Home celeb profile Lewis Black

Lewis Black

by devnym

The genius of being right all the time sits heavily on the master comic’s shoulders. That’s why he’s angry at everything… and everybody.

No one (“it’s no coincidence that his name rhymes with dump…”) is safe from his acerbic observations.

“The upside is we’ll so undermine our infrastructure that any terrorist who has any brains at all, will realize that there’s nothing really here to blow up.

We did it all on our own. It’s one of the great strategies!”

NYM: So you’ve got a new show coming to Broadway?

LB: Yeah.

NYM: Where do you find your new material from—though, it never gets old!

LB: (Sarcastically) It’s difficult you know, because I’m so happy all the time. It does get old, the only thing is this is a heightened version of what we went through before—but the basis of it is it’s the same argument, it’s the same thing we’ve been discussing. They’ve changed the fashion in which [it’s delivered], there’s more mudslinging than usual; but outside of that it’s the same, “I think it’s this,” and “Well I think it’s that!” The difficult part is finding a way to make something funny that you’ve already made funny before and even made funny before that.

NYM: Is it a target audience or is it everybody?

LB: Whoever’s listening (chuckles)!

NYM: I hesitate to mention the name Trump because of where you go—there’s not a conversation to be had about him between two reasonable people for there to be anything close to sense. It’s sort of a refusal to admit that democracy doesn’t work. 

LB: As I’ve said recently, this is a social experiment. What we’ve decided as a people, is that we’ve nominated and elected people that we trust or who we think are important. And that hasn’t worked as well as we wanted it to; so this is an attempt to see if you nominate the least-liked and least-trustworthy candidates in the history, maybe something will come of it.

No democracy has ever done this. No democracy has ever said, “Hey, who don’t we like ? Okay let’s see what happens.”

And even the people who are supposed to like the person, don’t like the person. So when the person is elected, and it doesn’t work out, you knew it wasn’t going to work out! But you’ve already set yourself up for that [disappointment].

NYM: What I don’t believe is that there’s no hope in your soul. I listen to your act and it’s just dismissive of everything. I know in there, that there’s a hope that it should work. Human beings are amazing creatures, it should work. But we fuck it up ourselves.

LB: You can’t be as upset as I am and not be optimistic. You have to believe that there can be another way. I always wondered because I never met Vonnegut, but I met George Carlin and there was a certain amount of sneaky optimism—less optimistic than I am. I really am the goofball out of all those people that I came out of. And Vonnegut, I was never sure really if he though it [democracy, humans, earth] was doomed.

But for me, two things have always done it for me. One, is whenever a catastrophe occurs, be it anywhere, especially here in the US, all these people get in cars and drive there. Or you meet these people who are coming back from Syria or you read about two Christians who show up in Syria to help and get blown up and you just go, “What?!?”

That kind of reaching out that people have makes me feel like the people standing between us and our true humanity are the people we elect. (laughs)

NYM: So anybody who wants to be a politician should be banned for life.

LB: And Trump probably doesn’t want to be a politician.

NYM: It should be like Jury Duty; your turn comes up and for 6 months you’re president!

LB: I used to say that the way they should do it, they get a chimpanzee—this is in an act that I used to do about 12 years ago—you get a chimpanzee and you blindfold the chimp and the chimp throws a dart at the United States and it hits where it hits. You take a plane with the chimp and you fly over the US to that city. You hoist the chimp out of the plane, whichever hand he grabs first is the next president.

NYM: Why not? Are you going to vote?

LB: Yeah, I mean, you have to pick your punishment.

NYM: So you don’t fancy the Green Party or the Libertarians?

LB: There’s just not enough on the table for me to say, “Oh Boy!” They don’t seem to grasp that, “Oh, there’s a world out there, outside of what I do in my living room… and it’s really important.”

Okay great, I get it. I’m a libertarian in the sense that I think people should have those rights—but it doesn’t make you a party. A lot of other parties have that sense. I think the Tea Party should be its own fucking party. The Republicans should be their party, the Democrats should be their party, the Libertarians should be their own party and the Progressives should be their own party. And let’s start there.

