Lewis Black is one busy dude. If he’s not sharing his hilarious twitchy insights on “The Daily Show” or Conan, he’s in some movie, like the new Robin Williams flick “Man of the Year.” And he’s on the road a most of the year, talking to audiences like the one he’ll confront Thursday night at the Palace Theatre. CARY STEMLE caught up with him while he was in South Carolina at a golf resort where the woman who answered the phone asked: “Lewis Black — is he an employee or a guest?”
LEO: I tried you at the hotel. They didn’t seem to know you were there.
LEWIS BLACK: Of course not; that would require intelligence. This is like a major hotel. What are you gonna do?
LEO: If you were in my presence, I’d be impressed and certainly know you were there. I guess they get a lot of people …
LB: I guess. You’d think they’d have a list though. They don’t know who you fuckin’ are.
LEO: Guys like you walk a line between being serious and angry and agitated, but being funny. You’re topical, but you’re not on “Meet the Press.”
LB: You gotta remember you’re not on “Meet the Press.” That’s important.
LEO: How do you see your role in the grand debate?
LB: My role, first and foremost, is to make people laugh. It’s the only way people can step back from what’s going on. It allows a certain amount of breathing room. But the most important thing is to get the laugh.
LEO: You obviously keep up with what’s going on in politics.
LB: Moreso now than I used to.
LEO: It’s almost too easy, isn’t it?
LB: It’s easy and it’s hard. There’s so much stuff it’s beyond belief. It’s exhausting, is what it is. But what’s amazing is, you still have people who think — and this is what’s stunning — you’ve got people who still think that whatever is coming out of the White House or the Republican Party line is legitimate. That’s beyond belief. At this point, with all of the information, it is beyond belief.
LEO: Does that say people don’t care or just can’t be bothered?
LB: I just think it’s hard to let go. Once you commit to something — people stay married for 30 years and they’re miserable, so this has not been that long. People basically don’t wanna think they were wrong. So if you’ve lined up behind them and they seem to have veered off-course, but they still talk as if they haven’t, and you wanna feel like you haven’t made a mistake, you’ve gotta stay on point.
LEO: Nowadays, admitting you’re wrong is a complete concession of weakness.
LB: Of course, especially considering how macho these guys are.
LEO: The last time you were here, you spoke about the Janet Jackson debacle and how that had chilled speech, and how the only safe place to say some things now is in a live setting.
LB: It is. I get a certain amount of leeway on Conan and on “The Daily Show,” but nothing compares to a live setting. … We go back and forth. 9/11 occurred and all these guys said, “Good, we can make it 1956 again.” And that’s where they’re goin’. Eventually people go, “You know, this isn’t working out,” and they’ll bring it back again. The thing is, while they’re doing that, the Internet has exploded with tons of stuff they can’t control. If you try to stop the freedom of expression in this country, it’s gonna be worse than if you let it go. Howard Stern wasn’t going any further than Howard Stern should go. They’re insane. They’re afraid of the mammary glands. Really. What was that thing recently — a woman took some 9-year-olds to a museum and there were pictures, 16th, 17th, 18th century pictures, and the women are pieces of their paintings. Their breasts were exposed, some were nude, and they fired the teacher. It’s a painting, you fuckin’ asshole.
LEO: I recall your line: Some people are so afraid of gays that they think they’re gonna bust in their door and have sex while they’re having dinner. We had a gay marriage amendment last time, and in today’s Courier-Journal, there’s a story about a state legislator who wants to introduce a bill banning our university from offering benefits to domestic partners.
LB: That person really is — that’s the kind of thing. He’s probably a Christian. The great thing I read recently, Christ didn’t really talk about gay people, so these people are absurd. It reaches the point where they’re absurd. They have no idea how out of time and out of space they are. Look, start a village somewhere. Start one of those things like in that movie where the guy lived on TV all the time.
LEO: “The Truman Show.”
LB: Yeah, “The Truman Show.” Go create your little place and there’ll be no queers there and it’ll be great for you.
LEO: On the topic of red state/blue state, Kentucky’s a red state, more than we used to be. But that can be a simplistic description — you hear people say the country’s really more purple.
LB: It is. There’s no such thing — it’s moronic. From about the early ’50s to sometime in the ’80s, all the red states were actually blue states. Then I go to states and some of the people there are Democrats and some are Republicans, so it just depends. Most states are really 50-50.
LEO: It seems that being on the road, as you are, you’d get a better feel for what’s really going on.
LB: I think I’m more in touch in a lot of ways, unless I’m completely crazy or my audience is fooling me, than these people who think they know what the pulse of the nation is, because I’m dealing with people all the time. People walk in to see my work. They’re Republicans and they get it, and they’re Democrats and they get it. It isn’t difficult. It doesn’t take brain surgery. A lot of things they’re talking about are socials issues. A lot of us agree, live and let live.
LEO: It’s amazing how so many things that shouldn’t be dealt with by politicians have become issues.
LB: They just outlawed dildos in Texas. But you can still buy a butt plug. You can buy a dildo, but it has something on top of it. I can’t remember what it is, but if you go online, it’s true, they’ve outlawed dildos.
LEO: Care to venture a prediction about what we’ll see out of the White House after the mid-terms when there’s nothing else for them to worry about?
LB: I think they will have stuff to worry about. They may lose both houses. Part of it is that the Democrats aren’t stepping up, and that doesn’t help. Not that I’m a Democrat, but somebody’s gotta step up.
LEO: How much of what we see on stage is you?
LB: When I’m in Los Angeles for more than three hours, that’s who I am. But most of the time I’m not like that, or I’d be dead.
LEO: How do you talk yourself down?
LB: What’s good is, I know that at the end of the day, I can get rid of anything that bothers me, so it allows me not to be crazy all day.
LEO: What else is occupying your mind these days?
LB: I think it’s just astonishing that this summer they actually stopped in the midst of everything to talk about an amendment to make it criminal to burn a flag. I put that as — in the midst of everything that’s on our plate that we gotta deal with, that’s what they decide to spend a day and a half debating. And that Hillary Clinton decides to come out against flag-burning. And I’m not supposed to know that’s not some sort of political choice made to placate a whole group of voters. It’s absurd. You know, look, has there been some sort of plague of flag-burnings? People aren’t burning charcoal? They started burning flags to get their dinner? C’mon. It’s in the movie, and I talked to Robin about it — they’re selling, you know, panties made of the American flag. C’mon, what’s worse, burning the American flag or screwing it?
LEO: There may not be much hope for change when someone like Hillary Clinton is pandering, so do you think other means will be necessary?
LB: I hope not. I don’t know what’s gonna happen. She’s pandering, McCain’s pandering. They’re all pandering to people who, there’s not that many of ’em. I don’t know why they’re pandering.
LEO: What about the movie?
LB: The critics haven’t been thrilled with it, but people seem to like it. We came in third — what else can you ask for?
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