Lewis Black rose to prominence thanks in no small part to the presidency of George W. Bush and its resultant outrage that he so deftly articulated. But he has stayed relevant in the aftermath of that administration partly due to his equal opportunity approach to unleashing his fury, but also because he’s been yelling about stuff—much to the delight of his fans—since the first President Bush was in office. His new album, The Prophet, was recorded more than 20 years ago, but the same intelligence and rage that course through his livewire style of comedy today were just as present back then, though directed at different, similarly irritating targets. With his still-fresh 2010 book I’m Dreaming Of A Black Christmas ready for another run at the looming holiday season and even more touring scheduled—including a stop at Overture Hall Oct. 8—The A.V. Club recently spoke with Black about how disgusted he is with the current Republican presidential nominees, how Christmas makes him feel like a “piece of shit,” and why he’s a “social media retard.”
The A.V. Club: Judging by the material on your new comedy album, The Prophet, it sounds like it was recorded in the late ’80s.
Lewis Black: 1990 I think. Maybe late ’80s. I’m lucky I can remember what day it is.
AVC: Lots of people cringe when they see or hear things they did that long ago. How do you feel when listening to your old material?
LB: Some of it I cringe at and some of it I like. What I cringe at is what I felt like when I was performing at that time, because I had not reached a major comfort level, so I know what the level of panic was when I was on stage.
AVC: What’s the reason for releasing that recording now?
LB: The folks at Comedy Central heard it. A friend of mine had it recorded way back when because we were maybe going to do a CD. He brought it out and took it to Comedy Central, and Comedy Central wanted to put it out there. I don’t know. It certainly gives a sense of where I came from. There’s no real record since I didn’t get anything for a long time. What could have been the record of my stuff when I was young isn’t there at all, and I wasn’t even young when I was a young comic.
AVC: The tone of your set back then sounds remarkably congruent with what you do today. Have you made many modifications to your style and delivery over the years?
LB: Basically, I started on stage yelling and I kept yelling, and then I yelled some more, and then I yelled even louder. I’m modulated now. I’ve found that there are a lot of other ways to get across anger without just yelling.
AVC: How do the things that pissed you off back then compare to the things that piss you off today?
LB: It’s the same. Nothing’s really changed except the response from both sides. The Democrats have become more ineffectual and the Republicans have become more ignorant.
AVC: You must be drawing a ton of material out of the Republican presidential nomination race.
LB: If I paid more attention to it and gave it more of a shit, but I find that I have to pay attention to this stuff for a whole year. If I pay too much attention to it, within six months, I’ll have a level of disgust that won’t allow me to be funny anymore.
I’ve said on stage that it’s really extraordinary that, once again, the Republicans, if they had any brains at all, have a real shot at finding someone who might make a better leader than Obama seems to be at the moment, but they’re not even looking. They’re not even looking. This is what they’ve come up with. Are you serious?
AVC: Is there one candidate out of the bunch right now that disgusts you more than the others?
LB: It’s kind of a race between [Rick] Perry and [Michele] Bachmann. The two of them are just, wow. I mean, really, the thing about Bachmann is, apparently, from what I gather, she went to the Oral Roberts University law school. We don’t know if anything’s true anymore. I mean, that sounds like a joke, doesn’t it? Oral Roberts University law school? That would be like me getting my theater degree from Chuck E. Cheese.
She’s just, “Oh, you know, you’ve got a vaccine…” I can’t sit there and listen. You can’t dismiss science. You just can’t dismiss it. It’s beyond belief! What do we study for? And then she’s waxing on about someone came up to her before a debate and told her there was some 12-year-old that got a shot and became retarded! And then she goes in front of the United States and repeats it! Like it’s a fucking fact!
AVC: In terms of separation of church and state, is there one candidate you find more frightening than the others?
LB: Well, once again, you’ve got Perry and Bachmann. They’re both kind of do-si-doing with it. They’re always trying to get their little code words in to the true believers.
AVC: Your last book dealt heavily with faith and religion. Do you get into much of that with your latest, I’m Dreaming Of A Black Christmas?
LB: Just a little. Mostly it’s a book about being single disguised as a Christmas book. It’s about what it’s like at that time of year when being single really comes into stark relief and instead of Christmas, I just go through the drama of “Look what I’ve done. I’ve done nothing with my life. I’m a piece of shit. Look at all the happy families around me.” I go see all my friends. They’ve all got kids. I’m a selfish, little pig of a man.
AVC: Even though it’s specifically directed at people who don’t live for Christmas, do you still find yourself having to defend yourself against people who think you’re attacking the holiday?
LB: That’s not what the book’s about. I mean, I don’t attack the holiday. I attack the fact that once the last bit of candy corn is eaten, then they’ll be fucking jumping up and down with the Christmas shit. Well they started that way back! Christmas shit started online in August. Online, there’s no time. It’s always Christmas.
AVC: You said that anyone who likes writing a book is an idiot after finishing Nothing’s Sacred. Do you still feel that way after finishing a couple more books?
LB: I feel less so, but I do still feel that it’s pretty brutal. You know, you’re locked up, and you’re with yourself way too much, and you’re inside your head way too much. But I feel more comfortable with what I was doing when I was sitting there. Because on Nothing’s Sacred, I’d been a playwright for a long time, and this was kind of a different craft. Once I realized that when you’re sitting down to write to just keep writing. Don’t get up. You can’t get up. Just keep writing, whatever it is. Even if it’s shit. Because if you get up and go, “You know what? I’m going to think about this,” well, nobody thinks about it. You think about it for eight minutes and then you masturbate. Okay? That’s the deal. That’s not the road you want to go down. It’s amazing what I could’ve written in my life if I had realized that I should keep writing and not masturbating. I thought masturbating might get me to it.
AVC: You were recently, in your own words, “shamed” into joining Twitter. Are you enjoying it so far?
LB: I do it a little when I’ve got something that strikes me as funny. I’m not a great joke writer, which is odd for a comic to say, but I’m not. So it’s hard for me to come up with things, because I don’t write stuff, I don’t write my act down. It’s not something I’m used to. But every so often, since I’ve been doing this, something will strike me and I can get it out. Then I enjoy it. I just can’t believe everybody’s, that there’s—it’s just, why? It’s a strange world. It’s this whole bubble of people and I’m not quite sure I get it. It’s probably because I’m older, which always makes you feel good to say that. But I think also, I’ve always been a social network retard, even before there was a social network. People would say, “You want to go to this party and do some networking?” And that started about 20 years ago. I’d go and get drunk and end up insulting people, and I wouldn’t get anything. I was so irritated about being in the position of networking. But what I like about it is that every so often, about one out of whatever is really funny.