Lewis Black built his entire stand-up comedy career on appearing as though he’s about to blow a blood vessel from sheer outrage at world’s stupidity. Years of Daily Show segments and television specials have proven that the closer he comes to suffering an onstage stroke, the bigger the laughs.
I was well aware of this before his performance at Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth last night, so don’t ask me why I expected anything more than an hour and a half of rage. What the audience got for $45 to $65 per seat was a 90-minute "Back In Black" segment loaded with F-bombs.
At his best, Black’s furious rants target some hypocrisy, injustice or idiocy about American life that most of us ignore or take for granted. There were a few of those eye-opening moments last night, but far more times where it was quite obvious he was going through the motions of his angry act -- if not resorting to outright self-parody. Frequently, he’d get so worked up that he could only shake his head and sputter out Bl-bl-bl-bl-bl-bl in a way that sounded something like Roger Rabbit’s “P-p-p-please!” There were stretches when he used this obviously affected tic to punctuate every sentence, almost as if he’d trained himself to use it as a vocal pause in place of “uh.”
The thing is, nothing is too inconsequential or obscure for Black; everything seems to inspire nothing less than screaming, foaming-at-the-mouth fury. Hell, he even seemed outraged by a few undeniably good things, simply because he doesn’t understand them. During one bit early in his routine, he contrasted the difficulty of landing a turntable’s needle on the correct song with the ease of switching tracks on an iPod: “You can change the song just by touching it. You don’t even have to touch it, you just think it and it changes songs. You can switch to another album, and it’s on a thing THIS SMALL!!!” he screamed, spittle flying. So why am I supposed to be so angry about iPods, especially now that I’ve had almost seven years to get used to their existence?
The up-to-the-decade iPod observation was part of a longer routine about losing his virginity. Sex was a recurring theme throughout his set, particularly Americans’ inability to talk about it. For Black, even the extraneous details of sex are worth getting angry about. Sure, candles can set the mood, but they can also SET THINGS ON FIRE!!!
Things improved when the sometime news commentator got back to this century. His takedown of the ethanol scam was particularly incisive. “Here’s how you know when your country has lost its mind: when it takes food and USES IT FOR FUEL!!!” he screamed.
Other good moments were about the current presidential election, which he said feels like it’s been going on since he was 9 years old. Neither candidate impresses him, of course. He’s too old for hope now; after decades of false promise, the most he can hope for is that his hotel has a breakfast buffet. As for McCain’s nomination, “Interesting that you couldn’t do it back in 2000 -- WHEN HE WAS SANE!!!”
Unfortunately, the topic brought out some of his stalest jokes too. Does anyone still remember Fred Thompson? Black does, and he’s still furious that Americans were dumb enough to even consider nominating someone so clueless. Actually, a better way to put it is that Lewis Black is still acting like he’s furious about it. --Jesse Hughey