Among the many great comedians gracing stages around the United States, I seem to gravitate to the comedy of those people willing to not only point out the bizarre things in our everyday lives, but tell it like it is. Critical social commentary through comedy. People like Robin Williams, George Carlin, Jon Stewart, and Lewis Black are at the top of the heap. Not only can these individuals make us laugh, but they can through their talent and intelligence make us think at the same time.
Lewis Black’s latest Comedy Central special – Stark Raving Black – features 80 minutes of intelligent insanity. Black’s anger and volatile rants are legendary, but it’s his fickle finger of death and sputtering delivery that defuse that anger while making numerous points about politics, popular entertainers, the economy, and even the iPhone. Every time he gets incensed about a topic, I learn something new or get to consider it from a different angle.
Though he comes across as a cantankerous 60+ year old man going from observation to observation with the wisdom that’s come from not only watching the world but participating in it, there’s an underlying current just below all the vitriol. That current, funny enough, is hope. After all he’s seen, he still holds out hope that things will change for the better. He just figures that all his hopes and dreams will come true the day after he dies. That’s dramatic irony at its finest.
As Black describes being part of a fundraiser where he has to perform after Vince Gill, the quintessential beloved country artist who you can’t help but like, and his wife Amy Grant, a pure Christian woman with a beautiful voice so perfect she is “made entirely of cream”… How can he possibly follow this couple who don’t say a single swear word on stage? Without swear words Black thinks he has maybe 5 minutes of material! Evidently he turned to his friend and fellow comic Kathleen Madigan (a very funny lady in her own right), who had found him the gig and told her to look at her watch – that this is the precise moment we are no longer friends.
If you’ve seen Black before, you know he uses every swear word and crude reference in the book… Can you imagine him on stage with the Vice Gill/Amy Grant power couple? It would be like matter and antimatter meeting – the whole place would explode!
Black’s intelligence comes through in spades as he describes the economic woes currently happening in our country. “Many people blame what happened economically on the people who couldn’t afford rent and bought homes… Those broke *@@#(! are the ones. Really?” If someone came to you on the street and says “I know you can’t afford rent, but… wanna house?” Doesn’t that sum up the mortgage crisis beautifully?
He points out that the sole reason for the crisis was greed. From the Bernie Madoff ripoff to the $1.2 million office redecoration done by CEO John Thain at Merrill Lynch right before the company went down the drain. These people just want more toys and no accountability. When Black talks about what he would do with $1.2 million for redecorating an office, it involves a Great White in a personal aquarium and an Intern… That would probably have more effect than a $67,000 credenza that Thain had purchased for his office.
Black also riffs on the iPhone. He says it’s an amazing instrument, but it’s attached to AT&T, which makes it a “rock”. If we have wireless phones that can work anywhere on the planet, why can’t we have alternative energy solutions? We can take photos of our friends and text message people, but we can’t figure out alternatives to fossil fuels?
But in the end, he talks about hope. It’s the best drug on the planet and one preferred by the young – such as those who worked tirelessly to get Obama elected during the presidential election. Evidently, Obama “lactates hope” and we all were hoping for change. It’s those hopes and dreams for himself, our country, and the world, that he keeps alive day after day. He expects the flying cars will show up at his funeral.
In addition, there’s a 69 minute documentary titled “Basic Black: The Lewis Black Story” that focuses on Black’s life on the road. He evidently reads the newspaper and watches CNN regularly to digest material and then he regurgitates what sets him off on stage. They drive across the country in their bus from gig to gig – Black, Jeff Costa (sound man and merchandise guy), Ben Brewer (tour manager), John Bowman (comic who typically does the opening act for Black) and Frank Moreno (bus driver) – as Brewer puts it “as one big, grumpy family.” It seems they get a lot more work done by driving and avoiding the tension and downtime typically associated with flying everywhere.
The documentary provides a great look behind the scenes on a comedy tour – definitely something I’ve never seen before. Seeing a baby picture of Black with his fingers pointing in the air explains a bunch. Evidently he didn’t even know he was doing it until a fan did it back to him in a public place at one point and he asked one of his friends about it.
And then to see clips of Black’s routines in the 1980s was absolutely hilarious. I didn’t know who he was until about 10 years ago and to see routines from 30 years ago was amazing. Who knew he was a drama student?
If you like Lewis Black and have seen him on The Daily Show With Jon Stewart in his brief “Back in Black” segments or caught earlier shows, I’d definitely recommend you pick up Stark Raving Black. The documentary alone is worth a look to learn more about Black’s background.
Article first published as DVD Review: Lewis Black – Stark Raving Black on Blogcritics.
p.s. Pick up Lewis Black DVDs at Barnes & Noble!
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