Lewis Black is sort of like 12 angry men rolled into one. At this year’s Emmys, he was gloriously apoplectic, ranting at network executives for junking up TV screens with those annoying promos on what to watch next.
“We don’t care about the next show! We’re watching this show!” Black screamed, speaking for every viewer who’s wanted to throw a shoe at a pop-up ad.
Black yells for all of us, really. He’s become famous for his “Back in Black” commentaries on “The Daily Show,” where he rages with exasperated passion on politics and life. Next spring, he’s scheduled to get his own show on Comedy Central, “The Root of All Evil,” where he’ll be in charge as pop culture’s excesses are put on trial.
Given that Black also writes books, costars in movies and keeps up a rigorous touring schedule, it’s hard to understand how he has the energy to maintain his fury. But that’s the easy part. He only has to look at the daily headlines on global tensions, the economy or the presidential race to find fresh material.
“It just piles on,” he says, speaking en route from New York to Connecticut for another show. “I pine for the days when I just talked about weather.”
You get very worked up during your act. Have you ever fainted onstage like Marie Osmond?
No, I haven’t. I think it actually is healthy for me to do that. I would explode if I just kind of sat on this.
Anger isn’t an acceptable or popular emotion in everyday life. But do you think, in some ways, that rage is underrated?
I don’t think rage, per se, is the best thing to bring out at parties. But I do think being angry about certain things and then channeling it in some ways is a smart thing. Outside of politics, the next business you could be in that would inspire rage is entertainment. I used to actually go to meetings and blow up, which was really part of the reason it took so long for me to be found.
How much of what you do onstage relates to your real life? I wonder about your threshold for the small irritations of life.
I’m not good. You know, you dial your information and it says what city, what state, what’s the place you want to get. I literally sometimes, about every fifth time, just start yelling: “Gimme a real person! Gimme a real person!” And then nine times out of 10, they give you a real person, so what are we doing this for?
Do you ever approach people who are irritating you, like, if you were in a movie with a loud talker or a restaurant with a loud cell phone conversation?
Usually not, because they’re the ones I’m worried about. They’re the ones that might snap. They’re the ones who don’t know where they are in time and space.
Is there a challenge in staying upset, to being able to tap into life’s frustrations when you’re appreciated by a wider audience?
I’m as angry about the things I find wrong as I’ve always been. Just because somebody pays me more doesn’t make it any better. ... Also, too, you have an audience that really lets you go further. I used to have to try to attract people to listen to the kind of stuff I was doing. Now I have this really great audience, and I can go on and talk about things in ways I never imagined would be possible. A lot of the times, the audience seems to be more bitter than I am.