LOS ANGELES (AP) – Lewis Black garnered his sixth Grammy nomination for Best Comedy Album, but he is skipping the Las Vegas ceremony on Sunday. Instead, he will be on stage at the New York Theater as part of his “Off the Rails” national tour.
A two-time Grammy winner, Black has shared about his indigestion on the world and people for five decades, and he’s been a staple on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” since 1996. So, what is driving them?
“Stupidity,” he replies. But seriously, people — enduring comedians like Black are, at heart, reflective — they have a reason: “What keeps me going is still learning.”
Black’s latest Grammy nomination is for “Thanks for Risking Your Life,” recorded at a concert on the eve of the March 2020 COVID-19 lockdown. There’s a companion video special in which, among other topics, Black anoints two-day free shipping as a source of joy and nods to his comic roots: mom Janet, who is 103, and dad Sam, Who died in 2019 at the age of 101.
Black, 73, is also a playwright—theater is his first love, and has earned a master’s degree from the Yale School of Drama—actor, bestselling author, and a mentor to aspiring comedians at North Carolina’s alma mater University, where he worked as a playwright. Earned Graduation.
In an interview with The Associated Press last week, he discussed having a humor when speeches are heavily scrutinized; Demonstrating on the brink of a pandemic, and learning the lessons of Joseph Heller’s satirical novel “Catch-22”. Comments have been edited for length and clarity.
AP: When you’re on stage, is it up to you to get in trouble for what others have said?
Black: Only in interviews. If they edit it wrong, it could be read wrong, and someone will get upset. When I’m on stage, I don’t go out and think I’m going to say anything that should be considered crossing the border. I can annoy people, but I’m not going to make them psychic.
AP: Why did you decide to go ahead with your March 2020 opening concert at a Michigan casino when so much was unknown about COVID-19?
BLACK: I knew the (expletive) hadn’t hit the fan yet, but we were shutting it down. It was like that Idiot reporter was standing there and the sky was turning gray and says, “There’s a storm. I just felt like that. I thought, “Wow, maybe I’m putting these guys (at risk).” But there were already 1,500 people there, and they were walking side by side in the casino. If it had been done, it would have already been done before I got on the stage.
AP: At the concert, you talk about celebrating your parents’ advanced birthdays and their wisdom, including your mom saying, “I’ve crossed the finish line. I should be done. Is yours? Does the humor reflect them?
Black: My mom was more sarcastic. My father knew that you can follow a line if you want to retain your audience. You don’t cross that limit if you want to keep them entertained. It was my father who told me to read “Catch-22” when I was 13 or 14.
AP: Because he thought you might appreciate it?
Black: He was reading the book, he was laughing and I had never seen him laugh out loud. I said, should I read it? He said it will tell you how to deal with the office, it will basically give you an idea of what to expect in life.
AP: You were a playwright for much of the 1980s at the Downstairs Theater Bar of New York City’s West Bank Cafe, working with future Oscar-winning screenwriters Aaron Sorkin and Alan Ball. Sounds like the heck of an experience.
Black: It was great. Everything I’ve done so far has been beneficial. If people in New York had paid attention to what we were doing, I would probably still be doing the same. It was tough when we got there, there wasn’t much room for young writers and actors to have their say. And we were giving this opportunity. It wasn’t like you had to go to Yale or anything. It was like, someone knew someone and they were really good.
AP: You described a depressing experience involving a musical play that you co-wrote and you were flipped into a comedy by a regional theater handling it. You did stand-up in college, but how did you turn it into a career?
Black: I opened for every show we did (at the Downstairs Theater Bar). And then on Saturday nights, we’d do a free show where I’d do stand-up, then I started going around town to Catch a Rising Star and a bunch of other clubs. The lineup (in Rising Star) was me, Kevin Meaney, Mario Canton. These are the people I usually worked with, and it was great because I learned something from each and every one of them. I was transitioning from a comic who had never worked in clubs, and now I had to take everything I was doing on stage to work in a club. Dennis Leary was a bit on the smoke and it was fantastic. Mine was a bit (outrageous) on smoking. So I gave up my bit on smoking.
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