Having words with the angriest guy on "The Daily Show"
As the bile-filled host of the "Back in Black" segment of Comedy Central's "Daily Show with Jon Stewart," Lewis Black doesn't take any prisoners. His no-bullshit rants and anti-establishment attacks have made him a hero of disaffected folks everywhere. With the popularity of "The Daily Show" rising faster than his cholesterol, Black is traveling across the country and trying to smack some sense into the average American. This Wednesday, he brings his bite to Burlington.
From his New Orleans hotel room, Black spoke with Seven Days about his career, politics and the funny business.
SEVEN DAYS: How did you get started in comedy?
LEWIS BLACK: It was at Chapel Hill, where I went to school. The last summer I was there my friends had a band and asked me to come down and do some comedy. So I started doing it on a lark. I always did it on a lark. I though I'd end up teaching theater or something.
SD: What drove your comedy when you first began?
LB: Stupidity. I think it came out of a desperate need. I just had these stories and they were funny.
SD: Do you feel most of your work comes out of humor or anger?
LB: Humor, I think. It's definitely fueled by anger on stage because the person I am onstage is so over-the-top.
SD: Would you consider yourself to be an angry person?
LB: I was for a long time because I was in a business that really can get to somebody that has any amount of intelligence. In my business, if you aren't incensed about the way things are... you just go, please!
SD: What's a typical day like for you?
LB: Usually travel [laughs], with a couple hours of interviews and a lot of time on the phone with people [adopts whiney voice]: You know what we're gonna do next, we're going to be here, here, we're going to march into the Sudetenland.
SD: What makes you happy?
LB: Um, phew. Sex. Golf.
SD: What turns you on? Golf?
LB: [Laughs] Something that's funny and smart. Smarts turn me on. Intelligence. Something that makes me look at something differently.
SD: "The Daily Show" has become one of the most popular news programs on television. Aside from the humor, what brings in viewers actually looking for news?
LB: I think Jon helps. The cast helps. I think the writing, which besides just being funny has a strong point of view. We find interesting stories. I think it's just that we have an interesting take on things.
SD: Where do you think the current media is failing?
LB: One, just simply in terms of television media is, you don't put 50 things on a screen. What's the purpose? I didn't turn on television to read. I don't think print media is really the devil. I think in a way it's the last real hope. It forces people to use their brains. At least they have to look at something and figure out the words.
SD: If you were in a mud wrestling match with ["Daily Show" correspondent] Mo Rocca, who would come out on top?
LB: Oh, I would. He's a sissy. I'd just have to break his glasses and pull on his bow tie.
SD: Who's the sexiest person in the world?
LB: Uh, [long pause], whew! At the moment, Charlize Theron, but she's fading on me. You know who I thought was really hot was Jennifer Connolly, but then I kinda met her and it just wasn't the same. It was a pity. Then there's the other one who was in "The Wonder Years." I liked her a lot. [Long pause] I still like her a lot.
SD: Do you think that Iraq is the new Vietnam?
LB: Oh, yeah [laughs]. That the government doesn't get it, even McCain, I was shocked. When you are using the exact same statements you used before... I lived through this once, it's like a rerun. From the time we started to go over there I thought, "Uh-oh, here we go." It's a reverse-domino theory. The idea in Vietnam was we keep democracy there, we stop Commun-ism. [The idea in Iraq is] we put a democracy in and everyone will all of a sudden be going, "Oh, boy, I can't wait until they open a Ben & Jerry's here."
They say we don't have enough troops... it's all the same statements over and over again. Then you read that 10 percent of the people that we are fighting against are the people we hired to be on our side! And the fact that they didn't expect this at all is exactly the same thing. They had no clue that there'd be guerrilla warfare in Vietnam, and [they thought] we could just beat the shit out of them by pummeling them with all sorts of artillery, and this concept [in Iraq] that they had no expectation that there would be this kind of resistance.
SD: So what the fuck is up with George W. Bush?
LB: He's insane! Either he's insane or I'm insane. At this point one of us has to be.
SD: So what's going to change when you're in charge?
LB: I'm not going to be in charge because... Well, look at what [the Bush administration] did to Kerry, imagine what he could do to me. "We have on good authority that Mr. Black did an overdose of mescaline at the age of..." "Yes, I did." By the time November 4th rolls around, we'd just get to the end of my drug days.
SD: Are those days over now?
LB: Oh, yeah, I just can't... Why would you need to do it, this country is a drug.
SD: When you and Stewart go out drinking, who carries who home?
LB: Oh, he doesn't go out drinking. He's a wuss. He's married. He's a fun wuss, but we never ever have time to hang out. It's too bad, we kind of enjoy each other.
SD: If you had to do it all over again, what would you change?
LB: This is my advice for people breaking into my business: I wouldn't tell people who are in a position of power and whom I might have to deal with again that they are full of shit or should go fuck themselves. I used to just say, "That's bullshit" to people and think I was going to be respected for it. That was pretty