Our Q&A with Comedian Lewis Black

Our Q&A with Comedian Lewis Black

We talk to the UNC alumnus – who takes the stage at DPAC Nov. 17 – about Twitter etiquette, the First Amendment and his anger issues

Photo by Clay McBride

Spoiler alert: The current state of things is not making Lewis Black, the comedian most associated with anger (that was even his character’s name in the movie “Inside Out”), any less angry. Andrea Griffith Cash chatted with the UNC alumnus (who maintains a Chapel Hill residence) about the challenges of doing comedy during these unsettling times.

You’re a New Yorker. How often do you make it back to your Chapel Hill apartment?

I used to make it back more often. I’ve started all three of my books down there, so I’ve spent a chunk of time. … It’s the last place I did any real work – when I was in school at UNC – so I figured it was a good place to go to get to work. I’d always planned to spend some time down there at some point.

You’re coming to Durham – DPAC – on Nov. 17. That seems really far from now. I don’t know what will have happened in the world between now and then …

Well, a lot will have seemed to have happened, and nothing will have happened.

Is your show political, or are you giving people a break from the constant political drama?

It’s both. I consider it more social than political. More about what all this means. It’s not the politics of health care. … It’s – what’s the effect on people? Since going into Iraq, we have done nothing but figure out ways not to accomplish anything. We have no interest in getting anything done. There are 6-year-olds who can make decisions faster than we can as a people.

Since going into Iraq, we have done nothing but figure out ways not to accomplish anything. … There are 6-year-olds who can make decisions faster than we can as a people.

So you think this whole climate we’re in is bad for comedy?

I find it bad in the sense that, for me, it’s exhausting. How do you top what is already the topper? And then I’m still talking about the same [stuff] I talked about 20 years ago. … Part of what makes it hard is coming up with new jokes for the same joke. We don’t go anywhere. We’re on a treadmill, and we’re acting like we’re really running through a city. And we’re looking at some sort of virtual reality screen.

You’re the guy who’s associated with anger. There’s all this talk about how the country is divided. The country is so angry …

Well, we’ve been that way for a long time. Only they finally noticed it. When I started touring 25 to 30 years ago, everybody said, “You yell a lot. This isn’t going to go over.” Then I stumbled from club to club and found out there were people in the audience angrier than I could ever imagine.

Well, since you tour all around, are you seeing this disappearing middle class, the rural/urban divide?

Well, you don’t have to travel around to see it. Unions went out the window. … They’re the ones that kind of protected the upward mobility. You took that away. … And you pick up any newspaper – the gap between the top and the lower has been widening, with fewer and fewer in the middle. In the course of the last 20 years, there’s been greed. Being greedy didn’t seem to matter anymore. Nobody seems to have any shame.

What do you think about the First Amendment debate, and these comedians who are stepping in it right now?

You’ve just got to have some common sense. The public square got bigger. You’re not just talking to your audience anymore, which is what people did for years. When George Carlin got busted [for violating obscenity laws with his “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television” routine], he got busted in Milwaukee at Summerfest. … But he got busted in the city for that. It went national because he got busted in the city. It didn’t go national from the moment it occurred. … Before I send something out on Twitter, I literally think about it – if it has any political smell to it – for 15 minutes to an hour. “Do I really want to sit here and watch what comes back over the transom?” … You have to pay attention. It’s not worth it. … You can think whatever you want to think. You can say whatever you want to say, but you have to say it in your living room now, some of the stuff. … Yell about it in your living room. But when you hit the public square, shut the hell up.

Andrea Cash
Andrea Griffith Cash, the former senior vice president of content at Durham Magazine, now owns and operates Andrea Cash Creative