Lewis Black on the things he’ll always love
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The Daily Show is Lewis Black’s most prominent gig, but there’s a lot more to the perpetually exasperated comedian than just spouting steam on TV. He also indignantly lets loose as an author (in books like 2008’s religion-skewering Me Of Little Faith), a stand-up (2006’s The Carnegie Hall Performance nabbed a Best Comedy Album Grammy), and a prolific playwright. (The Deal was adapted into a short film in 1998, and subsequently picked up by the Sundance Channel.) Still, not everyone can be angry 365 days a year. With a tour date scheduled for Meyerhoff Symphony Hall in Baltimore on Feb. 19—less than a week after Valentine’s Day—Black talked to The A.V. Club about the things that will always make his heart swell, like golfing and Ron Jeremy’s penis.
The A.V. Club: What will you always love?
Lewis Black: Oh boy. This is going to be an exhausting interview. Things I love? Like puppy dogs? I like wine. Red wine, white wine, people whining. I like all kinds of wine. I like, uh—can I tell you about what I don’t like, first, so I can get rid of that?
LB: Look, the thing that I’ve found as I’ve grown older over time, and it’s always amazing to me that we don’t fix any of this—I’m writing a book, right, about the holidays. About Thanksgiving through Christmas and all of that stuff and New Year’s—why have we jammed all of the parties in between the 25th, 26th of November and January 1st, and the rest of the year is a barren landscape? It’s madness! Can you take some of these parties out and move them? And then idiots have this, “Well this is the 12th year of my Christmas party.” Stop it! Stop it. Why don’t you have a party in late March, when there’s nothing? Nothing at all!
What I find most disturbing about Valentine’s Day is, look, I get that you have to have a holiday of love, but in the height of flu season, it makes no sense. Also, we just gave gifts out, right? In December, okay? So now, six weeks later, I’m supposed to find something really special? Fuck you. Go fuck yourself. I’ll find you something special, maybe, in—what about July? What about early September? It’s beyond belief to me. The whole Valentine’s thing is fine, but you don’t back it up right next to the biggest gift-giving holiday of the year. Unbelievable. And we find it acceptable.
LB: Now, back to things I like. I like playing golf, and that’s really just stupid. I know it’s stupid.
AVC: At a show in Joliet a couple years back, you did 15 to 20 minutes of material on golf.
LB: Yeah, I did about 20 minutes on golf. By the end, by the time I finished lacerating the sport, it was up to 20 minutes. I’ll tell you what I really do like about it is that—my brain has a tendency, as most people’s, you end up thinking, and you’re thinking too much and you’re thinking too much. And golf, you still think too much, but you’re thinking about nothing. It really reduces it to a ball and “My body should be doing this.” It takes you totally out of the world. You completely escape whatever it is that bothers you, and replace it with something that is totally ludicrous.
AVC: Did you always play golf, or is this something you got into recently?
LB: I started playing golf when I was a kid, because across the street from where we lived there was a little nine-hole golf course where my father worked. It was like nothing to play there. It was back when golf was—even if golf never was a people’s sport—there were public golf courses like that one. It was great, because nobody was ever on it. Nobody was playing the game.
AVC: Were you playing regular golf or mini-golf?
LB: I played a little mini-golf, but really it started there. The reason I liked going there was that nobody would bother me. It was the one place I would go and nobody would go there. It was the one place I could get away from everything. That was really what led me to playing golf. Now, of course, it’s totally different, but back then it was great. It was that or the bathroom.
AVC: Just to get some peace and quiet?
LB: Just to get some quiet.
AVC: Is it different now? Do people bother you now out on the course?
LB: Well, now you play with people, and they see you. I could delude myself by myself that I was good at this. When you’re by yourself, you can create a whole mythology. If you’re with other people, the mythology’s completely not going to work.
AVC: Well you still have the bathroom, right?
LB: Yeah, I still do. [Laughs.] One of the worst golf stories I can possibly ever tell you: I do a thing each year for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. They have a major golf tournament. Three or four days, and they raise a lot of money during that time for the foundation. Every year I’m kind of like the host and MC for the tournament. We play it in different spots in the country. There was a young girl who was a very, very good golfer, who had CF. We were playing along, and I had to go to the bathroom, and there was a line to get in the men’s room, and they said, “Oh, just go in the women’s room.”
So I go in the women’s room, and I sit down, and then as I’m sitting there, the poor girl opens the door, and I’m there, sitting on the can. She shrieked like nothing I’ve ever heard. And I—you know, you’ve got this poor girl with this horrific disease, and now me. It was one of the worst things—it is the worst thing that’s ever happened on a golf course. I thought, “This girl doesn’t need this. She could never look at me again.” It was a horrifying moment in time.
AVC: And worse, now you no longer have the bathroom as a sanctuary.
AVC: That’s always in the back of people’s heads—it’s a fear everyone has. “Oh, that hasn’t happened to me, but it could.”
LB: Oh, it will.
AVC: It will?
LB: It will. Now that you know it’s possible.
