Interview with Lewis Black
Comedian Lewis Black, who many probably know from his time as a correspondent on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” as well as his work on the network’s “Indecision 2000” coverage, considers himself “America’s foremost commentator on everything.” While that may be slightly ambitious, Black certainly is one of the premier political comedians around. With his second HBO stand-up special, “Red, White and Screwed,” set to debut June 10, Black took some time to chat with Bullz-Eye about who he’d like to see run for president in 2008, why Hillary Clinton’s got no chance in hell of being elected, and how he got turned down for the role of “a Lewis Black-type character” in a movie.
Bullz-Eye: I think I’m required by law to tell you that this conversation is being recorded.
Lewis Black: (Laughs) Yes, that’s right.
BE: So how are you today?
LB: Good. It gets better every day, doesn’t it?
BE: Oh yeah. I bet these interviews can get pretty time consuming, almost a hassle for you?
LB: You know, it’s what you got do. It’s the deal.
BE: Do you have them all lined up for today?
LB: I had a bunch today, because otherwise it’s day after day of stuff and you like to get some time off.
BE: Yeah, I bet. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get an advanced screener for your HBO show coming up. I planned on discussing the show but I don’t even know what you talk about. I figure it’s your typical stuff in terms of politics and pop culture and all of that, but is there anything about the show that you want to talk about first off?
LB: Yeah. It’s probably more political than anything I’ve done, only because they have been so generous with their comedy. It’s hard to pass up when they’re writing it for you. So I talk about (Dick) Cheney shooting his friend in the face. And the president, of course, and the fact that I couldn’t perform at the Kennedy Center because we were going to do it there and then they saw my HBO special and said I said “fuck” too much. So they let me perform but they wouldn’t let me say where I was performing, so that’s really…it kind of defeats the purpose. And then there’s Hurricane Katrina and Michael Brown and was the president involved. Then there’s Terry Schiavo, and the congressional correspondents’ dinner takes up a chunk because it’s something I did that I just thought was an extraordinary experience.
BE: You talked about that on the Carnegie Hall performance, right?
BE: My wife and I, actually, we just painted our kitchen and living room this weekend and we had that playing while we were doing it. The show was hilarious.
LB: Well, thank you. That whole chunk is in there.
BE: Actually, I had some other questions here but I guess I’ll jump ahead since we’re talking about this Carnegie Hall performance. What was it like playing at Carnegie?
LB: Well, I hosted a comedy event there for Carolines (Carolines on Broadway, one of the top comedy nightclubs in the country), celebrating their anniversary. So it was really fun and it helps to have someone like Denis Leary backstage smoking. It kind of takes the whole mystery out of the place, when you’re not supposed to and he’s puffing away. And I said, “Wow, Denis, I’m impressed,” and he said, “I’m the first act. What are they going to do, tell me to go home?” I mean literally what happens is you get on stage and three minutes into it, it’s no longer Carnegie Hall. It’s like, “Hey, this is a really good room.”
BE: It sounded like it was. I mean, they were definitely into the show.
LB: Yeah, it was fun.
BE: You actually said something during that show that I wanted to talk about, when you discussed Rick Santorum’s stance on gay marriage.
LB: Yeah. (Chuckles)
BE: And I have to quote you: “Santorum says, ‘Homosexuality is a threat to the American people,’ but it’s never explained. Ever. How has it affected the American people?” And, here’s the part that I really can’t agree more with, “And what a horrible thing to say.” When you said that, I stopped painting and I was like, “Man, how come more people don’t respond that way?” It’s just an awful thing to say.
LB: It is an awful thing to say. It’s just unbelievable. I don’t care if he thinks it. You can think it. It’s a free country but you know, you don’t say it and especially not if you’re a senator. The level of ignorance it shows is stunning.
BE: And that it’s so widely accepted.
LB: Yeah. I used to do a big, big chunk of my act during the gay marriage thing about the fact that…did I think on another…ah, I can’t even tell what the hell is on the CDs anymore! But I did this chunk where it was about the fact that the reason it is the way it is, is because people don’t know they’re surrounded by gay people. It’s like any group that has been integrated into the culture, when they first arrive, or when they are first on the scene, superstitions arise among them. It’s like, “they’re going to do this,” “these people are that,” the fact that they are different. And I’m coming out of theater, but even I was surrounded by them and I didn’t even know. (“Beast of Burden” starts up in the background) Hold on. Oh, that’s not a problem; that’s my parents.