Because it really needs to—I don’t know if we end up with a better democracy, but hopefully that’s the way to get some sort of compromise because this big swinging dick shit is enough to the point that you get nothing accomplished.

NYM: Nothing at all. But whoever really did say it first —Socrates, Jefferson or even Bill Maher—democracy is just mob rule. Or if you can side with Churchill, who said it’s the worst shitty system of government, apart from all the rest. I mean where do you go? it’s a horrible thing to even suggest but at least when you get to drive, you have to prove to the examiner you know how to!  

LB: That’s the thing, I agree with Churchill. I think it’s only the way. I hate to say this, but without it you end up with Saddam Hussein, somebody comes to power. Before they get to the voting booth, they would kill each other’s supporters. So you end up in those types of areas where there is no mix.

If this doesn’t work here, you know, the ball game’s over. Because everybody’s here.

NYM: It’s just such a mess, even since I’ve been heresince ’68—the thing has just plummeted off the cliff edge.

LB: I think it makes its comeback after my generation.

NYM: See that’s the hope right there!

LB: I think it a lot of it has to do with my generation leaving the planet.

NYM: Baby boomers are responsible for an awful lot of shit in the world.

LB: It’s partly the fact too of that inherent sense that white people are the most important that people in my generation hold onto. You hear it in Trump’s voice. I look at the similarities between Dick Cheney and myself. We’re about the same age, we were born around the same time, lived through the same major events and we’re from two different planets.

And I think once that strain from my generation… that sense of America being on top. You don’t say it [America is the greatest] you assume it. Just go, “We are great,” You don’t need to tell anybody else. Once we get a handle on that as opposed to having to prove it, once that group passes, and they’ll be another group, a smaller group.

It’s like these kids, and for all they bitch about the Millennial, you wouldn’t have gay marriage without them. You old white guys think it’s an experiment? Well it worked. And if you’d shut the fuck up, we might get beyond race.

NYM: So does Bernie Sanders campaign and support give you hope?

LB: That’s my party. I’ve been a socialist since I was a kid.

NYM: But you mention Socialism in the US and they get jack boots and tanks. They make it communism and it makes no sense. 

LB: They have no clue! I would get into arguments because they would go, “Obama’s a socialist,” Early on, like 8 years ago, sitting in bars—not a good place to discuss this—somebody said, “Obama’s a socialist.” And I turned around and said, “What country’s a socialist?” And they said, “China, Cuba.” People just haven’t a clue.

There was a sense that a socialist regime was kind of batty. What I got out of my history courses in civics, there were socialists and those were the kind of people I’d gravitate towards, especially living around in Washington D.C.

Every election cycle that came around and this is what really drove me to it. The Washington Post would have a front page picture of the US Capitol in a long shot and and behind it, were the worst slums in the US. And this is like in the 60s, and you’d go, “These fuckers are looking out their window and doing nothing. They don’t even deal with what’s in their own backyard”, so fuck ‘em! The great thing about Bernie was after the last 20 years of, “Liberal is a dirty word,  Russia is a dirty word,” all of a sudden “Socialist” was the dirtiest of words. “Cocksucker” was a nicer word.

When I would say [on stage], “You know, he’s not going to win,” people in the audience would go, “(smirking noises)”. I’d go, “Listen, the triumph is for a whole group of people, he took the onerous edge off it (socialism).” And he really isn’t, he’s running as a Democrat. But he’s at least pushing in the right direction.

NYM: The fact that all of the kids followed him is a source of great hope.

LB: You want the best that you can possibly have for most of the people without taking away from those people who really seem to think it’s absolutely vital to get all the things you possibly can and collect them for most of your life. That’s the balance and we’ve lost that balance.

When this country functions well, it’s not because the people up top are getting whatever, it functions well because people get the basic things. I don’t want to work 600 hours, I want a 40-hour work week; I want a car that can run; I want a certain amount of reliability that if there’s problem, they have enough money in the bank [they can afford to take care of it.] You line up all the cards of everybody in this country of what they want, their top five things—I mean someone’s #1 might be a #3 to someone else, but they’re the same top five cards!

