Despite his well-known temper, comedian Lewis Black says he doesn't hate President Donald Trump or any political leader on either side of the aisle. His comedy speaks to something much deeper.
"I basically have yelled about both sides and I don't hate him," Black says. "I've never hated him. My job is the same job with all of those presidents. I've never really liked any of them and the one I did like when I was a kid was John Kennedy, and one of the reasons I liked him because they kept everything a secret. I didn't know he was fucking everything in sight."
The anger that fuels Black's signature style of teeth-grinding, face-shaking, spittle-flying comedy is about the things that the movers and shakers of our country aren't talking about, Black says.
"I ignore it because there's other stuff," he says. "The joke becomes about how they can't get infrastructure done. There's nothing political about it."
Every stop on Black's latest comedy tour, which includes a show this Saturday at The Majestic, ends with a segment called "The Rant is Due" in which members of the audience submit their own questions and commentaries that he reads onstage and to the audience watching online. Black says the people who chime in on social media don't care about the president's latest scandal or even the presidential race in 2020 that seems to get more attention on cable news than any other event.
"All everyone in every town screams about is the infrastructure," Black says. "Every town, and these people can't get it done? 'I can walk and chew gum at the same time.' No, you can't and you can't make it a political issue. And why can't you make it a political issue? Here's the level of stupidity of the joke. Because a vote has a left side and a right side. Ha ha, ha ha ha, ha. A road is nonpartisan."
Black is one of the most popular and critically acclaimed modern satirists, and he has been doing stand-up since the '80s while he was pursuing his dream of being a playwright in New York. He found a national audience on Comedy Central's The Daily Show in 1996 when former ESPN SportsCenter anchor Craig Kilborn served as the show's first fake news anchor. Black's rants earned him a regular spot with his "Back in Black" segments, making him the longest-serving correspondent on The Daily Show, through Jon Stewart's and Trevor Noah's tenures.
Black usually appears on the show in a suit with a tie that's never knotted all the way up, a look that he says came from his days as a civil servant when he worked as an administrative assistant for the anti-poverty agency Appalachian Regional Commission. Black helped direct and deploy social workers to provide medical and educational aid to families in the area who desperately needed it.
"Most of the folks there who were working in the upper echelon were under President Nixon and they were Nixon employees and the idea Nixon had was they were going to turn Appalachia into a tourist destination by building golf courses so the people of Appalachia would become caddies. They were going to put highways through it, which made some sense, but I thought that people would just be able to drive through it faster.”
The job required Black to wear a tie, but he hated having to take a fashion order from an authority figure.
"When I worked for the Appalachian Regional Commission, I wouldn't wear a tie, and they told me I had to wear a tie," Black says. "So I put the tie around my neck, and then they told me I had to knot the tie and that's the way I did it. I'd knot the tie, but then I wouldn't pull it all the way up, and then they'd say you know you're supposed to pull it up all the way. I said, nope, knotted is all I'm supposed to do. You choose to wear the tie that way and that's why no blood is getting to your head, asshole."
Mistrust and disdain for authority are the chief cornerstones of Black's comedy, but his targets are more about the stupidity the system they run creates.
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"I have rarely talked about presidents, rarely," he says. "I give them a little bit of time. I've talked about their pathology (or) whatever it is they show that's a little nutty, like going back to [Ronald Reagan] and the trickle-down theory. I would do jokes about what the theory was, not about Ronald Reagan. There were no jokes to make about Ronald Reagan."
Black says it's disheartening to see the discussion turn away from the subjects we should really address.
"Once the news took the tweets out and started reading the tweets and essentially legitimizing them, that's my job, not your job," Black says. "I read those things, especially a lot of the ones they are reading. I get reading policy ones, but the other ones? Nuh uh, I get to read those.
"There are things just as important as policy, like facts. I think social media has played a role in it. ... I think TV news has played a role in it. All of it kind of comes into play. You get your time by being an asshole and that increases the ratings and [President Trump] taught that so now they're all following suit."