BE: That’s a pretty good ring tone.
LB: (Chuckles) So I didn’t even know (who was gay and who wasn’t) and, I mean, it took me a long time to figure out, and I still don’t know. So the whole thing to me is so beyond idiocy. Because, I mean, when it comes to lesbians you got to be like a diesel type for me to be even in the ballpark; otherwise, I’m clueless.
BE: (Laughs) And you know most guys don’t have a problem with lesbians, right?
LB: (Laughs) Which is why I would like to know. I have sat with a woman and gone, “God, I would really like to go out with her.” And then they go, “What’s the matter with you? She’s a lesbian.” How the fuck do you know? She doesn’t, you know, there’s no --
BE: She’s not wearing a sign?
LB: Yeah, there’s no sign. She’s not wearing some sort of thing that says “I’m a member of the Sapphic Society.”
BE: She wasn’t wearing a rainbow flag as a cape?
BE: I don’t know if you have ever come out and said if you’re Democrat, Republican, liberal or conservative, that sort of thing, but do you have a specific --
LB: I’m a socialist, which is pretty easy to be because there are about six in the United States. (Laughs)
BE: Well, who are the other five?
LB: I have no idea. We don’t call, we don’t write. We barely have a candidate. There used to be a guy who ran named Gus Hall, but I don’t even know if he’s still alive. And it’s mostly…I mean, I don’t know why we’re not (socialists). I don’t think it undermines capitalism to put a salary cap on idiots. You know, how much money do people need? I started going to these things years ago when I was broke, where you go to these fucking benefits, and I was dating a girl, and her family would go to four benefits a week and give money away. So, what, we have to keep that subculture going? It’s like, I’m doing a benefit for the ACLU and all I’m thinking is, what kind of a fucking country am I living in where we need to fund a group that should be…that the government is so inept they can’t even do this on their own?
I think that a lot of the stuff that I had as a kid is gone. People don’t have access. And when I was a kid there was a recreation center that was run by the county government and I went at nine in the morning until five at night. And then when I was older, I was the one in charge of the recreation center. It was spectacular, (but now it’s) completely gone. Places can’t even afford school buses. I mean, come off it. Because what? Because Porky Pig needs another three houses?
BE: So who would you like to see running for president in the next election?
LB: Well, I thought I would like to see…I would like to tie up (Chuck) Hagle and (Joe) Biden. But they would have to be tied together.
BE: (Laughs) Okay, is that possible?
LB: I don’t know, I think there’s enough rope. I happen to like the two of them when they talk together because they are the only two, when I watch a Democrat and Republican, that actually seem to find a…even though they disagree on shit, they find a way to fucking come out of it. But mostly, I don’t really know who (I’d like to run for president). I just think they should take time off. I think you can throw a monkey out of a plane in any city and whosever hand the monkey grabs first, that could be the president. I just don’t know. (John) McCain looked good and now he’s basically out blowing Jerry Falwell and he’s doing this ardent defense. Look, I understand the “good soldier” thing, but when you ardently defend somebody who basically beats you out of the last election -- that election in South Carolina which, the attacks on him and his family were criminal -- so McCain has kind of slipped off the edge. Christopher Dodd is talking about running but I don’t know if he’s got a wide enough appeal. At least he speaks English. I like Chris. I just like the guys who talk English. I don’t care if I don’t agree with them as long as I understand where they are coming from and they are willing to speak publicly about things.
BE: What do you mean exactly when you say he speaks English?
LB: I mean he says what it is that he’s thinking. He doesn’t have a public persona and a private persona. The thing that made it interesting about McCain and Dodd to me was I met both of them and they don’t talk differently from the private person to the public. There is no, kind of like, change in their attitude.
BE: That’s very reassuring, isn’t it?
LB: It is. You know, I didn’t agree with a lot of McCain’s shit but at least it is coming from somewhere.
BE: Do you think Hillary has a shot in hell?
LB: No. I think if the Democrats want to commit suicide, why not.
BE: That’s kind of what I think too, and I don’t know much about politics but I would think that’s the last person you want to throw out there.
LB: I don’t need to sit through, “Why are you still with him when his cock was being sucked?” I don’t need to sit through that for fucking three more months.
BE: I would think there are people who wouldn’t vote for her just out of principle.
