Lewis Black Is One Angry Comic

Comedian, actor and playwright Lewis Black performs his stand-up comedy act at the Hollywood Theatre at the MGM Grand Hotel/Casino September 26, 2006 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Grammy-nominated entertainer's HBO special, "Lewis Black: Red White & Screwed" will be released on DVD on October 3. GETTY IMAGES/Ethan Miller

Lewis Black's particular blend of high blood pressure and hilarity erupts regularly on Comedy Central's "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart."

"Let me be serious: divorce is a sacred institution between a man and a woman who hate each other," he said on one episode. "God wanted Adam to pay alimony to Eve, not Steve."

He has transformed what appears to be an anger management problem into one of the most popular comedy routines around.

"They identify with my frustration and anger — not mine, but the character's," he told Sunday Morning correspondent Serena Altschul. "If I just let it rip, what would happen if I opened the Pandora's box [is] cause a lot of people to say to me, 'You say the things I want to say.'"

In one routine he blasts Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) who was the Democratic nominee for president in 2004.

"How did you Democrats find Kerry?" he said. "What is the matter with you people? Did you not listen to him speak?"

And these days, Lewis Black is saying those kinds of things everywhere. He appears in movies like "Man of the Year" with Robin Williams, and "Unaccompanied Minors," which opens next month. His foul-mouthed HBO monologues are ratings gold — not to mention his football rants which appear regularly on "Inside the NFL."

Still, whenever he can, the 58-year-old Black hits the road, to do what he loves best: Stand up comedy. Sunday Morning caught up with him at the Tabernacle, in Atlanta, Ga., where he packed the house. Black said his audience ranges in age from 12 to 86.

"We think a lot alike. I may not look like it, but I can relate," Black fan Woody Elston said.

Larry Zimmerman even brought his teenagers. He didn't worry about the cursing because he said his kids hear worse in school.

For Black, the reasons for his righteous indignation scream from the front pages every day.

"It just starts with irritation and frustration," he said.

"I read the paper and there's something that makes me crazy and I start thinking about how to make it work in my act and then I turn around, there's thirty more things that happened," he said on stage. "Five months ago I go to sleep, no problem with immigration at all, it's not even discussed. I wake up, 'Mexicans everywhere! Run, run, run! Scurry, scurry!"

"One of the interesting things about comedy is it's tension release, and nothing creates tension faster than anger," he told Altschul. "I do think people are on a steady diet of 'I'm gonna snap.'"

The war in Iraq really sets him off.

"Iraq didn't have the weapon, Iran did," he said during a stand-up routine. "So we went into Iraq. What's the matter? Couldn't the CIA tell the difference between an n and a q?"

"The fine line that you do when you do political comedy is, as long as you have that laugh, you're fine," Black told Altschul.

Despite all his anger, Black says he's healthy — his blood pressure is perfect. "Everything else is probably rotting, but the blood pressure is spectacular," he said.

His parents approve of his rants and are often in the audience. They even provide material for his act.

Lewis Black grew up in Silver Spring, Md., in the fifties, the eldest son in a middle class Jewish family. The anger, he says, is a family trait and so is the humor. He said the sarcasm, in particular, comes from his mom.

"We would watch Walter Cronkite," Black said. "Have dinner while the news was on. I don't think the Bush family ever did that, did they? So we would watch every night and my mother would scream through the meal — she'd scream, just become apoplectic."

And yet, it took a long time for Black to realize just how funny his anger could be. He didn't start yelling on stage until a fellow comic told him to try it.

"He saw me one night performing and he said, 'I'm not angry and I'm yelling, and you're angry and you're not yelling,'" Black said. "'When you go back on stage, start yelling.' And then I did, and that was it. That was literally like a light bulb went off."

He made quite a leap from being a playwright and having penned about 40 plays.

"It's pretty stupid," he said about his old career.

Now that he's wised up, Black is constantly in demand. He said he has no time for a personal life with all his professional commitments.

"If I had an animal it would be dead," Black said. "The plants barely survive. You know, you wait your whole life for this opportunity, and when opportunity comes, it's hard to say no."
  • Caitlin Johnson

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