The way this year’s presidential primary season has gone so far, comedian Lewis Black wishes he could’ve written it as a novel.
“I think it reads better as fiction than it does as reality,” Black said about the drama surrounding the campaign trail this spring.
Black, 67, is no stranger to the literary life. The funnyman first started out as a playwright in New York City in the 1980s after graduating with an MFA from Yale. It was only later that he ventured into the world of standup, where he’s since been acclaimed as one of the top comics of all time, and become known for his rage-fueled rants and scathing sarcasm. Friday, May 20, he brings that venom to the Kalamazoo State Theatre.
“It’s only luck, because I’m funniest when I’m angry. If I wasn’t, I’d just be a sad little man,” he said.
Over the last 30 years, Black’s routine has become something of a hilarious human manifestation of America’s collective frustration. With everything from his regular “Back in Black” segments on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show to his role as Anger itself in last year’s hit animated movie Inside Out, he’s mastered the art of well-informed, hot-blooded humor.
Emperor’s New Clothes: The Naked Truth Tour
Kalamazoo State Theatre
404 S. Burdick St., Kalamazoo
May 20, 7 p.m. doors, 8 p.m. show
$37.50, $47.50, $65
kazoostate.com, (269) 345-6500
Soaring Eagle Casino & Resort, 6800 Soaring Eagle Blvd., Mt. Pleasant
May 21, 8 p.m.
But when Donald Trump runs for president — and truth becomes stranger than fiction — Black said his job as a stand-up gets trickier.
“What is the necessity of a comic? Every time there’s this nonsense, we can’t write anything funnier than what we’re seeing,” he said. “When Sarah Palin appears onstage with Donald Trump, what’s my job? At this point, I wonder what my job is — other than to go onstage and go ‘Ta da!’”
Yet, within all the hostility of the campaign, Black couldn’t be happier to see the unexpected movement forming around Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.
“I finally have a candidate!” he said. “Even though he’s not going to win, at least I’ve got a candidate this time. My whole life I never had a candidate.”
A proud, longtime Democratic Socialist himself, and a strong Sanders supporter, Black said he gets why people are turning to candidates outside of the mainstream establishment.
“It’s stuff that needs to be said because the Democrats haven’t said it,” he said of Sanders’ focus on supporting the working class. “We’re going through the same cycle again and again. We’re constantly in the spin cycle and I want to get to wash, dry and fold. What they’re talking about is shit that should’ve been done ten years ago. It’s saying that enough is enough.”
While on the road, Black has done over 125 Q&A sessions following his standup performances where he reads emails sent to him by fans, which he then webcasts online.
“[They’re] written in by folks who really are bitching about things I wouldn’t even know where to begin to bitch about,” he said. “I mean, it’s one thing to watch the governor being grilled, like when they were grilling his ass about the catastrophe in Flint, but it’s another thing to read something personal from somebody who lives there and is dealing with the water problem. I think that’s more interesting than these [politicians]. The reality of what they are doing to people is more interesting than they are.”
All laughter aside, Black is also a Voting Rights Ambassador for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and hopes that the insanity of this year’s election will motivate more people to get to the polls.
He’s just not holding his breath for huge voter turnouts.
“It’s because we’ve disenfranchised everybody,” he said. “And even when you go, you’re just looking at two names. It’s basically a painful experience and there’s not a lever that says ‘kill me now.’”