I had heard some great stories from Lewis Black about his playwriting past and career arc last year during his XM Unmasked interview, but for his Saturday night sit-down with the New York Times for its Arts & Leisure Weekend, Times TV critic Alessandra Stanley wanted to focus more on politics.
Stanley said she was glad to have Black in the building "because we can't quote you in the New York Times." To wit, they played a clip beforehand that opened with Black griping about the cold winter with this line: "Where the f*@& is global warming?!"
She wanted to know how Black would be funny without politicians such as Dick Cheney in power. Black's reply: "Between him and me, there's a ton of assholes." As for Obama? Black noted that community organizer types such as Obama, "they're never funny. It's a different kind of asshole!" Instead, Black zeroed in on the president-elect's ongoing message of hope. "This hope thing," Black called it. "I'm 60. Hope's passed me by."
He reminded us that he didn't start out as a political comedian. "I had 45 minutes on weather," he said, claiming, "no comic has beaten me on that."
He shrugged off the Caroline Kennedy for Senate question. "Kennedys? After the Bushes, who gives a sh@&." But he loved the Bernie Madoff scandal as a source of material. "It's like Dickens every day…there's no writer who could be talented…prescient enough to make up this character." But he didn't blame Madoff solely for the declining economy, first jokingly answering "Disney," then following up with "Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren. Once we got into all of those logo clothes, that's where it started." This notion of status symbols and needing to buy specific brands to keep up with the Joneses. Black didn't bite on a question about loving the Clintons more than the Republicans, instead suggesting that he always votes socialist. Somewhere in there, he talked about A Long Day's Journey into Night, but apparently, we weren't following along. "If you think you could drop a Mary Tyrone reference, this would be the room?!"
Talking about comedy, he cited Louis CK, Dom Irrera, Kathleen Madigan, Doug Stanhope, Dave Attell, Sean Rouse among stand-ups who should get more attention. He singled out Madigan as someone who the corporate types running show business cannot quite figure out, for reasons he himself cannot fathom. "There's a ton of these people out there," he said of comedians worthy of your time. Good going, there.
In that vein, he noted that George Carlin had called him years ago to compliment him after a Comedy Central special, and that was when Black knew he was on the right track. "That was more important than anything," he said.
Black said he had just gotten back from a December holiday USO trip to Germany, Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo, and had kind words for Adm. Mike Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In fact, Black also noted that a 60 Minutes crew joined them for part of the trip, with its profile of Mullen airing last night. Black didn't make the cut in that footage, though USO-tourmate Kid Rock did for a few seconds. Also on the tour, Madigan, longtime stand-up friend John Bowman, and country singer Kellie Pickler. "She's like a countrified version of Gracie Allen!" Black said of Pickler.
And in the spring, look forward to a public reading from him and Mark Linn-Baker of their 1981 Off-Broadway play, The Laundry Hour. Stanley read aloud from the Times review, which was Black's first official review in the paper of record, and Black acknowledged that he once drove the critic on a long-distance road trip years before that, and thought that if he'd gotten into a fatal accident then, he would have made a lasting impact on the New York theater. He said the March reading will help raise funds through New York Stage and Film.