Lewis Black’s Campaign
The comedian flexed irreverent intellect at the Paramount Theatre
By Bryan Rolli,
11:30AM, Fri. Sep. 9, 2016
Lewis Black wrestled with an existential dilemma before a packed Paramount Theatre on Thursday night.
“I really don’t know what my job is anymore,” bemoaned the acid-tongued, 68-year-old Jewish New Yorker. For decades, comedians have based their acts around the follies of politicians, waiting for them to spout asinine, ill-conceived drivel in the press that can be turned into rip-roaring ammunition. But in an election cycle that features Donald Trump as a legitimate contender for the presidency, the jokes write themselves in the form of impossibly absurd campaign speeches, rendering comedians useless.
Or, as Black put it succinctly, “Ballgame’s over.”
Still, that didn’t stop the comic from methodically eviscerating an entire roster of presidential candidates, including Ben Carson, John Kasich, Bernie Sanders, Ted Cruz, Hillary Clinton, and, of course, Trump. He nailed Carson’s bong-ripping speech patterns; suggested Sanders would have been more successful running as a member of the “Cocksucker Party” (“because ‘cocksucker’ is less offensive than ‘socialist’”); and simply walked offstage after uttering Cruz’s name.
With just two months left until the election, these sorts of political barbs can easily come off as lazy and contrived in the hands of a lesser comic. But for 35 years, Black’s primary mission has been to out-crazy his competition. He bangs his head against the microphone and wriggles his index finger in every direction, punctuating his punch lines and singling out audience members who dare to talk out of turn.
Then there’s his greatest weapon: Fuck. The one-syllable, four-letter profanity tossed around with stunning casualness, repurposed and given an all-new magnitude by Black. His voice leaps a full octave and swells in volume as a contorted grunt emerges from his clenched throat. Upon entering the atmosphere, it is hardly a word so much as a sound of universal dissatisfaction. A sound of catharsis. A sound of healing. Fuck.
Yet despite showing the frayed ends of his sanity for most of the evening, Black maintained his composure during his gravest remarks about Trump.
“I’m gonna tell you this as a friend,” Black told the crowd, his voice barely above a whisper. “If you vote for Donald Trump, you’re gonna go to hell. And I know this because God told me. He called me on my hotline, 1-800-JEWY-JEW.”
God and Black must correspond regularly, as evidenced by the comedian’s nuanced grasp of theology. He riffed on Jackson, Miss., mayor Tony Yarber, who made headlines this year for insisting that the town’s residents could fix their potholes through the power of prayer, just as Moses prayed the Red Sea apart when the Israelites escaped from Egypt.
“Christians have no fucking understanding of the Old Testament. It’s not your fucking book. Stay out of it,” Black snapped. “They’re stories told to distract people living in the desert from the fact that they have no air conditioning.”
So, we’ve got political commentator, theologian … Oh, and psychologist.
“If you seriously don’t think mental illness is a problem in our country, I need you to take a good goddamn long look at Congress,” Black snarled. “It’s the largest outpatient clinic in the world!”
The comedian-turned-activist continued to tackle such issues head-on, informing the audience that “40 percent of Americans think mental illness isn’t real, alcoholism isn’t a disease, and being gay isn’t a choice.”
Wait a minute. Forty percent sounds like an awful lot.
“That’s because I just made it up,” Black told the crowd, who half-laughed and half-sighed in relief. “Politicians do it all the time. Fuck 'em, I’m a comic so I can do the same shit!”
Man, talk about cynical. But before he left the stage, Black assured the crowd that he wasn’t the eternal pessimist his act would imply.
“This is probably going to come as a surprise to many of you, but I wake up every day brimming with optimism,” he told the bemused audience, basking in the hallowed space that only exists in the silence right before a punch line.
“Then I open the paper. Fuck! Maybe tomorrow.”