Unless you’ve been under a rock, you surely know grumpy comedian Lewis Black will be taking the stage at the Charleston Music Hall on April 10. The famed Daily Show curmudgeon will be here performing his latest special, Off the Rails.
Black’s blistering style of bullshit-calling and finger-pointing has been a staple on Comedy Central since 1996. He’s one of the few comedians to sell out Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, New York City Center and The Mirage. In 2021, he earned his sixth Grammy nomination for Thanks for Risking Your Life, a scathing attack on consumerism, drug companies and public ridiculousness supercharged by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Off the Rails is Black’s latest comedic jeremiad. While he’ll take aim at plenty of public figures, his central focus will be his own personal life through the course of the pandemic. “It’s really about how I dealt with the pandemic,” he told the City Paper. “I didn’t even do it well, which is what makes it funny.”
City Paper: We’re looking forward to seeing you in Charleston.
Lewis Black: Thanks. I’m looking forward to playing golf, having some oysters and eating great seafood and wandering the streets if I get things working the way they should.
CP: Has anything lately jumped out at you politically from South Carolina — the state that’s too small for a republic and too big for an insane asylum?
LB: Well, you guys are in a competition now. You used to be pretty much the derby favorite. But now you get a lot of other people riding those ponies.
CP: We still have Lindsey [Graham].
LB: What you really want to see from a senator is for him to leave while you’re questioning someone. To just not have, you know, courtesy. Not even the Southern level of bullshit courtesy. I would think you would get that from him. I think that once [John] McCain passed away — that was really the one who I think kind of guided Lindsey towards civility.
CP: Some have said he seems to latch on to whoever can raise his profile. Trump has surely raised his profile.
LB: Yeah, I don’t know. It’s kind of silly that he would think that way because once he had a pretty good profile. Once again, it’s just not enough self-esteem.
CP: Have you paid much attention to our political races or other issues here in South Carolina?
LB: I haven’t really, plus, to be honest. I’m getting 500 emails a day. It’s like, “Did you see what happened here?” And, “Look at this.” I’m at the point where I’m almost willing to listen to anybody who’s not actually bothering me to listen to them.
CP: It’s an embarrassment of riches for a comedian. Or is it?
LB: Only to a point. I mean, we reached a point where it’s really we crossed the line a while ago. And that was — how do you satirize what’s already satiric? Marjorie Taylor Greene. When you have somebody who’s referring to a myth that Nancy Pelosi has the time and the energy to have her tracked. She’s just out there. And for her to just say that she’s being tracked by Gazpacho Police — well what’s my job?
And I know when It started. For me, the moment was when Sarah Palin — she gave a speech (to Katie Couric) and it was like, wow, what is that? And then on Saturday Night Live — they just read her speech. They didn’t even have to rewrite it. So that’s where we’re at. What these people are providing — it’s character work.
CP: You probably saw that South Carolina is readying firing squads for executions.
LB: Yeah, good job. That’s great. It’s really a race to get back to another century. That’s what Putin doubled down on. Oh, you guys think you’re gonna go back to the 20th century? I want to go deeper into that. You want to get back to 1957. Well we’re going back to 1933.
I mean, I’m not a proponent of capital punishment. I think there are other ways to punish people that are just that are more severe. Death kind of takes them out of their misery. And part of it is because, you know, the chemicals that they came up with didn’t work out. I mean how’s that possible? They cannot come up with a chemical that actually does the job?
And then too — there’s, well, what uniforms will the firing squad wear? You just go wow.
CP: Does that sort of thing make it easier or harder for you as a comedian?
LB: There’s just so much stuff out there. I had actually read something in what I thought was fairly reputable. The thing was — it was so nuts. There was so much Ivermectin being taken in the state of Oklahoma, that people were lining up to go to the emergency room because of overdosing. But there were so many people in the emergency rooms who’d already overdosed on it that they couldn’t handle them all. You go, “did that really happen?” Well, yeah.
CP: It goes to your point about things just being so absurd. We’ve been inured to it. The fact that you know, people were OD’ing on Ivermectin in Oklahoma. Do you think this goes to kind of, a point about how many Russians seem to support the “operation” in Ukraine — and that is just disinformation and false narratives? Obviously, that’s a big problem here in the U.S.
LB: I talked about it before. People seem to think we’re gonna have a democracy when we’re living in two realities. I don’t know how you do it. I don’t. You gotta agree on reality. I mean, that’s, that’s how you get through an acid trip.
CP: You’ll be performing here in the birthplace of the Civil War. It seems sometimes like we’re, we’re not much farther along than we were in 1865.
LB: Yeah, it’s unbelievable. I mean, I went to Gettysburg during the pandemic thinking that I would feel better about where we were now. I talked about this in the act, and then realized that you know, we’re still a divided country. We’re screaming at each other about masks.
CP: Your comedic sources — there wasn’t social media when you started doing Back in Black on The Daily Show how long ago?
LB: Twenty five years. Before, I’d read two or three newspapers and magazines, and then The Week (magazine) was born and that was really a big help. Because they kind of presented both sides and they had a really great little thing each each week — which is kind of what social media is made of. Like a study where they found out that people who swear are more intelligent than people who don’t.
I kind of track social media stuff, but I don’t really. I call my friend Kathleen Madigan who’s more tuned into social media than I am and go, “OK, is this true?”
I mean, I also don’t know where you look at something (on social media). Did that happen? Who do you trust? Anybody with a phone is a journalist? Really? It’s kind of why I still go back to newspapers — The Washington Post, The New York Times and The LA Times. Newspapers are important because somebody has to actually present a resume in order to get a job.
And to be honest, right now, I’m just trying to deal with stuff that was dropped from the first special Thanks for Risking your Life into the new special (Off the Rails) because it didn’t fit. And now fitting it into this new special. It’s a good 15 to 20 minutes about gun safety and health and health insurance — and it’s now literally more applicable now than it was when I was talking about it before.
CP: So tell us a bit more about what we can expect at this show.
LB: It’s really about how I dealt with the pandemic. I didn’t even do it well, which is what makes it funny. Or at least that’s how the audience has reacted. People have come and said, “Wow, I didn’t know people were really ready to sit down and listen to this.”
CP: Are there any particular anecdotes that really resonated in sort of retelling this?
LB: Well I mean, the Clorox. I talk about Clorox. As soon as I say, “I was washing my food with Clorox.” Well, who knew Clorox would be a punchline? Because I really thought that my friends would come and find me dead. And they would go, “Oh, he died because of COVID?”
“No, he died from Clorox poisoning.”
Also — we have The Rant is Due at the end of each show, right? We’ll be doing it in Charleston too. I will, 9 times out of 10, read something new that is written by someone from the area. So it’s the Charleston show — and it’s live streamed throughout the world. So if anybody who’s coming to the show, or anybody who’s not coming but really has something they want to get off their chest, now’s the time to do it.
Want to submit your own rant for Lewis Black? Visit lewisblack.com/pages/live.
As of press time, tickets were going fast for the April 10 show. To grab yours before it’s too late, visit Charlestonmusichall.com.
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