Black to the future
Comedian Lewis Black puts values before politics
Most people know Lewis Black as the quivering bundle of pissed-off nerves from his “Back In Black” segment on The Daily Show, where the comedian takes aim at everything from technology to the recent anti-gay sentiment surrounding the Sochi Winter Olympics. Truth is, he’s a relatively mellow and truly thoughtful guy.
The 65-year-old Black has been immersed in politics since he was a kid growing up in Washington, D.C. He knows what he’s talking about. And, as the Chico News & Review recently discovered, all it takes is a little political talk to get him fired up.
CN&R: What was the political climate like in your house growing up?
Lewis Black: We would sit around the table watching Walter Cronkite. We lived in Washington, D.C., so essentially we were right in the thick of it. It was like an extended civics class.
Did your parents lean more conservative?
They were … well, conservative, you know, God knows what those fucking words mean. At the time, my mother was against the Vietnam War—way early on. And then my father made sea mines. He wasn’t really up for making weapons, but in the ’50s a lot of our major companies shifted from making consumer products to weapons, so he couldn’t really find another gig. So he was working for the government. And my mother kept screaming about the war, and my father said, you know, “You don’t really know what you’re talking about.” But my father, to his credit, read the Geneva Accords—he’s the only citizen I know who read the fuckin’ thing. He finished, and I said, “What do you think?” And he said that we have no legal basis to be at war. And they used his weapons in a war that he thought wasn’t legal. And my father said, “Fuck it,” and retired. It was pretty extraordinary. It’s larger than politics. He lived up to his values.
Those values sort of inform your comedy.
Look, if you’re going to have a role model … I mean, [at the time] he’s retiring years before he’s supposed to retire; he’s giving up part of a pension; I’m finishing up college; and my brother’s just entering college. …
So your material has been accumulating for a long time …
If the people who ran the government then watched these people now, they would be flipping the fuck out.
It’s turned into a circus.
But it’s over shit. They can’t even deal with major issues. What they fight over is meaningless. They should be fighting over immigration—if you wanna fight, that’s the fight.
And news coverage has turned into tabloid …
It’s the mental equivalent of Miley Cyrus twerking.
You consider yourself a socialist, right?
Yeah, I always … since I … yes, for a long time. Tweak it to socialism with aspects of capitalism. Part of it was every time, along the way, the arguments just don’t work for me, OK? Here we go, “If everybody got money, they wouldn’t work.” No, that’s not true. Most people really want to go to work; they don’t want to sit around all day. I don’t want to argue with some asshole who thinks that’s the basic tendency of people, to be in sloth mode.
As someone who’s a social satirist, you have to be constantly paying attention—to everything. How do you escape it when you have to?
I go on baby-seal-clubbing expeditions. No, I play golf, I hang out with friends. I really like listening to other people talk. Golf forces your brain to go into stupid mode.
When we see your rants on The Daily Show, is that the equivalent of being a fly on the wall as you react to the news at home?
Yeah, it’s my personality. The Daily Show really decides what I’m going to yell about, and they write a lot of it and then I give some input. You know, it’s Jon’s show, and he shapes it. But it’s certainly the way my personality works.
Do you think you’ve mellowed out over the years?
[Laughs] No, I’ve gotten worse.