Lewis Black Talks Selfish Politics, Doing Good, and Learning to Compromise: "I Have a Set of Beliefs Nobody Would Agree With"
"Miami makes me insane," Lewis Black says over the phone after the conclusion of our 20-minute interview. "Down there, I felt like I had a weight problem. In New York, I feel like my weight is normal. When I get to Miami, I think, Jesus, I'm a fat pig."
We talk about the superficiality of the city, and I tell him a story of a former co-worker who would openly shoot steroids in the bathroom. Lewis responds, "That's crazy. I never understood that look. I just did a round of steroids to help with my sinus infection. You can quote that in your article: 'Mr. Black admits to using steroids.'"
That's when it hits me: Lewis Black, the guy who yells about almost everything, is a really good guy. That's a rarity among celebrity interviews, which famous people usually treat like inconvenient necessities.
Lewis will perform for a single night at the Fillmore Miami Beach next Friday, February 14, as part of the Rant Is Due Tour. It will include all the things audiences love so much about him, including his trademark rants about the world's massive inequalities.
On the phone, we talked about his life as a celebrity, taking part in the Showtime's Comedy Warriors (in which he coached a military veteran on becoming a stand-up comedian) and, of course, politics and politicians.
Cultist: I'd like to image that when you get offstage, you love to crochet or practice tai chi and the whole "angry comedian" thing is the opposite of your offstage personality.
Lewis Black: It isn't the opposite. Something can set me off in a moment. But generally, once I get offstage, I have a tendency to just sit down. I'm much more level-headed when I'm offstage. I'm almost subdued.
Maintaining that would be completely exhausting.
If I was like that all the time, I'd be dead. I would've never made it to 40.
In regards to the Comedy Warriors project. Do comedians always try to do good, like comic relief or USO tours, because the place that comedy comes from has to be so dark?
Part of the reason you do it is because most comedians have never been given the opportunity to help anybody. It's not like there's a catastrophe and people are like, "Let's get a comic." But when we're given the opportunity to help, it's important to us. Plus, compact it with the fact that... not that we're dark, but we're kind of outsiders.
Just for comedy's sake, do you miss having a Republican president?
Nah. No. Just because one of these guys left office doesn't mean stupidity fled the country. There was a focus because of George Bush, but now it's like an oil spill of stupidity.
They're just unbelievable, both sides. Literally, they're showing [no leadership]. It's like, let's wind down the war so we can go after each other again. It's this constant denial on both sides of what they haven't done.
Now all they're talking about is 2016. Their time frame is election to election, and they act like there are no days in between. The most self-absorbed and entitled group of people, on both sides, that I've ever seen run our country.
Since you're so out there with your political views, do you find that someone who has different beliefs, like a Republican, is coming to you wanting to find a middle ground? Is there a middle ground?
Yes, I do think there's an easy middle ground. If you governed and you wanted to lead, you lead by example, by doing your job. And your job is to sit down with somebody that you don't agree with and figure out what the compromise is.
I have a set of beliefs that nobody would agree with, but you grow old enough to know that it's about compromise. That's it. It's called "that's the deal." You're not going to make things happen in two weeks; you get them incrementally. Both sides have to realize that.
Did you ever envision yourself being this famous? Is it an inconvenience or a surreal byproduct of doing what you love?
It's utterly surreal. You kind of wait every so often when you get offstage, someone will walk up and be like, "That's enough. You have to go back to the fifth floor walkup."
I find it stunning. There are all sorts of guys I know who certainly are great comics that didn't get the kind of attention I ended up getting. I'm doing what I always wanted to do, which is wander around theaters and yell and scream. It's kind of funny -- I've always said I'm getting paid to go to the place, but when I'm onstage... I do that for free. And I think any comic would.
The last question: If you could sacrifice your very successful comedy career to be an even better-known playwright, would you do it?
Um... well, no. No. The one thing I learned in comedy over play-writing was that there's nobody between me and the audience. I continue to like writing plays. It's that, in the end, I've got to go through a ton of people to get this stuff done. This has been much nicer. It's me and the audience. I went out 25 years ago and started performing in clubs and kept going back to these clubs, and I saw more people coming back. It was just me and them. I don't have a psychotic director or some insane actress who's flipping out because she didn't get her Xanax prescription.
Lewis Black: The Rant is Due Tour. Friday, Feb. 14, at the Fillmore Miami Beach, 1700 Washington Ave., Miami Beach. Doors open at 7 p.m., and tickets cost $39.50 to $75 plus fees via livenation.com. Call 305-673-7300 or visit fillmoremb.com.
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