Lewis Black talks television, politics and wrestling

by Lindsay Barnes | 10/28/03 6:00am

In the jungle of television, Lewis Black is the closest thing to "a voice crying in the wilderness." Every week during his popular "Back in Black" segment on Comedy Central's "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart," he rants about whatever outrageous news items he can find.

Black is also playwright with a degree from the Yale School of Drama -- he has over 40 produced plays to his name. In addition, he appeared in such films as Woody Allen's "Hannah and Her Sisters" and such television series as "Homicide: Life on the Street."

But, he says his true calling is his inflammatory brand of comedy. Indeed, as the "Back in Black" segment gained popularity, Black transcended the label of comedian and is now, to quote the classic film "Network," an "articulator of the popular rage."

Tonight he graces the stage of Spaulding Auditorium. He recently sat down for an interview with The Dartmouth.

The Dartmouth: What first made you

decide that you wanted to be a comedian?

Lewis Black: I just did it for fun. People would laugh at what I had to say. It was something I did on the side, I didn't think it'd become what I did for a living. I wanted to be a playwright, how dumb is that? This came by accident.

The D: What was your experience at the Yale School of Drama like?

LB: Really great on some levels and some of the people I worked with, and pretty bad in what was done in the name of art. People who want to go into theater as I did, and you're going in for a master's degree, there's no reason for it to be a brutal experience -- the profession will do that. Instill confidence, you idiot!

The D: In what way was it brutal?

LB: There was stuff there beyond belief.

One year we had January off because of the energy crisis. So there was this kid from L.A. who wanted to learn how to act, and he had a problem with a sibilant "s," and they told him he should have his jaw broken and reset during the month and that would improve his speech.

You don't do that to someone! When you're in that position, you don't use that power like that! I literally left the lunch where I heard this and went to the Dean of the School and said "What are you doing?" They would tell people to change their personality or that you call your mother too much. I've never seen anything quite like it.

The D: How do you prepare for "Back in Black" every week?

LB: I get it in the mail because I'm on the road, and then I send back suggestions, and I'll go in at 5 o'clock and we'll shoot it at 6 [p.m.]. I'll throw in my suggestions, and we'll go from there.

The D: With "The Daily Show" winning Peabody Awards and being broadcast on CNN International, do you worry about people taking it too seriously as a news source?

LB: No. God. You need medical care if you do that. I'm worried more about us taking ourselves too seriously than them.

The D: How did you develop your "yelling" style of stand-up?

LB: I used to perform in this room in the City, and we'd have this late Saturday night show and my friend from Michigan would come up and do a show with me. And he once said "You're angry, and you don't yell, and I'm not angry and I yell, so you should yell." It was the lynchpin of what I needed to do. I'm surprised it took me that long to figure it the f-- out.

The D: Given your performance persona, when people meet you, do they expect you to be ranting and raving all the time?

LB: Some do, and then they say "Oh! You're kind of nice!" I mean if I did that all the time I'd be dead.

The D: Jay Leno once remarked that once you leave stand-up for an extended period of time that you can never go back, do you believe that?

LB: It's true. He's right. You can come back, but it's tough. It takes a while to get back to it. It's really like marrying a bitch.

I mean it's constant, it's like nagging, you gotta go do it. I'm off two or three days and it takes a day to get back into shape. It's like a muscle; it's like going to the gym or something. That's a little ridiculous, the gym, but it's a craft you can't leave alone for very long.

The D: As a comedian, is there anyone or anything that is off limits for satire?

LB: For me, the only thing is abortion. Aside from that, everything's fair game.

The D: Why did you choose to do a show at Dartmouth?

LB: I couldn't find a school in Antarctica. I'm always intrigued why people would go nowhere to go to school. When [I was looking at colleges to attend] it was all male, it was mythical in its status as an insane asylum. I literally looked at Dartmouth, saw the average temperature and said "F-- you!" Plus it was all guys. I figured I might as well be a priest.

The D: How are college audiences different from traditional club audiences?

LB: A little more attentive, they get the language more. They pay more attention to what I'm saying in a sense. I can kind of go onabout more topics because I have more time.

The D: What's the thing you'd most like to see happen when the Democratic presidential primary rolls through here?

LB: I'd like to see a wrestle-off because I'm sick of hearing them talk. There's nine of them, Dean's leading, he gets a bye. Let the other eight wrestle, and then you'll have four and then two, and they can go off at it. They're not going to speak English.

And Dean has become this beloved of the press, and kids like him. And he says "I was against the war." Well where were you? It's not like you were this giant voice in the wilderness, Howard! What good is it to be saying you're against the war in Vermont?!

The D: Do you have any advice for some of the future leaders of America that inhabit this campus?

LB: If they're really leaders, they would go someplace where the sun shines, not constantly huddling together next to a fire looking for a dog to touch.

No, you have to take some speech classes, half these guys don't know how to do a speech. And if you're going to lead, a leader is a facilitator, find who's really good at what they do and let them lead. It doesn't mean entitlement, which is what most of these guys seem to think.

And you've got to stay true to your personality and your beliefs. And if you can't do that don't f--ing do it for a living! Go into business if you want to be a c--sucker.

The D: One of your more famous bits is about how you once heard a woman talking about how a horse got her into college. Did you ever figure that out?

LB: People have given me all sorts of things, and one campus had an equestrian team, and that's as close as I can figure. But it's not something I spent a lot of time thinking about.

The story continues actually, but I don't do it in my act. The end of the story is that the girl said this and then I went to a diner and these two guys who look like they're out of the movie "Swingers" show up. One says "it's not moral." And the other guy says "Yes it is, we're teaching him a lesson. Remember when I f--ed your girlfriend to prove what a slut she was?"

That's the end of that story. I couldn't figure out why that guy didn't just punch him.