NYM: Except for those guys who have $5 billion and still want a couple billion more. What can you do with $7b you can’t do with $5B. And all the while some poor fuckers here have nothingdoesn’t make sense. 

LB: Well now the big thing is, the government is going into the shitter, they go, “Well, I’m not going to give them my money, look at what they do when they get the money.” But it works sometimes, and sometimes it doesn’t. It’s not government that’s the problem, it’s the people who are working sometimes in those positions. The same reason you have a shitty business is the same reason you have a shitty government. It’s some fucking moron who doesn’t get it.

NYM: But that’s why this election and the Supreme Court is a tipping point, to get rid of the old, and get in with the new. Get a couple of judges on the court to change Citizen’s United, which is an aberration. Anyone can buy an election? Are you kidding me!

LB: My opening act says, “You know, that’s fine, you want to let a corporation give away all that money, you’re letting the corporation become a person. I don’t understand. If somebody owns the company, somebody’s the president of the company, they all have shareholders who are all people who have a vote. So the corporation is not an entity unto itself. But if you are going to say you do give up that right, then you tax the corporation with the same taxes as you tax a person. You want to do that? Fine. Give away all the money you fucking want, but you’re taxed the way you should be taxed.

But the thing is, in the end, it is a balance. I need conservatives to do what they do—what they really do. I need them to be the finance guys. I need them to go, “This is how much we can spend.” And then tell the people who want to spend it, “Okay, that’s what you got.” So then the people with that finite amount of money go, ‘Well how do we use it best?” Otherwise this is all bullshit.

NYM: But the thing is, those finance guys don’t operate within the same margins as you and I do. 

LB: Every so often I’ve said, it’s like a Marie Antoinette moment.

NYM: Let them eat cake.

LB: We go through these flourishes of it before the shit hit the fan. They nailed a few of these guys for fraud and insider dealing. God, I can’t think of his name… it was a corporation that began with an “M.”

But anyways, he had bought a $3000 umbrella stand, and I go, “Wow, most of us have an umbrella stand, we call it a bath tub.

NYM: Do you feel sorry for those guys?

LB: No.

NYM: But they are a such an empty shell—look at Trump! When he deals with his family, when you see him with his wife, there’s no warmth, there’s no connection. I feel sorry for him.

LB: I once dated a very nice woman few years ago and her family had money. I went out with her a few times; and basically the family spent—and this is where I do feel sorry for them—three nights a week at fundraisers, where they’re all sitting around banquet tables and I couldn’t do that.

NYM: This is your life.

LB: Yes and we’ll give X to Y. And this is the other reason I’m leaning towards Socialism—even though I’ve been to a number of socialist countries within the past few years and they’re not happy either—it’s like enforced Christianity. It really is “Pay up.” If you’re not going to give your 10%, we’re taking it. It forces people to be Christian with their finances, which I think is great.

NYM: Well I’m not sure about Christianity, it has a certain limitation for me, but I know what you’re saying.

LB: Yeah, put your money where your mouth is and shut the fuck up!

NYM: You have a precedent for this, right? The 2006 movie, Man of the Year.

LB: I was telling the guys who did the photo shoot today—nobody had seen the movie and it was oddly received, but it was also oddly distributed.

NYM: It didn’t resonate.

LB: Well it had, it was like Robin was in his wig and they really didn’t advertise it the way it should have been advertised, so it got lost. And it was way ahead of it’s time! If you watch it now, there’s stuff that I’ve said in the movie, that Robin says, that Walken says in the movie that the characters all touch on. It’s an excellent analysis of Trump and bigger than the analysis out there now.

NYM: Why hasn’t it been re-released? I knew I was going to talk to you, so I watched it again, but I had also watched it way back when. And I thought: Is Trump going to have a Saturday Night Live “revelation” like the Robin Williams fake president? It really had prescient lines, prescient characters throughout the movie. Was Robin Williams a good guy?

