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Rant and Roll Over

Irascible comic Lewis Black on the pandemic, the bogeyman of critical race theory, and who he wishes would slap him ahead of his Richmond tour stop.

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The first line of Lewis Black’s most recent comedy special began with the words that would eventually become its title: “Thank you for risking your life.”

Recorded March 13, 2020, the special just barely made it under the wire before lockdowns, PCR tests and Dr. Fauci became a part of our daily lives. The special was nominated for a Grammy – Black’s sixth – but lost earlier this year to Louis C.K.’s “Sincerely.”

Now, America’s favorite ranter is coming to Richmond to discuss the pandemic on his “Off The Rails” tour. Perhaps best-known for the “Back in Black” rants that he’s been performing on “The Daily Show” for more than a quarter century, Black has put out numerous comedy albums, specials, books and appeared in movies that range from Pixar’s “Inside Out” to the Woody Allen comedy-drama “Hannah and Her Sisters.”

Ahead of his stop in Richmond, here’s a Q&A with Black. The following has been edited for length and clarity:

Style Weekly: Tell me about your process of taking what you see on the news and turning it into something funny. I usually just get angry. How do you do that?

Lewis Black: The one break that I had is that I’m funny when I get angry. [Onstage], I will stumble on the punchline because I’m writing it in front of them. I saw the thing, now I’m pissed.

What I’m doing in Richmond is about the pandemic and how I dealt with it, which is pretty funny.

How did you deal with it?

Not well. How do you think I dealt with it? You just talked to me for five minutes. Imagine being in solitary confinement with me. I spent 12 weeks in solitary confinement and I’m still recovering. The fact that we have any other type of punishment for people, that there’s some type of punishment higher than solitary confinement, I don’t know what that could be. Once your brain gets bored, the only target you’ve got left is you, and, whew, it’s a lot smarter than you figured. Most people think they’re idiots. I certainly thought that I was stupid on a lot of levels, but I didn’t realize my brain could eviscerate me.

Any positive outcomes? Did you get into sourdough starters?

[Laughs] I did no sourdough starters. Have you heard [my] joke? I say in my act I came up with 13 new sourdough starters. Who the hell came up with sourdough starters, and why would they want them? And then I added, well, if you’ve got the spare time, why don’t you come over and suck on my sourdough starter dick? That’s how I deal with it.

So, it rises, this sourdough dick? What’s going on in the news right now that’s got you going?

Mostly everything. Neither side seems to really have a grasp of English or how to speak it or how to use it. Neither side seems to have a true grasp of adulthood or how to do it. If you’re really a leader, you’ve got this other side that you’re dealing with, this whole other realm stuff … that’s on the other page. The Democrats can’t seem to get the Republicans to move onto the same page with them.

And that’s part of leadership. I don’t care, that’s your deal. You chose to do it. You should be getting them candy, whatever the fuck it takes. You should be blowing them. I don’t give a shit. That’s your job, and both sides have a penchant to want to win.

It’s not about winning at all. You got a really simple guidepost. It’s called the Constitution. Gerrymandering came about as a result of a bunch of nonsense. These idiots are trying to take advantage of each other. It’s got to stop. You’ve got to worry about what it is you’re going to get done for the people of this country. It’s that simple.

I’m going to worry about critical race theory being taught? What about math? Kids are three and four years behind, and you’re worried about critical race theory? That’s a good place to go. What about reading? They’ve taken cursive writing out. That is a new one. The University of North Carolina, where I went, asked for all my [papers], plays and whatever else, doodles. I just kind of gave it to them.

Kids have gone in and they’ve started to use some of it to do research stuff, because it’s a primary source. So, they’re showing them that I rewrote stuff, that kind of thing, and some of the kids had trouble reading cursive, because they’re not taught cursive, and to not be taught cursive is much worse than believing that someone is teaching critical race theory and then trying to spend the energy and time to show how that’s being done.

That might be something you want to focus on. If a kid can’t read cursive writing, then one might consider them, ha-ha, illiterate. It’s also a different way of thinking. Typing and writing are two different ways to think. You write it in longhand. To take that away is criminal, and you can quote me on that. I’ll be going to the Supreme Court on that one.

You’re the first famous comedian I’ve talked to since the whole Chris Rock thing at the Oscars. Are you tired of hearing people’s takes on that? Where do you stand?

If we can find a rabbit hole to run down, we do it all individually now on epic levels. Everybody does it.

I wish we discussed critical race theory for that long, rather than just saying it’s being taught. It’s not being taught. It should be discussed. Force people to actually show how it’s being taught. Show someone teaching it. If you asked the American people three years ago, “Do you know about critical race theory?” most of them would think “Do you mean, is it about criticism of people who run races?” They wouldn’t fucking know what it was about. I’m avoiding the question.

Black explains that ahead of comedy tours, he does back-to-back interviews for days with different radio stations throughout the country to promote his upcoming stops. Will Smith slapped Chris Rock at the Oscars just before his radio interviews for this tour.

They let [Smith] speak. Everything about it was wrong, from the moment he stood up and slapped him. Everything.

The next day [radio interviewers] go, “What do you think?” I don’t think anything! I’m trying to announce what I’m doing on tour. That’s what I’m trying to announce. This doesn’t help.

Chris, his ticket sales rose initially after the slap, and so finally I started saying, “Do you know a celebrity who’s really big that might come over and slap me so I don’t have to do these radio interviews?” Because I didn’t know that was the way I had to sell tickets.

Who would you pick? Someone like Schwarzenegger so it would really count, or someone wimpier so it wouldn’t hurt?

Big. Big. I mean big. I mean, more popularity. I would say George Clooney. Icon. And he just returns to slap me and then goes back to hanging out with his kids.

It’s already psychotic. [Smith is] protecting his family from a bad joke. Woo. Your family needs to be protected from a bad joke? Chris might as well have thrown a paper airplane at them. It’s ludicrous.

Then I also thought it would be really different if [Smith] went up with a white glove and slapped him across the face, and then they would have had to duel.

Tell me about recording your last standup special just before the pandemic.

It was an accident. I was two months away from filming it. That night, you kind of knew that this was it, we’re going into a lockdown.

The special was written, so what I was going onstage performing was really pretty close to what I was going to do in my special, and all that would happen in the next few months was tightening things up.

Black’s tour manager grabbed some cameras and they filmed it that evening.

The folks I work with said, “That’s it. That’s the special.” And I thought, wow, you think we can do that? They said, “It’s there. We’ll figure out how to edit.”

It became what was essentially an intimate special because we don’t show the audience. It’s not loud. I like it because of that. It was an accident.

What other projects do you have going on?

The thing that’s really important right now is at the end of my shows. It’s called “The Rant is Due.” The show ends, I do my time, and then I walk offstage, and the audience has been told, send in whatever is bothering you, whatever is irritating you. The latest one was somebody ranting about sweet tea, or nuclear weapons in the Ukraine. It can be about anything, you know. Send it in, and I try to read most of the stuff that comes in from the audience that is there that night.

I put it together at the end of the act for a 20-minute live stream that goes throughout the world. We take some of those and put them together in a thing called the “Rantcast” that goes off on a weekly basis. It’s kind of my podcast.

Lewis Black performs May 5 at the Dominion Energy Center, 600 E. Grace St. For more information, visit dominionenergycenter.com or call (804) 592-3330.