WASHINGTON — He’s made a career being mad as hell — and we’ll gladly take some more.
D.C. native and stand-up comedian Lewis Black brings his brand of ranting-and-raving humor to Warner Theatre from Thursday to Saturday on his new comedy tour “The Joke’s On Us.”
“We’ve reached that point when you turn on the TV and, I don’t care what side you’re on, you just look and you go, ‘Wow,'” Black told WTOP. “The joke’s already been written. … The poster I have for this thing is: ‘The Joke’s On Us Tour: President Renders Comics Obsolete.'”
Having honed his comedy in New York, Black is no stranger to Donald Trump material.
“I’ve been making jokes about him for 40 years and I’m tired of it,” Black said. “But he also gives you the stuff. I mean, those tweets. … I realized early on that you turn on the news and they’re reading the tweets. First of all, it’s not news. He’s talking to those who voted for him. … I don’t need somebody to tell me what he said. You don’t need to read it for me. I can read! You don’t need to have people discussing what it meant. … You’re taking away my job!”
Black admits that he has a hard time taking the president’s tweets seriously.
“A lot of what he writes is not policy, it’s pathology,” Black said. “Some audience members will get upset at that … but with anybody elected to that office, there’s a pathology going on. That’s my job. Do I want to do that all the time? No, but they all show up with some sort of idiocy. Every one of them has in my lifetime — and I’ve talked about each and every one of them.”
While presidents come and go, it’s the consistency of Congress that gets his blood boiling.
“The constant is Congress, because in the last 25 years, they’ve shown there are 12,000 ways for us to get nothing done,” Black said. “Don’t tell me what the other side did when you didn’t have power. I don’t care. That’s done. We can move on now. Your agenda is not the most important thing on earth! What is important is your agenda, the other agenda, and finding between them a third agenda that somehow uses a bit of each agenda. That’s the deal.”
Black has been surrounded by politics from an early age. Born in the nation’s capital, he grew up in nearby Silver Spring, Maryland, where he graduated from Springbrook High School.
“Silver Spring is a different place,” Black said. “When I was there, there was nothing there. Now it’s like they discovered oil somewhere! … Congress didn’t get the idea of how important public transportation is. … Bethesda changed, all of these places changed once these stops were put in. They all became destinations. How these morons missed that is beyond me.”
Black says Congress has also been blind to gentrification and economic class divides.
“The Washington Post would have this picture every year of the slums right behind Congress,” he said. “They would say, ‘Here are the worst slums in the world,’ and they were in spitting distance from Congress! They were looking at them every day and they did nothing. I mean it’s just beyond [the pale]. Nothing penetrates them. Its like they all have metal in their heads.”
Upon leaving the D.C. area, Black initially wanted to be a playwright or theater teacher. Instead, he switched to stand-up comedy at age 40 after honing his skills in New York City.
“It was something I was doing on the side,” Black said. “I was running this room in New York City with some other guys and doing a lot of theater there, a little 100-seater that’s still there called the West Bank Cafe. I was working there starting in my early 30s. We were having a ball producing people like Aaron Sorkin; Alan Ball [and] I would open every show. I’d be the host, the emcee saying what’s coming up [and] all of a sudden people started paying attention.”
Before long, Black was performing stand-up routines at the “Catch a Rising Star” club.
“It was the late great Kevin Meaney, Mario Cantone, Denis Leary, Rosie O’Donnell and me,” Black said. “That was generally the lineup … and I learned a lot from those guys.”
How did he decide on his angry style of humor?
“It’s hard to find that comic persona,” Black said. “A friend of mine, a comic … Dan Ballard came up to me after I’d done a set downstairs at the West Bank and said, ‘God, you’re angry. … When you go back on stage, start yelling.’ I did and it was like, ‘OK, here we go.’ That was it.”
Now, a new generation of kids will know him as Anger in Pixar’s animated “Inside Out.”
“They go, ‘We’re not gonna pay you as much because you’re going to be immortal,'” Black joked. “My generation didn’t know it had emotions until we were in our late 30s. … Parents have said to me that their kid now has some sense of what they’re feeling. We never had that. It’s huge to know that early on, as opposed to me spending the past 20 years seeing a shrink.”
Comedy Central fans will also recognize him from his “Back in Black” segments on “The Daily Show,” first with Craig Kilborn, then with Jon Stewart and now with Trevor Noah.
“I started with Kilborn from the very beginning,” Black said. “Some of them have some legs and can be around. A lot of them are just throwaways applied to the week we’re in and that’s good. But really in a lot of ways, what it was as a comic, especially early on when I was touring the country, it was like having an advertisement on TV every week. Here’s my three minutes!”
Today, it’s trickier advertising his shows due to a cacophony of social media outlets.
“It’s so fragmented, you just gotta try to find all the ways you can to get to people,” Black said. “I’ll show up in a smaller town where there’s really nothing going on [and] the sign on the theater has my name on it and people will say, ‘What are you doing here?’ ‘I’m sight seeing.'”
Hopefully that won’t be the case when his name hits the Warner Theatre marquee.
“If you’ve been spending the year losing your mind, it’s nice to be in a room filled with people who have all lost their minds this year and laugh and weep about it,” Black said. “It’s like going to a psychotic church service. That’ll be the next [tour title]: The Church of Psychosis.”
Find more details on the Warner Theatre website. Hear our full chat with Lewis Black below:
WTOP's Jason Fraley chats with Lewis Black (Full Interview)