Lewis Black owes his career to Texas twice over. Texas' favorite son, George W. Bush, is an inviting target for the apoplectic political humor Black delivers on Comedy Central's The Daily Show. But it is to Texas that Black also owes his late-'80s decision to become a comic. Black was a struggling dramatic playwright and actor during the reign of W's father and had come to Houston to produce one of his own plays. The theater management proved as inept as the audience was indifferent and, to make his plane fare back to New York, Black headed across town to try out at Spellbinder's, a local comedy club. They immediately signed him to a long-term gig. "I was making more money in a week than I was getting for a play that I worked three years on," Black says. The contrast led to his Houston epiphany, "if one is possible in that humidity," he says.
The career change has paid off. Black's routine has always been vein-popping, but the content has evolved. "At first," he says, "I was just screaming about the weather or whatever." But under Presidents Clinton and Bush Jr., the country became increasingly polarized politically, and Black found that his disgust with the direction of the country was striking a chord with audiences. Now, Black is infamous for the scathing sarcasm with which he excoriates the nation's political elite. Beyond The Daily Show, he has starred in a recent HBO special and has a book titled Nothing's Sacred due out in April. Black also does 250-plus stand-up shows around the country every year. With such an exhausting schedule, how does he maintain his impressive intensity? "How do [politicians] maintain their stupidity?" Black says. "Now that'simpressive. When they slow down, I'll slow down."
Fans can expect more of the same at the Lakewood Theater on Saturday. "Generally, at this point in my life, people know what they're getting," he says. And they love it, even in Bush country. Last year, the theater had to turn away hundreds of people hoping to see left-wing humorist Bill Maher, says Wayne Roden, one of the theater's owners. This time, they were ready, and when tickets for Black's show quickly disappeared, a second show was added.
Black dabbles in acting, appearing last month on an episode of Law & Order: SVU as a radio shock jock. "I'm a dramatic actor in the sense that Lassie is," Lewis says. "I have a very narrow bandwidth to work with." <