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Do It Again: Comedian Lewis Black Talks Pandemic, Return To Stage

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Comedian Lewis Black recently returned to the road after a hiatus that stretched hundreds of days, and the pandemic has done little to quiet Black's comedic sensibilities.

Lewis Black performs at Salina’s Stiefel Theatre on Friday, Jan. 28.

The veteran comedian and actor says that his current act focuses on his time spent in isolation in 2020 and 2021 as he waited for the all-clear to return to the world of comedy.

Black has appeared in films such as “Inside Out” and on television shows such as “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” and “SpongeBob SquarePants.” His numerous comedy specials include “Black To The Future” and, most recently, “Thanks For Risking Your Life.”

A playwright and author, he is also a longtime commentator on “The Daily Show” via his “Back In Black” segment.

He recently spoke with KMUW about his current tour and the return of the popular “The Rant Is Due” segment of his concerts.

Interview Highlights

You filmed your last special, “Thanks Risking Your Life,” right as the pandemic was getting underway. What happened after that? 

I can't really tell you because my whole act is based on it now. [Laughs.] So that's out the window! Really, that's what I talk about in the act now. What happened was that I closed the door, spent 10 weeks in solitary confinement. What'd I learn? I learned why solitary confinement is considered a punishment. Your brain can only entertain itself so much and then it literally gets fed up and comes after you.

What's the target of the virus? Well, it's people who are older. Me! People who have underlying conditions. Me! I’m scrubbing all of my fruits and vegetables with … Clorox.

I don't think that was particularly healthy.

At what point did it look like you might get back on the road? Did you have any trepidation about it? 

It was 500 days [between gigs]. I wasn't going to go on the road and do socially distanced. I wasn't going to go and work at outdoor movie theaters. I wasn't doing Zoom. All of that was out the window. It was 500 days and that was after I'd been vaccinated. I'd been able to get out before that but I was really dealing only with people who I knew, the concept of pods, people who had been hiding. They had followed all of what was considered the protocols that were keeping them as safe as possible. I didn't want to go out [without the vaccine].

Once I hit the road, I hit it too hard. I did one performance in upstate New York, then 100 days later I started doing shows. I was only going to go out and do 50 minutes, but I was excited to be in front of an audience and suddenly I was doing six shows in four days, which is psychotic. Nobody mentioned, “Maybe this is a mistake.” My body didn’t calculate it. I had to stop. I wore myself out and made myself sick. I had to stop again and then I finally got out this past December. The only way that I could have really gone out after being locked up for 600 days was to be performing my act on a gurney with an IV drip. I was standing there, bellowing like a lunatic, going 100 miles per hour, ranting and raving. It’s a lot. It never seemed like a lot but then you get away from it and suddenly [you realize how intense it is].

Now I kind of have a grip on a grip on it. I've got an act together that I really like. I have like an hour and 20 minutes of material and hopefully, by the time I get to Salina, I'll be able to do "The Rant Is Due" again, where I do my act, then leave the stage and come back and read rants of people who have sent them in, from Kansas, or especially Salina. I try to do it from the city, or if it’s something somebody wrote that’s especially timely. I do like 15, 20 minutes and it goes throughout the world. I’m ready to do that again.

Jedd Beaudoin is host/producer of the nationally syndicated program Strange Currency. He has also served as an arts reporter, a producer of A Musical Life and a founding member of the KMUW Movie Club. As a music journalist, his work has appeared in Pop Matters, Vox, No Depression and Keyboard Magazine.