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Black humor

Lewis Black, an American Comedy Award winner, says he started his career as a playwright but became a comedian because it paid more.

By PETER SMITH
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 31, 2002


photo
[Publicity photo]
Lewis Black is a regular commentator on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show.
"I told my friends I was making a CD, and they said, what kind?" Comedian Lewis Black was incredulous. "I said nothing but love songs."

Black, winner of the 2001 American Comedy Award for best male standup, has made incredulity into a style. His amazement at what happens around him in politics, meteorology, the International House of Pancakes and his life whips his outrage to a fine froth of exasperation.

"After Sept. 11 all I really did was start talking about the government in general, rather than Bush," he explained over the phone from his apartment in Manhattan. "But we have already gotten to the point where people are remembering that he's still, well, George W.

"Sure, we have to stand behind him as far as the war goes, we have no choice. But he still has to be called to task."

He's bipartisan, having also speared Bill Clinton and the senior Bush in his standup act during the past 10 years.

Black started his theatrical career as a playwright and actor. A graduate of Yale Drama School, he has appeared on The Conan O'Brien Show, Mad About You and HBO and is a regular commentator on Comedy Central's The Daily Show.

His Daily Show commentary, "Back in Black," features a slightly disheveled Black completely disgusted and baffled by the edges of American culture.

The move from playwrighting to comedy was a natural one for Black. "I was doing a play in Houston, and I had to give up some of my salary to pay actors the producer wanted to cut, and I went to a club and did standup. I'd been doing it sort of as a lark, and this alcoholic club owner wanted to book me as a headliner, offered me more money, a nicer place to stay, a better car to use than this producer who was producing my play gave me. Between cash and frustration, I went for the cash."

He recently released his first comedy CD, The White Album, available on his Web site, www.lewisblack.net. It's a complete show, with a wildly happy audience, whose approval seems to baffle Black.

Approval has been a hard thing for Black to find sometimes. He tells the story of a TV producer who created a show around Black's comic character, using lines from his act to shape the protagonist of the show. "They had created this character from all of my lines, and CBS flew me to L.A. to audition -- to play myself. And I wasn't hired! Unbeknownst to me, somebody else was better at being me than I was."

When asked about a rumor that Daily Show host Jon Stewart would be taking over for Regis Philbin onWho Wants to Be a Millionaire?, he laughed. "I haven't heard that one," he said. "I'll ask Jon tonight and get back to you, okay?"

* * *

PREVIEW: Lewis Black performs Saturday and Sunday at Side Splitters Comedy Club, 12938 N Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa. Call (813) 960-1197.

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