LB: He was a pleasure—easy to work with, generated a huge amount of energy. We shot that in 33 days—which is crazy. And when you’re doing that, you have to bring the energy. And I had the second most days on set after him so I was around him a lot. And the kind of energy he had was extraordinary.  What’s always disturbed me is that he went into rehab afterwards. He’d fallen off the wagon, and I didn’t—

NYM: Sense it?

LB: I knew that he was—I mean, I’m an alcoholic, but I didn’t know that he was—I don’t know I would be sitting there having a glass of wine and Robin would come down and have a tequila and he’d say, “I think I’ve got a problem.” And I would just turn to him and say, ‘Robin, if you have a problem, then I must have a massive problem.’ There was never, at least to me, there was never anything noticeable about what was going on. He was always on his game—not coked up on his game, but just on his game.

NYM: I saw a couple of concerts when he was doing it [drugs], and it’s just like amazing stuff. 

LB: Being on the USO tour with him, the amount he would give up there, it was really astonishing. We would get off the plane and he would run off and embrace the troops and just start talking to the guys. He knew without ego he knew his position that they were excited to see him. And he brought the goods.

Meanwhile, I’m dragging my ass being like, Jesus, this is the thirrd show today. Doesn’t this fucker wear down? He was like the Energizer bunny.

NYM: This is a contentious statement just to see what you’re saying: I believe Obama is the best president the United States has ever had.

LB: You believe that?

NYM: I do. 

LB: Oh, come on!

NYM: He has such clarity of thought. In 2008 the world was gone. Really. If you had had another year of George Bush, we would all have been on the breadline. You needed a bright mind with a steady hand. But tell me why you dislike him.

LB: No, I think he did a good job to a point. I think where he failed—and I think it was partly the Republican party as well—he didn’t go down to Congress. I just felt that if I was him, I would  be in Congress’s face. But also, from all I can read, there has to be some explanation of why he was in his own sound bubble.

NYM: Whatever he was going to do, when he got elected, Mitch McConnell was like, ‘Fuck it, he’s not going to get anything done.’

LB: But he could have turned it on them and he didn’t do it. And the one thing I learned from his presidency is that I don’t have time for this anymore. I don’t have time for a learning curve, I don’t have time for someone to act presidential. I need people in a Goddamn line who are ready to roll in and do that job. I don’t need two years for someone to figure it out.

What I always felt about him in a lot of ways and in certain points in time—and that’s not to undercut his speech making, which is spectacular—but the fact that his family is the first real family to ever be in the White House. Every other family, the Nixons, the Clintons, my god with LBJ and the two dogs; none of them [else] had this sense of grounding. That presentation is massively important.

NYM: Absolutely right.

LB: But I always felt like he was RG3, the quarterback on the Redskins [now on the Cleveland Browns] where he would drop back and it would count to 7-8-9 before he remembered, “Oh that’s right, I’m the quarterback!”

I felt at times with him [Obama], it took him a while to realize he was president and that he didn’t deliver at the times he should have. I thought under the circumstances he was extraordinary. But I also felt that America was literally coming out of a stroke because of the war. So if he could get people to listen to a paragraph, then we had taken a step forward. So in terms of that, yes.

But I just felt that between him and the Democrats, they let the Republicans—

NYM: So tell me who was a better president than Obama?


NYM: But again, different circumstances.

LB: But really horrific circumstances, much more horrific.

NYM: I’ll give George W. Bush some kind of credit, but if he hadn’t done the bailout of $800 billion to the banks and Fannies we would have been totally fucked. New York City would be in ruins. 

So Obama, the first black president, hated by the Republicans, hated by half the country because he was black, is the most intellectual and intelligent guy that’s been in the White House by far and was able to handle the situation in a considered way. He’d take it in, take it upstairs, he’d read it, and he’d consider it. He saved our skins. 

If he achieved this under these these circumstances, what would he have achieved under a more even keel?

LB: Here’s what the problem was and this, I’ll never understand. He had the Democratic majority essentially. We elected someone that was really not ready so if you have the majority, you really have to be able to pull it off. There were things that should have been passed but weren’t.

