The Hippo


Apr 26, 2019








Lewis Black

When: Sunday, Oct. 15, 7 p.m.
Where: Capitol Center for the Arts, 44 S. Main St., Concord
Tickets: $49.50 to $62.50 at

Ranting through fictional times
Lewis Black tries to keep it together

By Michael Witthaus

 It doesn’t take much to set Lewis Black off — an aggravating news article or a mealy-mouthed politician on TV can do the trick. He once told comedian Bill Maher that if someone hands him a paper at 10 o’clock with something in it that bothers him, he’ll be off and running in three minutes.

In a recent interview, a seemingly innocuous question about the origins of his popular Daily Show segment Back in Black managed to quicken his blood vessels. 
“You picked a scab with that one,” Black said, “and I’m letting it run all over.” 
What began with Black doing improv ranting with original show host Craig Kilborn evolved into the show’s longest-running segment. The arrival of two new producers claiming to not understand where Black fit into the show nearly ended it. 
“I was upset because I had helped establish it ... and I’m really kind of independent of everything there,” Black said. “They would take stuff I wrote and edit it out, because both producers didn’t get that part of what made me funny. I established myself as a standup comic in terms of attitude.”
Black held on, the producers eventually left, and Black’s trademark causticity continues on the Daily Show, six or seven times a year. 
“You can’t beat it,” he said. “It’s like having a commercial — I’m Lewis Black, and I’ll be in your town soon.”
To that end, Black appears at Concord’s Capitol Center for the Arts on Oct. 15. Much of his act focuses on politics, and in a talk given at the Chautauqua Institution in August, he discussed the challenge of mining humor from unreal reality. 
“We’re living in fictional times,” he told the audience. 
During the interview, Black expanded on this idea. 
“As a person, it’s intolerable, but as a comic at least I can escape into my imaginary world and do that,” he said. Doing it requires “trying to find context for this nonsense. Part of the act has become, what is my job supposed to be now? What am I supposed to be doing? I’ve been replaced. Reality and satire are intersected, so how am I supposed to make this stuff funnier?”
He’s among the vanguard of what could be called hard news comedy, humorists who educate and illuminate. 
By the Jon Stewart era of the Daily Show, “essentially all we did was collate and basically point out what was going on; reality had already reached a point where it didn’t take much to satirize it,” Black said. “A guy would say, ‘Well, I didn’t say that,’ then we’d play the tape and just comment on that.” 
Then came the first Daily Show spinoff, The Colbert Report. 
“An extraordinary moment in time,” Black said. “Basically a guy who was improving for all intents and purposes a right-wing talk show host and commentator, and a portion of the public didn’t know it was satire.”
With a trip to New Hampshire upcoming, Black commented on the recent trip of voting fraud czar Kris Kobach to the state. 
“I work as an ambassador to the ACLU for voting rights, and I believe in voting rights,” he said. “Yesterday, I read there is a better chance of being hit by lightning than committing voter fraud, so that’s really all you need to know.”
It wasn’t all he had to say on the topic, though. 
“Forty-two percent of  the American people voted last time, and you’re going to tell me we have people going, ‘I can’t wait to vote three times’? Just because he says it, doesn’t make it real,” he said. “Every attorney general from both sides have said there’s no fraud in their state. What needs to be done is figure out how to make it easy to vote, how to secure our vote. Why not worry about the Russians hacking our machines, worry about the goddamn machines we’re voting on? You’re wasting time, money and energy.”
Black is sputtering and spitting fire, at one point trying for a New Hampshire appropriate “snakes in the woods” analogy that doesn’t quite take. 
“I can’t come up with a metaphor,” he said in exasperation. “It came up over the horizon, but it died in my arms.”
It’s a bit like listening to his act, typically improv that begins with a few toggle points. 
“I basically write on stage and then I keep what I like, throw out what I don’t and come back the next night,” he said. “I’m creating new stuff that I’ll be doing in New Hampshire by the time I get there. So I’m kind of going on stage now. I’m saying, ‘Here’s something I’m thinking about’ — like snakes in the woods.” 

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