When anger is your artistic medium, sometimes you need to take a little time to just chill. When Lewis Black picked up his phone on a recent weekday morning, I heard a different side of him than what I had become accustomed to. He was measured, calm, and other than the occasional raspy cough, kind of quiet. But in terms of his live performance, he hasn’t changed. The Emmy-nominated/Grammy-winning comedian has a new project called The Rant Is Due, out now on Audible Channels. The Rant Is Due is a series of audio recordings from a popular recurring segment in his live show, wherein he reads various diatribes sent to him by fans. The themes range from social, to political, to the seemingly inconsequential (bacon and pumpkin spice, for instance) but are always hilarious and delivered unflinchingly in Lewis Black’s trademark style. I talked to Black about the evolution of the Audible series, fake news, and the challenge of writing a new special in Trump’s America.
There’s a part of me that just wants to say, “Go!” and let you rant as long as you want.
It’s too early.
What is your morning routine?
I turn on CNN for about five minutes. That’s about as much as I can take. I let it run in the background just to see how many times they repeat the same breaking news. Then I look at the front page of The New York Times and the sports page of the New York Post because it’s a phenomenal sports section. It’s always Epic, life or death. Then I go online and read a bunch of emails.
I know that career-wise you have to stay informed, but there’s so much information out there and rooting through it can be infuriating.
So much of it can be false. When I get information I then have to do research on the information, which is beyond belief.
When was the last time you really trusted the news media?
Before the Iraq War. That was the end of it. That was when they stopped doing their job. It also didn’t help that a few years later all of a sudden the internet became the main news delivery system.
Are there any outlets now that you trust, or at least lean toward being more reliable?
I kind of trust The Washington Post. It’s come around a little. I mean, I trust that when they say “the news” that basic information is real when it’s delivered by the Times, the Post, CNN, or MSNBC. Here’s “the news,” not their comments on it, not their spin on it, but just here’s “the news.” You know, before they bring out 12 people to discuss it, a rugby scrum of idiots.
I’ve found that lately if I read something from one side I’ll go read the same story from the other side, left or right, and then try to form an opinion somewhere in the middle.
One of the things that makes America work is the fact that the people that you side with, if you start to really spend a lot of time with them, will irritate you as much as the people that you are fighting against. Essentially what’s happened over the course of my life is that they’re so batshit crazy they’ve driven me to the center. Everything that we’re doing is nonsense because ultimately that’s where it is. That’s what the Constitution was based on. Essentially these people are supposed to sit down and compromise. You get nowhere by saying this way or that way. Bernie starts with his concept. Paul Ryan starts with his concept. But what they’re supposed to do is sit down and come up with a concept that is between them. That’s the deal. I don’t know how we force them to do it, but the road that we are on has been madness for so long.
Your new podcast The Rant Is Due came out of something you had already been doing at your live shows, right?
And I’m still doing it. I’ve done over 50 some odd hours of this. After each show, anywhere from 15 minutes to a half-hour, we do a livestream that goes throughout the world. Initially it started with a Q&A. The audience would be directed to where they need to send the questions. Now they’re directed beforehand. They can send things through our website. They would send their questions and then they started sending in rants. Once they started sending in rants that was the eureka moment. I started saying, “I want to hear what’s bothering you.” Essentially I have a show that’s written by my audience.
I imagine that your voice is the one that some people hear in their heads when they are angry about something. It’s probably cathartic for them to hear you read their words.
So far it seems to be. I’ve heard, “Thank you for reading that. You did a better job than I would do.” I knew we were really onto something when a kid, a Mormon, who the next day was going to join the church, or do whatever it is you have to do when you’re 18 when you become a full-fledged member of the church. It was occurring the same week the Mormons came out against the children of same-sex marriages. He had had it. That was it: “I’m going to walk away. I’m done.” He was at one time a very faithful Mormon who was going to go do his mission. He just exploded on paper and I read it. I don’t have an interest in pissing people off – that doesn’t interest me, my job is to entertain people. So I said, “If you’re a Mormon turn it off. I don’t want to hear from you. I don’t want to listen to you whine. This kid wants to say this and he doesn’t need whatever your backflips are about it. I’m telling you to go away because it’s just going to really upset you and I’m not here to do that.” And then I read his thing. It made a huge difference for him apparently. That was when I went, “Well, this is what it’s about.”
In a case like that you’re not just letting someone get something off their chest. You’re performing a sort of exorcism.
It seems to be that way, from his email afterward. Of all people, People magazine picked it up. People magazine has shown no interest at all in what I’m doing. I’m not your People magazine comic, but that got them off their ass.
How do you feel about where you are in comedy right now? In your current act you talk about it a little bit.
As hard as it’s been to come up with a new special…I have a tendency to talk about what angers me, but as I’ve been saying in the act, “How do you satirize what’s already satiric? How do you out-fiction what, for all intents and purposes, seems fictional?”