NYM: You mean just banged them through?

LB: Yeah and I mean I think he had it there. I’m sorry, but I think he was learning it. But it’s not just him, it’s the Democrats.

NYM: But that’s part of the deal, that’s part of being a Democrat. You’re not a motherfucker.

LB: You don’t have to be a motherfucker, but you don’t do this: You’re got the sword in your hands, they give you a sword and you have to parry with the other side. You don’t take the sword and are like, “Which way does it go?”

NYM: [laughs] I understand that.

LB: I really think that’s a real problem we have as a country. It used to be one of these reasons why there’s a dip. I think the other reason is, as shitty as Nixon was as a president—I mean he gave us China—but as shitty as he might be in terms of his lunacy, he had been the VP, he had been around this shit, he came back. He was kind of ready for it.

He [Obama] was a one-time senator. Enough is fucking enough. I don’t care, I need people prepared to fucking enter the role. I’m not here to teach you, you fuckers!

NYM: But what you’re saying is the end justifies the means and it never can.

LB: What do you mean?

NYM: You’re saying, however you approach a problem the result is most important.

LB: No, the problem is that we don’t know. We need people in the pipeline who are ready to be president and we don’t have them. In Britain—

NYM: Where do you get those people from?

LB: I don’t give a fuck! Send them to a camp!

NYM: That’s our fortune, isn’t it? The school for presidents! That would be a good movie.

LB: I look around the world. Canada and England. There’s someone who’s the head of the party who seems to be prepping to be the leader. We don’t have that. We got this, “Well should we have this side or should we have that side?”

The people like Marco Rubio, are you shitting me? Strip everything about him, all the nonsense that the Pillsbury doughboy is carrying around with him—his age, I looked at him, and I literally thought, Fuck, he’s too young. He’s not ready. And Ted Cruz, fuck, you could lose your mind.

I look at Obama and there are things that I could say that are positive about Obama, but I don’t want to—let me check something really quick.

[checks his phone]

NYM: So can we agree, if I restate, that he [Obama] was the best president, if not the best politician. How’s that?

LB: But I’d still say not the best president we’ve ever had. I’d still say FDR.

NYM: He’s got to be second.

LB: Well FDR was really a shit-kicker of a president.

NYM: Yes he was.

LB: You know who else was good, LBJ.

NYM: You know this impasse started with LBJ when he lost the South for the Democrats.

LB: But the other thing is that with LBJ and where we are as a country, it’s not just Everett Dirksen, Sam Ervin, [J. William] Fulbright, Wayne Morris, Mike Mansfield—you could go back and list these people 15 guys in the Senate who truly were solid. Now we’re lucky if we get two of them!

Mitch McConnell is a poor echo of what the Republican party really has—or what it had.

NYM: Even Tip O’Neil. He was the man, a consummate human being.

LB: The real problem is to me, the thing that really made our government work that they’re sorely lacking, is alcohol [laughs].

You know a lot of these guys were drunks. What’s that guy’s name that was found in the fountain with a stripper. I can’t think of his name (Wilbur Mills) He was the Speaker of the House, a Democrat, and he got it done. He was fucking up his mind, [but he got it done.] He said that his great regret was, that he was so fucked up, that he couldn’t get health care bill passed. It could’ve been passed 20-30 years ago.

NYM: Obama care isn’t anything radical. But let me change things around a little bit. One of my favorite comedians is Eddy Izzard.

LB: Oh Eddy Izzard is great!

NYM: He’s just so spot on, just so out of focus.

LB: He’s a brilliant son-of-a-bitch. I know that doing it in different language, that’s like a leap out of bounds.

NYM: He describes himself as a male lesbian, which is so spot on.

LB: I had a really great night at the Montreal Just For Laughs Festival. There was a thing that was a pilot for a show called, “Green Room,” and Paul Prudenza was the host. It was Louis C.K., Eddy Izzard, Billy Connelly, and me. It was one of the greatest panels that I was lucky enough to be a part of.

