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Lewis Black is having a bad day. For a legendarily surly comedian whose fame was largely built from exasperated "Back in Black" flameouts on the Daily Show, it doesn't take much to topple him over the edge.
A number of annoyances are plaguing Black on the morning we catch up. He's talking from "a room that would have made Marie Antoinette happy," in a posh Beverly Hills hotel suite. He's dealing with a rush of print and radio interviews before breakfast, which is nothing compared to the misery of simply being in L.A. Not just 'cause it's L.A., but because though there's a slight break in the flames that plague the city — ash still hangs heavy in the air.
"It's literally always on fire," Black says, "but nobody pays attention. I don't like this; I'm not happy here; it's weird."
The 59-year-old comedian is often stuck in L.A., lately because he's working on a new Comedy Central show called Root of All Evil, which airs in March. But he'll soon split the dirty Southland for a string of sold-out stand-up dates. Then he'll return and hit repeat.
While the writer's strike brings Hollywood screeching to a halt, Black still slugs away at a frenetic pace. "I don't have time to walk a picket line," he cracks. "Seriously, I wish I did — I haven't had any time off in literally six months. They say I'm lucky."
Despite his frequent TV appearances, Black's a stand-up comic first, one responsible for every damn angry word that escapes his clenched jaw. While he thinks the union's struggle is vital, he's pretty content to be working. "I'm not a joiner," he says.
The roots of the strike, the "six companies that own everything," are one of many frustrations born of Bush's America — and one of the many frustrations that fuel Black's humor. He struggles to express rage at how "the enemy" even controls conversation. "To them," he says, "'union' is a dirty word, and 'socialism' is a worse word than 'cunt!'"
He's fed up. He foams at the weakness of the administration's opposition. "Why don't the fucking Democrats take back the language? The words are public. It's a public library. It's public medicine, not socialized, but what do you think you have, ya douchebags?"
Suddenly Black shyly apologizes for his outbursts. He doesn't want to come off like some cranky asshole — but that's exactly what his fans have come to expect, and crave. More of his act these days involves topical issues, from health care to China, to hypocrites like Larry Craig — a scenario he calls "spectacular." He's only begun to talk about the candidates in his ever-evolving act, mostly because the very thought of them makes him sick to his stomach.
"I used to get angry talking about [the election]," he says. "That was four years ago. Now I get nauseous." He's certainly not a fan of Hillary and her overpolished image.
"They all pine for Clinton like it was some golden era, but without Clinton you don't get Bush, right? One begets the other. I can't wait to see what this begets."
With the nation as fucked up as it is, Black's in full bloom — shit, can there be any more insanity from which to draw on a given day?
"My humor comes from what makes me angry, and a lot of what makes me angry is topical now."
True. But what of his lifestyle? The dude's a good old-fashioned American success story. His crowds don't want to hear him gripe about private jets or room service at a four-star hotel. Part of his brilliance is that he deals with the "backlog" of issues that he has with the culture at large. His is a running commentary of American life, one rife with truth. And Black ain't alone in his thinking. The people are with him, his message is getting through — a point proven by the size of his audience.
"The fact that I'm now a middle-of-the-road comic is a sign that something is desperately wrong," he says. And then he adds as if to straighten the thought, "It's us, just us, always my hope is for American people; I'm like the Frank Capra of comedy."
At 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 24, at the Fox Theatre, 2211 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-396-7901; $37.50-$47.50.