LB: Yeah. I mean, I just think it’s tough. I think it’s like, you know what, why don’t you wait eight years? You know, what is she, fifty-fucking-eight? You can’t do it when you’re 66? What the fuck is the matter with you? Because I think in eight years people would look at her a lot differently. And I don’t really want Al Gore and John Kerry. If he runs again, that’s just not even fair. Uh, John Edwards? Please. I mean, you just go through the list and it’s enough to…. And then the Republicans have Bill Frist, who thinks he’s going to run. Are you kidding me? Why? I got a Mormon coming out of Boston? He’s coming out of Massachusetts. It’s like, he’s a Republican who ran Massachusetts so, boy, what a genius. But at least he got them health care, which was something.
BE: Okay, let’s see. Your IMDb profile lists five forthcoming projects. We’ve got: “Accepted,” “East Broadway,” “Man of the Year,” “Unaccompanied Minors” and then “Farce of the Penguins.”
LB: Yeah, I did four of them in the last year.
BE: Okay. Have you worked with Robin Williams before? (Williams stars in “Man of the Year.”)
LB: No. We were on a comedy bill together for an HBO hoo-ha and that’s where we met. He was interested in working with me and so was Barry Levinson. So that’s how that came about, and that’s what’s called a hell of a break.
BE: And that’s coming out Christmas, right?
LB: I think. I’m not sure. It could be out by October. I don’t know, if it says Christmas, maybe it is.
BE: I think that’s what it said in the press release I got (yep, “Christmas 2006”). But IMDb doesn’t list your role in the film.
LB: Robin Williams is running for president and I play his head writer. He’s a comedian running to be president.
BE: Wow, that’s not at all up your alley, is it?
LB: No. (Laughs)
BE: Actually, speaking of which, one of my colleagues said that he heard a story that someone was looking for a “Lewis Black-type character” in a movie and you actually had to audition for that part. Is that true?
LB: (Chuckles) Yeah.
BE: Who plays Lewis Black better than you?
LB: Well, you know, that’s the way they work out there in Los Angeles.
BE: Did you get the role?
LB: Uh, no.
BE: (Laughs) So you got turned down for the Lewis Black part.
LB: Of course. And I actually did audition for something where all of the words were my words. This was early on in a television piece, a television pilot. It was all from me, it was all from my act, 90% of it, and I auditioned to be me and they picked somebody else.
BE: You can’t make that up, I guess.
LB: No, it’s perfect.
BE: Now, what about “Farce of the Penguins”? I’m pretty intrigued -- it’s, what, an animated mockumentary?
LB: No, it’s actual footage.
BE: Is it really?
LB: Yeah. It’s like the “March of the Penguins,” only this is the underbelly.
BE: Okay. I just assumed it was animated, I didn’t read too much --
LB: Oh, no, this is spectacular.
BE: The voice talent looks awesome. (Samuel L. Jackson, Jason Alexander, Dane Cook, Carlos Mencia, Whoopi Goldberg and Gilbert Gottfried head the list.)
LB: Yeah, the voice talent is great and it’s a really great idea. Bob (Saget, writer/director)…the work he has done is terrific.
BE: Now, do you know Bob Saget from his stand-up days?
LB: I didn’t know him from then. I met him after his stand-up days but I knew of him.
BE: He was a pretty filthy stand-up, wasn’t he?
LB: Yes, he was Mr. Filth. But very funny, extremely funny.
BE: A friend told me awhile back that he used to be the most foulmouthed stand-up out there, but I always knew him as Danny Tanner so I didn’t believe it. Then I saw a bit of one of his acts and I was floored.
LB: Oh yeah, and if you see “The Aristocrats,” he’s spectacular.
BE: Yeah, I’ve heard that, and he had an exceptional cameo on HBO’s “Entourage.” I don’t know if you’ve seen that.
LB: (Chuckles) Yeah, I heard, yeah.
BE: It was hilarious. Actually, you’ve done a lot of voice work for various projects, haven’t you?
LB: Here and there. Mostly Cartoon Network stuff.
BE: Is that something you enjoy doing?
LB: Yeah, it’s great. You get away with murder. You just go in, it’s fast, you don’t have to really dress up, no makeup.
BE: We actually just put a feature up on our web site, a Stand-Up Comics Hall of Fame. It was our inaugural class, and in the inaugural class were Richard Pryor, Rodney Dangerfield and Bill Cosby, and then Lenny Bruce and Bill Hicks.
