m not ready because I can’t really watch what the Democrats are going to do this time. The Republicans, too. Look, I’ve never before been in a position where I’ve said ‘This guy can’t be president.’ But I’ve lived in New York City with (Trump). He has been a part of my environment for 40 years and I’ve been making jokes about him for 40 years. You can’t ask me to take him seriously. 

To watch the Republicans not deal with things that are really offensive, don’t tell me he didn’t mean it. He said it and it’s offensive. Should the president of the U.S. be more direct? Yes. Should he be so direct that what he says is offensive? No. You don’t get to do that. Why? Well, you’re a role model. The Republicans ... not one adult was standing up there with him saying, ‘Hey, enough is enough. I don’t know who the f--- you think you are, but this is uncalled for.’ Not one of them found a voice to talk to him. And then the Democrats act like the election was stolen from them. No. You gave it to him. And I don’t know if they know how to get it back.