Given the current political climate, most comics wouldn’t worry about job security. Lewis Black sees things a little differently.
“I’m not sure what my job as a comic is anymore given what’s going on in the current election cycle,” says Black. “My job is to be crazier than what I see around me, but we’re really hitting the limit here.”
In truth, Black should have no problem paying the bills. He's booked a two-night stop at Milwaukee's Pabst Theater May 13 and 14, where the ongoing political chaos will provide ample fodder for the acerbic comedian's profanity-laced rants.
Black says the five-candidate race for the presidency is unlike any other that’s gone before. It’s hard to be funny, he says, when reality itself is such a joke.
“I feel like we’re living in fictional times,” Black says. “If I were reading about this in a book I’d be laughing.”
The big issue, Black believes, is that both the Republicans and Democrats have created insular worlds for themselves and have ceased any kind of pretense at doing their jobs in serving their constituencies. The result, he says, is that both parties have gotten the candidates they deserve and now they’re going to have to live with them.
“The Republicans have let the tail wag the dog, and they make it real hard to gravitate towards them,” Black notes. “Ted Cruz is a bitter pill and his own party doesn’t like him. And once Donald Trump started saying that all Mexicans were involved in some kind of rape-a-thon, he was done. As a president you can think those things, but you have to learn to keep your mouth shut.”
The Democrats don’t fare much better under the comic’s hyperbolic analysis. Hillary Clinton, especially, attracts Black's wrath.
“Hillary is a criminal,” Black says. “She’s the one who’s been in your carpool for 10 years and every morning you think, ‘I can’t believe I have to pick her up again!’”
Bernie Sanders, however, does have an appeal for Black, who describes himself as a socialist. But the comedian doesn’t hold out any hope that the Vermont senator will be elected.
“The good news is that Bernie Sanders is running as a Socialist, and the bad news is that he is running as a Socialist,” Black quips. “Voters are afraid of the word ‘Socialist’ and treat the party and his concept as a completely irrational alternative. But that fact that Bernie is running on the platform in my lifetime is huge.”
Black didn’t have any good words for the candidates who already have dropped out of the race, including Ben Carson (“He’s batshit crazy!”) and Wisconsin governor Scott Walker.
“Don’t you ever send us someone like Scott Walker and expect us to accept him as our president. He has all the charisma of Tupperware!” Black rants. “From (Robert “Fighting Bob”) LaFollete to this? Wisconsin doesn’t do that, Texas does that. You should be punished!”
But then Black believes the outcome of the election, especially after two years of televised debates that began to resemble the comic’s tamer routines, may be punishment enough for U.S. voters.
“That leaves us with what we have — a long, slow plodding toward the light,” Black says. “And it leaves the politicians where they should be — seeking compromise. That’s all I give a shit about in the end. Go and do your job! You haven’t done it in 20 years!”
Black sees a voting population growing increasingly frustrated, which puts him in good company of like-minded and, in some cases, equally vocal critics of the political process.
“It’s a reflection of the anger that’s out there,” Black says. “When I first started 25 years ago they said I was too angry as a comic. Now I don’t think I am as angry as a lot of the people in the audience.”
There’s a lot to be angry about, too, but Black advises everyone to be careful what they wish for.
“The pendulum will eventually swing the other way and this, too, shall pass,” Black says. “But crazy as it is now, this could become a real fucking snoozefest as well.”
Often thought to be a mean-spirited curmudgeon, Black instead describes himself as a “pissed-off optimist” who still harbors hope for the human race.
“Curmudgeons don’t believe there is any hope, but I don’t think I would be as angry as I am if I weren’t an optimist,” Black says. “I guess I’m a glass half-full guy, but the glass is half-full of slightly polluted and lightly leaded water.”
Lewis Black’s The Emperor’s New Clothes: The Naked Truth Tour makes a two-night stop May 13 and 14 at the Pabst Theatre, 144 E. Wells St., Milwaukee. Tickets are $55 for the 8 p.m. shows. Dial 414-286-3663 or visit pabsttheater.org to purchase tickets.