Lewis Black's Priority is Standup Comedy


  • Clay McBride

In this week's print edition we interviewed Lewis Black, a comic who is just angry enough to make you laugh. In addition to the Grammys he has under his belt for standup, Black is also a playwright, author and a regular recurring guest on the Daily Show. Standup comedy started as a fascination and after fifteen years Black finally found a voice worth shouting about.

Space constraints prevented the entire interview from making it to print. Here is what was left on the cutting room floor.

Kelsey McClure: Hello Mr. Black; how are you doing?

Lewis Black: Oh, it gets better every day doesn't it?

I don't know. You tell me!

Uhhhh... I don't think so. [Laughter]


I don't think so; I really don't think so.

I was going to say, that sounded very strangely optimistic.

No. I mean, I kind of wish it would get better every day, but we just seem to backpedal. It's really like we're going nowhere.


...[On the topic of coming back to comedy]

When you say "a long time to find your voice," I think in comedy speak for some people that could be five years, it could be ten years, it could be twenty years, it could be six months...

Well I was working, from the time I really started doing it until the time I got my voice, was about fifteen years.

I would have thought with your theater and drama background that you would have had a leg up on other comics just from being around performance and being comfortable. When you were doing the drama/theater stuff were you onstage or just doing the writing?

I was mainly writing. I was actually on stage some, but I was really writing. And the problem with standup is I was doing it, and then I wasn't doing it, and then I was doing it, and then I wouldn't do it. You can't do it that way.

Yeah; all or nothing.

You gotta go out and do it as much as you can. You can't just stop and then go back. The only way is you learn it over time. Even now I stopped for ten days, two weeks, a month... Going back the first few shows are, you know... Wow. It's not like a bicycle. You don't remember.

Continue to page two for more of our interview with Black.

Do you go back and watch or listen to your performances to see what hit or missed? Or is that something you can just lock into memory?

It holds pretty steady, you know? Since I work four days out of seven, if I get something then basically I just got to write it down or remind myself and that's it. Once you get to there then you usually know. If something works it gets reinforced by the audience, so that next night you go back to it.

After you had done Carnegie Hall you talked about, "Where do you go from there?" Are you on the path you thought you wanted to be on or are you still tracking it down?

No. I'm pretty much on the path; I'm lucky. Things come along I really don't expect, like I'm doing the voice of a Pixar character coming up, so that's great. The movie comes out like 2015 and I've already done one voiceover for them and we're going back into my part. And it's really great people, so you can't beat that. On occasion I get to do a little bit of TV; I got to do movies and it's been pretty good.

Is standup your main priority now and all the other stuff just something on the side?

Well yeah, I mean I don't really get a lot. If I got more movies I would certainly consider it, but I had like three movies in a row and then my movie career came to light and I hadn't done much before that. I did three big parts and then it just stopped. I don't live in LA and I don't know if maybe that's the reason. I don't know what the reason was, but I certainly would have liked to have done the work and I was getting good at it. It's like okay, "Oh I get it now.... Well no more movies." And it's tough, it's tough sometimes because my schedule now, especially for TV, they'll call and say "OK, we need Lewis in two weeks." And Lewis will be in Tulsa.

But then it's like it feeds back on my standup, so they're all interrelated. As a budding actor I learned about stuff I could do -- maybe not consciously but subconsciously -- for a part I was doing onstage. And that raised a level of confidence onstage. I learned other ways of saying things other than just screaming, and then I got another chance to write. I'm always either working on a book or a play now, and I've gotten to basically write plays, and now my play is being published.

Do you think being a comic has helped you do the things you wanted to do as far as publishing plays? Did you get to use that as an avenue? I guess I should rephrase that because you were already doing plays and theater and then you found comedy, so does it all just come together?

Everything is interrelated in one way or another. The thing is that theater is just really a bitch. It's pretty extraordinary. It's tough enough to write a play, but you take that which is impossible and add on to that trying to get it performed, it's really... there's nothing like it. Maybe poetry, or maybe jazz. But getting there as a playwright, I mean it took a long time, and there were options, and OK, Broadway, but Broadway didn't really work out. It never saw the light of the day, and you couldn't get it done regionally because it seems too commercial, and the whole thing is nuts. I mean even now it's difficult for me to find direction for this play, and it's a romantic comedy. Basically it's to entertain people. Really entertain them, seriously entertain them, and I find it hard pressed to find theaters that will do it. Which I kind of find extraordinary.

It's interesting that you are willing to go down so many different avenues. And I think if someone saw Lewis Black wrote a rom-com they might see that as something silly or even a joke because you come across as this angry person with a whole lot of convictions. And it's just fascinating that that came from a place of just wanting to be an entertainer.

Well you know, that's where I wrote it for. I wrote it four or five years ago initially as a play and a lot of the elements remain the same. And structurally that hasn't changed. The dialogue changed. Four theaters have done it in the last two years and it had unbelievable reviews for it, that's what I find. So now I just wanted to get it around so I could wander around the country.

Could that be a thing? Could you be a traveling director and standup comic on the same tour?

That's just exhausting. That requires too much; you gotta pay too much attention.

A lot of people don't want to see just a straight standup show; I think people get bored too easily. They don't just want to sit and listen for an hour and a half.

Well I'm lucky because so far there is an audience for it.

Lewis Black will be performing at the Peabody Opera House on Friday, October 4. Showtime is at 8 p.m. and tickets start at $36.50.


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