The past few years have been crazy and the stress and uncertainty it has brought upon us all can be overwhelming. Perhaps the best way to react to it is to blow off some steam and have a laugh at the …
The past few years have been crazy and the stress and uncertainty it has brought upon us all can be overwhelming. Perhaps the best way to react to it is to blow off some steam and have a laugh at the absurdity of it all. That’s where stand-up comic, actor, playwright, and correspondent for Comedy Central’s The Daily Show Lewis Black comes in. He’s never been afraid to sound off on politics, history, religion and cultural trends and this could be as good of a time as ever to hear him rant about the current times. Folks can hear what he has to say when Black’s “Off The Rails Tour” comes to the Veterans Memorial Auditorium on 1 Avenue Of The Arts in Providence on March 12 at 8pm.
We had a talk ahead of the show about being cooped up during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, loving to be able to perform again, reflecting on the past few years and him already working on his next special.
Rob Duguay: Right before the COVID-19 lockdown in March of 2020, you performed at the Four Winds New Buffalo Casino in New Buffalo Township, Michigan and it ended up becoming the special Thanks For Risking Your Life that came out later in October of that year. What was it like for you after that show when everything changed? Were you on the road at the time? Did you have to fly or drive home? How did it work out for you?
Lewis Black: I was in my tour bus and I was originally supposed to fly home from O’Hare Airport in Chicago, which is actually the first place where the COVID-19 virus got transmitted from one person to another so I wasn’t going to go there. On a good day that place is a s**thole, so I ended up using my tour bus to take me back home to New York and then like everybody else I was in lockdown for 12 weeks and the amount of time until I did another performance is what this current show I’m doing is about.
RD: How does it feel for you to be back on the road performing? Do you feel a sense of relief and excitement because it was so long since you’ve gotten to rant in front of an actual audience?
LB: I love being able to perform again, it’s helpful when it comes to returning to some form of mental health. It was like being divorced because that’s my primary relationship, with folks who show up to see me, and it was really tough to be cut off. The whole time of being at home for over 500 days, I didn’t cope with it well.
RD: I can totally imagine. Going from that time in 2020 when the pandemic changed everything to now with Joe Biden getting elected President, the attempted insurrection on January 6th of last year, a bunch of vaccines and variants, the current conflict with Russia and Ukraine and the country still being more divided than ever, what are your thoughts on these past couple of years?
LB: Once I make this current tour into a special and that’ll be the next special, really. It’s something that I’ve been thinking about now because partly I have to get over the shock of the fact that there were no adults in the room for the past four to five years. None, none. That’s my difficulty, I feel like we didn’t learn anything in my lifetime and we were no more prepared for this than we were when they said when I was nine in case of nuclear war to get under your desk. If there’s a nuclear bomb heading towards your elementary school, the best way to protect yourself is to put your hands over your head and get under your desk. The only thing getting under your desk will do is that it’ll help you burn faster.
That’s what I felt the first moment they started telling me what we were going to do with this pandemic. I felt, “Wow, we have not come a step closer” and there was no sitting down between Republicans and Democrats. I don’t care what he was up to, there was no sitting down between both parties and declaring that we have a real problem that we have to face. They left the American people to a howling wind, it’s ridiculous.
RD: I couldn’t agree more.
LB: Nowhere along the line did the CDC, Fauci, anybody that I saw explain why these current vaccines were different from other vaccines. I don’t talk about the vaccines a lot in my act but I do talk about how it would have been nice if they explained it. It’s funny, maybe we’d be further along but they didn’t, they literally treated it as something else to divide people up. It’s madness and it doesn’t make sense. In my act I talk about how I’m still trying to recover from the thought that everybody seemed to be waiting for the vaccine and when it came along that everybody would get it but no.
That really stunned me, so coming up with this is going to be interesting in terms of the next set. I’m starting to work on that now, I got two of the pieces that I dropped out of this current set so the focus can be on what I did during the pandemic because I seriously think it’s very funny. I also included some things about healthcare because I recently got treated in Ireland for a severe health problem. I talk about the differences between our government and the Irish government where we talk about having the best healthcare in the world, which isn’t true. Then I talk about how it relates to gun violence and I’ve waited a long time to find something to use it with because it actually happens, it’s not something you can argue against whether it exists or not.
Around those things, I’ll start to figure out what I’m going to say about what has happened over these past four years. It’s appalling.
RD: I’m looking forward to seeing how the next special is after this tour you’re on. Outside of stand-up, you’ve been doing a lot of voice work in films and television over the past few years with Spongebob Squarepants, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot and the film Inside Out. Do you find that your experience as a playwright and in theater translates to voice acting or do you view it as a way of conveying your personality and who you are into a character?
LB: What I think is great about voice acting is how it gives you a sense of how to read a line. I’ll read something someone has given me and I’ll have a sense of what they want that line and what they want to convey. When I’m given a line for voice over work I get what they want from me and generally they want something that sounds similar to me. With Spongebob I’ve gotten to play Santa which is just phenomenal, I’ve gotten to play Santa three times and you can’t beat that. I’m not performing in front of a camera so especially in Inside Out they really create what I’m doing and what I’m doing physically. When you take all of that out I can just focus on the words, which is great.
RD: Sounds like it’s relatively simple.
LB: All I have to do is come into a studio, read my lines and do the next thing I have to do so it’s perfect.
RD: You’ve talked about how after this “Off The Rails Tour”, you plan on working on your next special and everything but do you have anything else going on this year outside of touring and performing?
LB: I got this Rantcast that I do and it comes out weekly. I started it during the pandemic and it’s kind of how I got through it. It came from me not wanting to do any virtual comedy and I didn’t want to put myself in the position of performing in any way, shape or form in a socially distant way. I wanted to be vaccinated and sure of my health before I went out in front of an audience. The Rantcast kept me in touch with the comedy because the one thing I knew I could do while indoors was reading rants, I could write a rant and I could read somebody’s rant.
For the past few years I’ve done a live video stream called The Rant Is Due where after every show I go back out in front of the audience and do a live stream that’s broadcasted throughout the world and I read rants written by other people. These are usually from people who live in the places I was visiting so in the last year before shit hit the fan, the rants were unbelievable so we included them in the Rantcast. I would talk about stuff going on that week during the beginning and I was never really as happy with that because I had no audience as my backboard and I need an audience to know if the punchlines hit or not. I kind of babble on but if I have an audience in front of me I can focus on coming up with the joke and they really help me write my comedy. Reading those rants was how I stayed in touch because that’s what I knew how to make funny, I didn’t need an audience for that.
I’ve been doing it for over 20 years on The Daily Show so it’s been really easy to do. When I make my way to Providence, I hope folks go to lewisblack.com to find out how to send in rants. I basically try to read the rants sent in by people in that area. We started doing it again since I’ve been back on the road and I’m really pleased because it brings me up to speed and the rants are getting better and better again.
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