LB: Very good.
BE: Did any of those five have an impact on your career?
LB: Bruce had the most influence.
BE: Was there a comic out there that you remember watching either as a kid or growing up, where you said, “Wow, that’s what I want to do”?
LB: Well, I didn’t think I would ever do it. I was just fascinated by what they did so I was always doing it just kind of for fun. But Carlin got to me, and Pryor, and I even liked Bob Newhart and Shelley Berman and those guys.
BE: Okay. Newhart’s one of the guys we considered this time around. We are going to induct a new class soon, so who should we consider next time around?
LB: I would consider Newhart, I would consider Shelley Berman, I would consider George Carlin, for sure. I would put him on the top of my list. Jonathan Winters.
BE: Are there any comics working today that you really enjoy?
LB: Oh yeah, a lot. I mean, this is always a tough question because there are about 25. Dave Attell, who I’ve spent way too much time with, and Dom Irrera, Greg Giraldo.
BE: A bunch of Comedy Central people.
LB: Well, I’ve known all of them before. Then there’s Kathleen Madigan, who is probably the best female comic out there, who should be known much more. I always kind of push people in her direction. Susie Essman is killer, uh, Judy Gold is a kill. I could literally sit here and list another 20 people.
BE: Were you a fan of Mitch Hedberg?
LB: Yeah, of course.
BE: Did you know him well?
LB: Well, I toured with him. I wouldn’t say I knew him well, but I toured with him and he was just extraordinarily unique.
BE: Definitely. One of my personal favorites.
LB: Yeah, he was brilliant.
BE: Well, we’re probably running out of time?
LB: We’re close.
BE: Okay, let me see if I’ve got any other questions sitting here. Do you have a favorite all-time target, like maybe Bush or --
LB: Dan Quayle was really my favorite, he was endless. By the end of his term I had 50 minutes (of material).
BE: Is that true?"I think you can throw a monkey out of a plane in any city and whosever hand the monkey grabs first, that could be the president."
LB: Oh yeah, I’m not kidding. I did a 45-minute piece for some bit for NBC, who never really claimed it to be their own. But we did a video called “Quayle Season” that I was very proud of. I took some of that material and incorporated it with a few other things.
BE: Do you have people give you suggestions on material, jokes you can use and that sort of stuff?
LB: Yeah, occasionally people come up and you mostly just have to smile.
BE: I was going to say, because you probably never use it.
LB: Really, you just go, “Oh yeah, that’s great.”
BE: Do you have a favorite joke of all time?
LB: I don’t really because I never fucking can remember jokes. I really can’t, it’s pathetic. The one I really like, in the last five years my favorite, is, if a man talks and a woman isn’t there to hear him, is he still wrong?
BE: (Laughs) Yeah, probably. Okay, one more for you. Tell me the truth, you’re a closet candy corn junkie aren’t you?
LB: Uh, that fucking shit…. And you can also wrap those little fucking, uh, yellow, fucking bird shit things they sell during Easter.
BE: Peeps! Those are the worst.
LB: The Peeps shit, yeah. And now there’s Valentine’s Day candy corn, they’re pumping it out all year round because they’re pigs.
BE: Well, for readers who maybe haven’t heard that rant, what’s the number one reason you harbor such an unusually strong aversion to candy corn.
LB: Because it tastes like shit.
BE: (Laughs) Fair enough, but I would say, based on the stand-up I’ve heard in a couple of your acts, that it’s because the name is pretty misleading, right?
LB: Oh yeah, it’s corn that tastes like candy. Yeah, right. It doesn’t taste like corn and it doesn’t even taste like candy. Actually, I’ve said you could melt the stuff down and run cars, I think it’s an oil derivative.
BE: In the Carnegie Hall show, you say that every year around Halloween you happen to see a bowl sitting somewhere and grab a piece.
LB: Yeah, because you never remember. You always think, wow, candy corn, this could be the best.
BE: Well, maybe they will make some improvements to the candy corn creation process.
LB: I doubt if that’s happening in our lifetime.
BE: Alright Lewis, I appreciate your time.
LB: Well, thank you. I’m going to go track your website.
BE: Yeah, you should. Let us know what you think of the Hall of Fame piece. It turned out really well, and we got some great feedback, so I would love to hear your feedback on it.
BE: Okay, thanks Lewis.
LB: Alright, excellent talking to you.