Thursday, December 20, 2012

"I Saw Lewis Black"

In Los Angeles, the magnitude of your enthusiasm to see someone perform live is reflected by how far you are willing to travel to get to the show.  Comedian Lewis Black was appearing at a concert hall more than forty miles away in Long Beach, an entirely...buh-buh-buh-buh…different city!  (I have apparently slipped into apoplectic Lewis Black “Bluster Mode.”) 

That’s how much we wanted to see Lewis Black.  “Come on, Honey.  Let’s get in the car…drive on four separate highways…during Rush Hour…to see a comedian at a performing venue that is more than forty miles from our house.  

For reasons left unexplained, Mr. Black has eschewed the opportunity to perform in Los Angeles – the “Entertainment Capital of the World.”  Instead, he would rather make us, his devoted audience, endure the not insubstantial inconvenience, to attend his little show…in the glittering city of Long Beach. 

The place where the crewse ships depart.  Thinking, perhaps, that, having enjoyed the show so much, we would be in such an effusive mood, that we would decide on the spur of the moment to put everything on “Hold”…and take a little cruise.

The good news is our phone’s GPS system – that helps you get places – has been substantially upgraded since the last time we relied on it.  On that memorable occasion, we tried to return from Gettysburg, which is in Pennsylvania to our nation’s capital in Washington D.C. and, following the instructions from our old GPS system, wound up in Maryland. 

That’s right.  Adhering to the step-by-step directions, delivered over the telephone by a disembodied but otherwise pleasant female voice, we found ourselves driving around blindly in the wrong…buh-buh-buh-buh…frickin’ state!

Okay, I’m out of “Bluster Mode” now.  (I find it too exhausting to keep that up.)  My mind now goes to Lewis Black’s opening act, a comedian, whose purpose is to warm up the audience for the “Main Event”, but his, perhaps, unconscious purpose is to demonstrate, by contrast, how much less talented and accomplished a comedian he is than Lewis Black.  I see no other reason for his being chosen.

LEWIS BLACK:  Here’s what I need you to do.  I need you to go on before me, and do twenty minutes of cheap and cheesy material, hitting the most predictable targets with the most obvious jokes, so that when I come onstage after you, I will look like a frickin’ genius.”

And so he did.  Spraying a disjointed series of uninspired jokes, interrupted only by extended pauses where he was trying to remember what came next.  My outrage at his aggravating performance was matched only by the fact that the audience seemed to really enjoy him.  This kind of encouragement means he is only going to do it again.  Offending, by the audacity of his daring to participate in the same field, the revered fraternity of every stand-up comedian who ever lived.  Shecky Greene is undoubtedly rolling in his grave.  And doing it funnier than this guy is alive!

Then, to my mind, entirely defeating the “loosening-up” strategy of the warm-up act, there was a twenty-minute break before Lewis Black came onstage.  The only compensation being that, during the extended intermission, a number of audience members procured alcohol, which more or less achieves the same purpose.  Finally, however, the “Featured Attraction” was introduced, coming onstage to rapturous applause.

Lewis Black wore a pearl gray suit, white dress shirt and a slightly loosened tie, in contrast to the opening comedian’s – matching his material – noticeably down-market jeans and a sport shirt.  Black immediately proved himself the superior practitioner by asserting, off the top, his defining thesis for the evening. 

Mentioning that a presidential election had recently taken place, Black wanted us to know that, in his opinion – and the opinion of anyone with a brain in their heads –

“Nothing is going to change.”

This is Black’s trumpeted position , the comedic turf he has uniquely staked out for himself:

“Nothing is going to change.”

Unlike Mort Sahl, a political satirist toiling most conspicuously in the sixties who humorously dissected the political specifics of the day, for Lewis Black, the “funny” comes from anyone taking those political specifics…buh-buh-buh-buh…seriously!

Black’s “perspective of choice” is that it’s all crap, and they’re all crazy.  Including us, for believing there’s hope, because there most assuredly isn’t any.

I happen to a large degree identify with that perspective.  Consequently, Lewis Black makes me laugh.  However, I have to admit that, when I do not herein reproduce samples of the material he delivered, it is less because I am unwilling to give away Black’s jokes than that, though I was satisfactorily entertained, the majority of Lewis Black’s ninety-minute performance did not stay with me.  Black was funny, but to me at least, not memorable. 

To my query concerning this matter, Dr. M, an astute observer even before she became a psychologist, noted that none of Lewis Black’s material was personal.  (As, at its most tears-in-your-eyes-inducing is Bill Cosby’s, or Richard Pryor’s.)  Black focuses exclusively on life as we currently live it, a life in which the monumental technological opportunity that is the Internet can be shockingly misused, drawing virally high viewership to a website featuring the adorable antics of a calico cat. 

(PLACE STANDARD DISCLAIMER HERE:  An artist cannot be criticized for not doing what they never intended to do.  Lewis Black is apparently more comfortable doing “other-directed” comedy than the “self-directed” kind.  So what?  The question is, “How funny is he being “other-directed?’”  And the answer to that question is “Quite.”)

There was one high point in the evening that earned my delighted appreciation for its insight and clarity.  Black reported that some people criticize him for not being as equally hard on the Democrats as he is on the Republicans.  His defense was that Democrats are not funny, and he went on to explain why. 

Democrats, Black asserted, are dumb.  While Republicans are stupid.  What’s the difference?

A Democrat tells you something, and when they’re done, your response is, “I have no idea what you just said.”  A Republican says something and you say, “I cannot believe you just said that.” 

Conclusion:  “Dumb” is not funny.  “Stupid” is…buh-buh-buh-buh…hilarious!

The most telling impression concerning Lewis Black appeared in a earlier-in-the-week newspaper article promoting the concert, in which he exposed the nature of being an actual comedian onstage, as opposed to the imaginary “comedian-in-my-head”, at which I excel.

How about I tell you about that tomorrow?

(Did you notice something?  Even when I stopped doing Lewis Black, I was still substantially doing Lewis Black?  I think I learned something there.) 


Jon88 said...

Shecky Greene might be rolling over on his couch, but that's about as deep as he currently would be rolling.

Rory W. said...

Apropos of nothing, I saw this in the 12/20 NYT Magazine profile of Jerry Seinfeld ( and thought it rang true of Earlo as well with his penchant for spending hours writing and rewriting blog posts, for which he is not paid, just because:

"Seinfeld will nurse a single joke for years, amending, abridging and reworking it incrementally, to get the thing just so. 'It’s similar to calligraphy or samurai,' he says. 'I want to make cricket cages. You know those Japanese cricket cages? Tiny, with the doors? That’s it for me: solitude and precision, refining a tiny thing for the sake of it.'"

JED said...

"... we tried to return from Gettysburg, which is in Pennsylvania to our nation’s capital in Washington D.C. and, following the instructions from our old GPS system, wound up in Maryland."

Your old GPS might not be as bad as you remember. You have to go through Maryland to get from Gettysburg, PA to Washington DC. But I don't blame you for being mistrustful of those kinds of directions. I find step-by-step instructions too easy to misinterpret. And once you're off, the rest of the steps are useless. I tend to stick with maps.

I enjoyed your story, though. It makes me want to watch a Lewis Black performance.