NYM: What happened to the Green Room?

LB: Eventually it evolved into a show and you’d have four comics on, but it was nothing like this. This was like home run derby. Paul would throw out a question and [then we’d each take turns answering it].

NYM: Where do I get a copy of that?

LB: I don’t know – I don’t know if they were even smart enough to film it. I have an immense amount of respect for Eddy, and he’s a tremendous actor too.

NYM: Have you found that your disgust has increased as you’ve gotten older?

LB: Disgust in terms of what?

NYM: Disappointment – human beings are so amazing, their potential is so amazing and yet they piss it up against a wall in the most ridiculous ways.

LB: I have found that the “You’ve gotta be kidding me,” button is getting hit a lot more often. It used to be once a day and now it’s like, the Zika virus? They’re not going to vote? Like Miami gets infected attacked by Zika – and it’s a mosquito that we’re going after, and we can’t even agree to go after the mosquito!

Then you watch a Republican go, “You know we didn’t do it because that was a Democrats.” The Democrats voted against it because the Republicans had attached something to it and the Democrats couldn’t vote for it.

There are certain things that have to be said, “Like really we’re getting down to this!” There are certain things that have to be sacrosanct. Or this thing with all of a sudden one state gets the money for a catastrophe and gets Fed Money so the next state that has a catastrophe…like fucking Baton Rouge gets the shit kicked out of it. I don’t know what they’re going to do. And some Republicans and some of the Democrats even say, ‘Well as soon as we take the money out of the budget for that, the sooner we’ll get more money.’

Sooner or later, we just have to say, “No, there’s no time for that.” You don’t get to play God with that. So, why don’t you see how far we can go before we run out of money instead of playing this fucking game that it makes sense that somehow…like once you start talking in trillions [of dollars], then fuck you. Yeah, we’re $19 trillion [in debt] and boy the economy is wiped out. Oh yeah? Go to a mall on Saturday or Sunday in certain areas, it’s like a major game is going on – like 100,000 people and they can’t buy enough shit.

It’s this slow move back to the light, but when there’s an emergency, you deal with the emergency. You don’t have a discussion – no time for a discussion. You have to have the empathy to put yourself in the shoes of the poor schmuck that’s on the row boat riding down his street and go, “We better do as much as we can right now.”

NYM: You seem to see more and more through the smoke and mirrors that civilization puts up. You see through to the essence of the things so much easier and so much quicker.

LB: The other thing that really drives me nuts, and both parties have this: it’s like everything has occurred in a bubble in time so there’s no effect. Like B didn’t follow from A. we’re spending a billion or two a year in Iraq or whatever the hell it was and we didn’t tax ourselves! To me that was the appalling thing. You want to go to war? Okay great – but then you have to pay for it. So we built up a debt that was massive in that war and act as though that debt is completely separate from the debt that they claimed Obama created. It’s completely nuts.

NYM: Finish for me on a positive note, Mr. Black. C’mon Hillary’s going to win by a landslide, we’re going to have the best Supreme Court Justices, we’re going to change this country back to what Mr. Jefferson wanted.

LB: Um…no. But it’s a really lovely thought! Hillary may win; but problem is, it really depends on who is in Congress and the rest is a mute point. Because it really depends on if Congress is going to act like it’s not in a Banana Republic. (laughter)

NYM: With Gerrymandering, you’re never going to get the House back!

LB: We’ll see – because that has to before the Supreme Court. But in the State of North Carolina, there’s a real possibility because the Republicans Gerrymandered the shit out of the districts. But the Democrats Gerrymandered it first! My problem is that it’s a two party problem because as soon as someone gets in, they start fucking with it. And the people running for office don’t get the right to tell you who votes where. So North Carolina, where I do spend some time, there’s a real possibility there – even with gerrymandering, they might have their asses kicked.

The upside is that there’s a real possibility, that we will, if we continue on the road we’re going, so undermine our infrastructure that any terrorists, who has any brains at all, will realize that there’s nothing really here to blow up. We did it all on our own. It’s one of the great strategies!

NYM Thank you.

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