LB: I was a drinker, so I went through the scotches. Before single malts hit, there were really cheap scotches, because nobody was paying attention to them. Then by the time they started jacking those prices up, I moved on to vodka; then I moved on out of that. My brother and a few close friends of mine—my brother had been living in France, so he became basically a wine psychotic. I had some friends in New York who very early on were becoming wine psychotics. This was way before it became, like, the thing. Also at that point, I was in Wisconsin and discovered, of all places, that I had this mild allergy to beer. I can drink Guinness, and I can have a couple of beers, but if I’m drinking any more than that, it’s almost as if I have hay fever.
AVC: At least you have an excuse. I don’t really like drinking beer, and when my friends hear about that, they want to make it their project to find the beer I’ll like. At least people will leave you alone about it.
LB: I do like Guinness, I have to say, because you feel like you’re eating something. But then, as a result, I moved on to wine. Basically, I like the taste of it. And I’m not that kind, I’m never good at—you know, they’ll go, “Oh. [Sniffs.] I smell shale.” Who smells shale? They can get 16 flavors out of something. If somebody tells me something, then I smell it or taste it. But I really just like the wine that I like. I feel like less of an alcoholic.
AVC: You feel more sophisticated?
LB: Not even sophisticated. You can only drink so much wine. You can drink a lot of vodka, but you can only drink so much wine. I mean, of course I’m sure there will be 25 people writing in, “What the fuck’s he talking about? I drink buckets of it.” And I have at times, too. But I just enjoy it. I just like the fact that they’ve got a billion flavors. Since I don’t do pot anymore, and haven’t for a long time, and miss the whole, “Oh, we’re going to make this better and we’re going to work on these plans—” That’s kind of the way it is with wine, now. There’s like these groups of idiots who are devoting their life: “Oh boy, if I just tweak this a little.” So it allows me to kind of feel like I’m involved in agriculture. [Laughs.]
AVC: Did you see Sideways?
LB: Yeah. It’s worth seeing, and Bottle Shock. I think they’re both really excellent. Bottle Shock even more, but Bottle Shock’s just more, in a sense, about wine. What Bottle Shock’s good at is if you like wine, it really gives you an idea of the history of how California became a player in the gig. That’s the other thing, too, with this whole thing. I’ve been to Australia, and Australia’s concept was they were going to come up [in the wine world], and they were brilliant. They did. They were coming up with the great $5 to $10 bottles of wine, and that’s it, for the American market. Now they’ve got a ton of it, and they don’t know what to do with it. But they kept all their good shit, those pricks. So when you go there, you go, “Fuck you, you bastards! You’re sending us this platypus ass, and you’re down here sucking down the good stuff that’s $5 more? Fuck you.”
LB: I like spending time with my friends, because I don’t get to enough. They’re really funny. They keep me kind of sane. It takes you out of the bubble you live in most of the time when you’re doing this bullshit.
AVC: What bullshit is that?
LB: Doing stand-up and stuff. Which is great, don’t get me wrong, but my life is kind of via the tour bus that I lease and that I go across the country in, and that’s like a bubble. When I go to the airport, a car picks me up. I used to have to get on a bus. Literally it used to be, I lived on a fifth-floor walk-up, I had to walk down with all my shit, walk across the parking lot, get on the basic Greyhound bus to go to Newark Airport, and then come home the same way and have to walk up the five flights of stairs. And now I come out the door, and there’s the car, and the car takes me—everything is like in a bubble. It’s good to go back and realize you weren’t always in that fucking bubble, you idiot. It’s good for humility, and they really keep me on my toes. They’re a smart group of people. And it’s nice to listen to other people’s problems with their shit. [Laughs.]
AVC: But you don’t miss things pre-bubble, do you?
LB: Oh God no. No, I don’t miss it. I really liked it. At the time, it was the greatest thing on earth. I mean, this is all I’ve gotta do? I don’t have to call people to come and see the show. I can go everywhere. It allowed me to see everywhere in the country. I would go in for a week at a time. It’s where I learned what it is I do. And it’s where I got free booze.
LB: I love anything that gets me outside of my own head. I love music because it’s really just—I tried to play piano as a kid. I was awful. It didn’t help, and this is absolutely true, that my piano teacher had arthritis. And that’s not a good way to learn. She was kind of older, kind of like in that great-aunt thing, so it always smelled a little like death. So I never really rose anywhere in the ranks of musicdom, but it’s just amazing to me. I think it’s unbelievable. It’s the great mystery to me. Where the fuck did music come from? Who thought of this? All sorts of music, from classical to really practically anything.
AVC: Did you choose to learn the piano growing up, or was that just because your parents had a piano?
LB: It was just my parents got a piano. And, you know, guitar, people weren’t really playing, I mean, people were playing guitar, but it didn’t cross my fucking feeble mind. But I have a close friend who’s a drummer. Actually, on the specials I have, all three, he’s done the intro and outro music for them. He’s the one who really would go, “Listen to this, listen to this, listen to this.”
AVC: What’s the last thing he turned you on to?
LB: The last thing he turned me on to was the movie—it wasn’t even music, it’s a movie with Ron Jeremy, but not any porn movie. It’s a movie called One-Eyed Monster, where his dick is possessed by an alien. It’s not really porn, it’s just psychotic. That was the last thing that maniac turned me on to. It’s probably a good thing for me to think about the things that I love. I forget about them. [Laughs.]