Speak with Lewis Black for a few seconds and you realize that the comedian has some things on his mind: namely, the 2016 presidential election, something he says has generated its fair share of humor. But, he adds, it’s not necessarily something that has him laughing.
“It’s funny-on-the-surface funny,” he says. “As a comic, I look at it and I laugh. As a person, it’s utterly reprehensible. You’ve got a two-party system. I’ve never been thrilled with either the Democrats or the Republicans, no matter what people think, and the fact of the matter is, this is it. Enough’s enough.
"You can tell me that you’ve elected an outsider and that there’s an insider or whatever. You can talk about it all you want. This is beyond belief. You’ve basically reached a point where people aren’t voting for people. Most people are going to be voting against someone. It’s not the way it’s supposed to work. Why did I take civics? Do they even teach it anymore?”
Black says that despite living in the Information Age, we still have a problem getting basic information.
“We’re living in this in-between times,” he says. "We used to be in what I guess was an industrial age; now we’re in a technological age. Newspapers are going out the window, and it’s like both sides have a different set of facts. How is that possible? People just want to seem to make things up and think it’s true. Every time I read something now, I gotta go check to make sure it’s true. Who’s got the time for this? Every day there ought to be something you go to on the Internet and it goes: ‘Fact Sheet. And here’s what the facts are, whether you like it or not.'”
But Black’s current tour doesn’t see him talking about politics. Mostly, he says, he’s talking about his own experience and issues that matter to him.
“I’m leaving comedy; I’m going to do something else. I talk about mental health. I think we’ve been through the longest period of time where there’s been a concerted effort on the part of the leadership to make us, it used to be, ‘boy, isn’t this crazy,’ now it’s, ‘they’re making us crazy,'" Black says. "We have a mental health problem, and these two don’t help. If you don’t think there’s a mental health problem in this country, take a good look at Congress, ‘cause it’s the largest in-patient clinic in the world.”
Black is serious about mental health issues, citing people that he’s known in his personal life as the inspiration for his current material. Some of his concern, he adds, comes down to how people with mental health issues are treated.
“We used to at least try to treat people who had a difficult time dealing with reality,” he says. “Now we send them to prison. It doesn’t work. Show some compassion. That’s the one thing this campaign, I hope, has done, is to get people to realize that you better up your compassion level and get a grip on your reality. You can sit there and get as excited or upset about all of this as you want. The real question is, how are you going to make it to the door? It’s not about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. It’s about what’s going to be in your refrigerator. The rest of it’s nonsense. And neither of them fill the refrigerator. Neither of ‘em. Get a grip!”
He says that he’s already figured out what he’s going to do in his post-comedy life.
“I’m opening a gun store,” he says. “That way it allows me to speak about guns in any fashion that I want and I can have any opinion that I want and they can yell about it and I can go, ‘Well, you can yell about it all you want. I got a gun store.’ That’s where, I think, I’m going to go. It’s a money-maker.”
Black says he even has a location in mind.
“I’m going to open it in an economically depressed area in Alabama, and I’m calling it Jewie Jew’s Gun Store,” he says. “People are going to flock there, just to find out who Jewie Jew is and just what he’s doing in Alabama selling guns.”
Black’s brand of comedy relies heavily on anger. He says that finding his voice on the stage was one that involved some deep searching and some surprises.
“You almost have to work backwards to who you are,” he says. “You basically have a sense of how to make people laugh, and then it’s figuring out what you do that makes people laugh. Then you have to realize, ‘Oh, it’s partly my personality.’ So you gotta put that on the line, and it takes a long time for you to let your personality come out, because what if they don’t like it?
"I realized, finally, that people laughed when I was angry. When I get upset, people find that funny. And so, I created a bigger-than-life character. So, when people get upset with me when I’m onstage, what I’m saying, I go, ‘What’s the matter with you? I’m presenting someone who’s crazier than you could ever be and you’re taking it seriously.'”
Black performs at Wichita’s Orpheum Theater Friday evening.
Jedd Beaudoin is the host of Strange Currency. Follow him on Twitter @JeddBeaudoin.
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