Comedian Lewis Black Talks Christmas, Politics, and His December 30 Show in South Florida
Black skewers Santa with style.
If you've tuned in to Fox News lately -- or its regularly scheduled skewering via the Daily Show -- you may have heard that there's a war on Christmas. Apparently, what the liberal pagans who secretly run this country from a clandestine bunker under New York City really want is to do away with Santa Claus, yuletide cheer, and good ol'-fashioned Christian proselytizing. But the truth is, the average person really doesn't care about Santa Claus. What we are incensed about, however, is the rampant consumerism that accompanies the holiday: the six solid months of pre-Christmas foreplay -- that gaping, creeping chasm of Black Fridays and Black Mondays, sugar coated as nostalgia and aimed squarely at the wallet-sized bulge in the back of our pants.
Representing that average person is comedian Lewis Black. The curmudgeonly standup is perhaps best known for his recurring Daily Show segment, "Back in Black."
Appearing tired and bewildered, tie pulled loose and vest undone, Black
seemed to tap right into our national disillusionment with politics, the economy, and even day-to-day life. In his latest book, "I'm Dreaming of a Black Christmas," Black again mines territory near and dear to our hearts: that great American holiday, Christmas. With acerbic wit and a vein-popping canter, Black channels all that Christmastime anger into something that
edges toward catharsis -- but works even better as a riotous punch line.
To support his manifesto of Christmas carnage, Black is doing what he does best: hitting the road on a U.S. comedy tour. He'll appear December 30 through January 2 at a few venues across South Florida. New Times spoke to Black about his new book, his standup, and his latest stint performing for our troops abroad.
New Times: So what do you have against Christmas?
Lewis Black: Nothing, actually. It's basically about how we're nostalgic for a time that
doesn't exist any more. We're being nostalgic about something that we
should do. But the book is more about being single on Christmas. It's probably the worst time to be single and also the worst time to have a family.
Why is that?
Because every person I know at some point during the Christmas season asks, "How's your Christmas going?" And the reason they ask this is because, (a) they want it to end and (b) if it doesn't, they fear they may kill their family.
So why not just be single then?
Because then the constant thing in your face is, "Look at you! You have no family. You did nothing with your life. Don't you know that we're here to procreate? And you are a barren piece of shit."
They're mad because you're not complying with the social contract.
Really, yes. People say to me, "Really, is there no one?" No, there's no one. Why don't you keep reminding me?
The book is also about the Christmas creep, right? That it's no longer just a holiday in December but this thing that happens all year round.
Well, yeah, we've really kind of revved that up. Halloween is like the kickoff now. Thanksgiving is just halftime. Christmas halftime. Then let's rev up again.
Take a break, eat some turkey, then come back for more.
I don't know why it's not Christmas all year-round. That would satisfy people who want prayer back in schools and who think there needs to be a Christian element to our national consciousness -- let's just make it Christmas all the damned time! You can even keep the decorations up; I don't give a shit. Once I saw stores selling Christmas shit all year round, that's when I really went, "Wow."
Well, why not buy Christmas lights in March?
Because it shows that you've had a mental breakdown. I always thought there should be psychiatrists on duty at Christmas stores. Because if someone's looking for sleigh bells and its 90 degrees out, get them to a doctor.
Do you tackle any other subjects in the book?
There's a long section about the USO Tour and what that was like.
How was it?
It was an overwhelming experience. I basically didn't have to deal with going into the military when I was young. I wasn't drafted. I had a few friends in the military, and I always had a respect for it, but when the volunteer army came about, I separated from it. So for me, it was like, oh my God. For all the lip service that is paid to the people in the military, they're really who we should emulate in terms of sacrifice and service. What's crazy is to realize they dropped our military into Iraq without a plan, and those guys had to figure it out on their own. Considering what they were given, what they accomplished is unbelievable.
It seems like doing the USO tour has become like a rite of passage for comedians.
Yeah, it's pretty extraordinary how many of us have gone over. I wrote about the first tour I did in the book, and I'm going back for a third tour this month.
Do you change your material for the troops?
No, they get it. They're frustrated. They have trouble with authority. I mean, the only thing I can't do when I'm over there is talk about the commander in chief. I can't be superpolitical, but I really don't want to be. I just want them to laugh.
Your segments on the Daily Show tend to have a political bent, though. Is that what really motivates you, or are politics just another source of frustration?
My humor comes from frustration. I find something that makes me angry, and that's where I find the funny. And what's going on politically, especially in the last 15 years, I have to stop and go, "Really? Really? Now we're doing this?" And a lot of it really irritates me because my generation seemed to really drop the ball.
When you sit down to write, whether it's for a book or material, does it just pour out cathartically or do you have to get really worked up beforehand?
I pick up a newspaper. I read something in the morning and then I think about it all day. And then literally I talk about it on stage. For example, the other day I was reading about how Congress isn't sure it's going to extend unemployment benefits for upwards of 2 million people. And in the article, it repeats for the 5 millionth time that the best economic stimulus that we know of is unemployement benefits, because for every dollar, $1.60 is created. So really? Because you believe that there's 10 percent of these people -- maybe -- that are taking advantage of our system, you're going to fuck the other 90? And you're doing it at Christmastime? What balls. You've got a really massive set of fucking nuts. February, I can see. But Christmas? I'm a Jew, and I know this.
Has it surprised you how popular "Back in Black" on the Daily Show has become?
It's amazing. But also 14 years of doing it and I don't know if people like you so much as they say "Oh, I know him. He's somewhat familiar."
But also that means your voice and mannerisms have become kind of iconic. Do you think that's owing to the Daily Show?
It's owing to the Daily Show in part, but it's mostly the fact that I went on the road as a standup and did clubs every night for fucking years.
And you tour a lot still.
I do; I like it. I like the road. It's kind of like what I get to do. I don't have to rely on trying to come up with something to do on television. As long as I'm learning and as long as I'm continuing to update the act, I'll do it.
What can people look for at the show besides Christmas?
I'll be talking about the legalization of pot. I'll be talking about getting older. The economy -- always a funny subject. Really riotous. And I'll be talking about cell phones and smart phones and my experiences with those pieces of shit.
Lewis Black performs at 8 p.m. Thursday, December 30, at Hard Rock Live. Tickets start at $52. Visit ticketmaster.com. Check out his additional shows at the Palm Beach Improv, December 31 through January 2. Tickets start at $40. Visit laughstub.com.
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