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Black (and blue) Comedy 

Talkin' smack with Comedy Central's resident crank

A while back, one of Lewis Black's former managers came up with the idea to sell his client as "America's Foremost Authority on Everything."

Of course, Black's not the biggest fan of the title (is he a big fan of anything?) -- to him, it sounded a little too pompous, a little too "windbag," a little too . . . Rush Limbaugh.

However, the man certainly has ideas on most everything, and, as anyone who has seen his segments on Comedy Central's The Daily Show can attest, he's not afraid to let people hear them. Actually, this may be understating it. Black prefers the same scorched-earth method popularized by William Tecumseh Sherman. If Black manages to piss off everybody, well then he's proven everyone's got something in common.

Granted, being a pissed-off comedian is not a new thing. In fact, it's damn near a necessity if you ever hope to be really funny. Which isn't to say that the numerous miniaturist "what's the deal with" comics out there are in the wrong field -- far from it. The world needs magazine writers as well as Nabokovs, after all. However, like most magazine articles, airline food or cereal-themed jokes are usually forgotten soon after being uttered. But the Truth? The truth is always funny. It's why people can quote entire Bill Hicks and Richard Pryor routines 10 and 20 years after they were first delivered.

Lewis Black, then, prefers to split the difference. The gray area, if you will -- equal parts throwaway pop culture and biting satire. Whatever it is, it's worked -- the Charlotte show is the first of dozens scheduled for this tour. We spoke recently with the cantankerous comedian. Here's part of what he had to say -- some of the conversation was lost to a bad phone connection. When I offered to call his cell phone instead, Black declined, in typical fashion. "It would probably sound even worse. Fucking cell phones."

Creative Loafing: You always seem able to temper your routines with at least one or two self-deprecating remarks, which help soften the blow of the other stuff. Is this something you had to learn?

Lewis Black: I think it's just part of my personality, too. You learn (to do) that, I think, pretty quickly. You're up there pontificating, sometimes, and you better get a grip on it pretty quickly. But it's me, too. I'm always sort of appalled at myself.

You began your career as a playwright. Was it hard making the transition from writing plays to doing standup?

I was terrible for a long time. I was a much better writer than I was a comic. I never felt comfortable onstage. I always felt weird. Then it finally kind of kicked in. You become more comfortable up there. I finally learned how to do it, and became comfortable with the fact that I was delivering the lines, not having the middleman (an actor) do it.

Have you considered doing any writing again?

If I came up with a character that used less energy. My problem is I have this character who is very over the top, and rather exhausting!

What's your biggest fear as a comic?

The basic fear you have as a comic is that people aren't going to think you're funny. Once they think you're funny, then it becomes easier. Then, if they're not laughing, it doesn't mean they're completely turned off to you. You know, after years of doing this, you know how to fool around with a piece of material and then get (the audience) back. Your confidence in yourself is reflected in the confidence your audience gives you.

You still teach playwriting and comedy whenever you can. Is this something of a break for you, a chance to give back?

Yeah. I like working with people that are getting into this. I think stand-up is just a great thing, not to become a stand-up, but to get that experience. It makes it easier to audition. And for me it's a break. I just work with them on their stuff and I work with them on the punchlines and if the punchlines don't work then it's their fault, as far as I'm concerned. (laughs)

Does having a good "bullshit detector" make it hard to work in the world of TV?

Yeah, it does. When you're trying to get stuff done like a sitcom or pilot it's unbelievable. You go to these meetings sometimes and you sit there and you go, "you don't get it, guys." It's really awful, especially on the West Coast. They love to have a "lunch," you know. And you sit around and you're like, "Why are we doing this?"

Your records have been indie hits for a while now. Any chance a larger label will pick them up?

With my new stuff, Comedy Central put out Rules of Enragement and they kind of wanted to pick up the other two, but the guy who really produced those wanted to keep them on his label and I thought that was more than legitimate. The other two records, three actually, he puts them on vinyl and sells them. I don't really understand it, this whole vinyl thing, but people seem to love it.

You're known for being willing to take on most anything in your performances and monologues. Is there anything you've pulled back on? Maybe something a little too pointed?

Not really. I mean, there's certain things you just can't find an angle on. Abortion's like that. I just haven't found out how you can do abortion in a comedy act. It's almost impossible. Or even like the night the Gulf War started. You don't really want to go onstage, no matter how much you want to make jokes. You realize people in the audience have kids there and it's really not the place or time to make jokes about it. With 9/11, I just started talking about it. I had just had it. I think that a lot of the guys held back about 9/11, our show did. And I told Jon [Stewart], "the public is much more ready for this than we give them credit for." A lot of the time you get to start talking about it by reacting to the reaction. You're not talking about the event as much as you're talking about the way the event has been treated. What's good about being a comic is that you're right in front of them and the audience tells you.

Lewis Black appears at Ovens Auditorium on Thursday, March 11, at 7:30pm. Tickets are $31.50 and available through Ticketmaster at 704-522-6500.

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