Lewis Black is busy, to say the least. His newest CD, The Carnegie Hall Performances was just released to wide acclaim. It's his fifth stand-up album since 2000. He's done three Comedy Central Presents (more than anybody) and his newest HBO special, "Lewis Black: Red, White, and Screwed" airs June 10th. Lewis also makes appearances on the Weather Channel, wrote an autobiography (called Nothing's Sacred), tours constantly, and of course appears on his own weekly Daily Show segment.
Jeff: CollegeHumor.com has a lot of frat humor. You were in a fraternity yourself
Lewis Black: For a few minutes a year
J: What happened?
L: I realized I could hang out over there and not be a member. I was there for a year. It was fun. The guys became my friends and all, but I basically opted out when I realized I could just go there and not pay.
J: Were you a frat guy?
L: I've never been close to being a frat guy. A frat guy could get laid, and I couldn't get laid.
J: When did you start developing the kind of style you use now?
L: Probably in the late 80's is when it started and I've been working on it since.
J: But you were doing comedy a lot longer than that
L: Yeah, I was shitty. I think I wrote well, but I didn't know how to deliver it. I was completely at a loss.
J: How many years did your perform before you were happy with it?
L: I think it took about about 12 years, 13 years. I didn't care, because I never thought I'd be doing this for a living. I thought I'd be teaching or something.
J: You had a masters in arts from Yale too
L: Well I thought I'd be teaching and writing plays. You can't make enough money just writing plays. And I didn't want to really write movies and wasn't interested in writing TV. I like writing plays, but that's like being a jazz poet.
J: Do you still write plays?
L: Not as much. I've written a little in terms of rewriting some things for theater, but I work mostly now as an actor now. I prefer it, just because the amount of abuse I took as a playwright isn't worth going back to.
J:You probably throw a lot more weight around now though.
L: I could. I'll be honest, I've had theaters ask for my work, and I'll send it to them, and they'll reject it. Certain theaters can't do certain things, but I've got places that are interested and I'll be doing more in terms of it as times goes on.
J: Were your plays comedies?
L: Most of them were comedies, yes. Dark, surreal, twisted.
J: Where are you currently at with your upcoming Comedy Central show, The Red States Diaries?
L: Comedy Central saw the half hour, they tested it, and testing went very well. Even though we told them what they were getting, after they saw it they made the decision they wanted something slightly different. We're now doing as an hour coming up in the summer or early fall, and it'll be on as a special. If it works, it may become a series.
J: What's the show about?
L: I go to Red States and try to figure out what they are thinking and what they want.
J: Where did you go?
L: The place for the first one was Tallahassee, Florida. Florida State. Red states are big on college football, it was all about college football.
J: Did you learn what they were thinking?
L: I learned people that tailgate have a lot of fun.
J: You've been on The Daily Show for a while now
L: I've been there since the beginning.
J: Did you always think it could become a place to launch comedians into the mainstream?
L: No, not at all but I thought it would be very successful. It's a good place for us, it worked out very well. We were very lucky.
J: How did you get involved?
L: Lizz Winstead was the producer and knew my work and needed someone to come in every other week and do two and a half minutes of yelling and screaming and I was the guy. Then it became every week and then it became Black in Black.
J: On your new Carnegie Hall CD you talk about how you can't get straight facts for the news anymore. Where do you get your news?
L: I read some online I read the Times, I read USA Today, I watch CNN, and MSNBC and flip around. I read a lot of editorial stuff because they help collate the information that becomes tough because there's so much shit to look through. If there's something that's going on, like immigration, and I think I need more information, I'll read the Times. I read a Newsweek once a month, Time once a month. That kind of stuff.
J: How do you separate the facts from the spin?
L: Just after a while I do it on my own. "Oh fuck, they're bullshitting me." You just start looking and realizing what fits and what doesn't.
J: On the CD you also talk about getting away from America just because you were so sick of it after Katrina, where did you go?
L: I haven't gone anywhere yet, that's the sad thing. Then I got another movie so I said "ok, I'll stay here for a while."
J: Which movie was that?
L: I did a movie called Unaccompanied Minors, and that was with Tyler Williams, who plays the young Chris Rock on Everybody Hates Chris. He's a very funny kid. Also Bret Kelly, who was in Bad Santa. They're both really good. There were a few other kids, like Joe Mantegna's daughter. They were all really good, and I play the prick. It's a Paul Feig movie, and it was a pleasure working with him.
J: Is that something you're looking to do now, more movies?
L: I did four this year and they haven't come out yet so we'll see what happens when they come out. It could all be over in a minute. As long as I can work with the kind of people I worked with this year, I would continue to do it. I worked with Paul, I worked with Barry Levinson, I worked Steven Pink, and I worked with Bob Saget.
J: What did you do with Bob Saget?
L: Bob Saget did Farce of the Penguins, which is a filthy version of March of the Penguins. It was really fun.
J: Thanks for taking the time to talk to us this afternoon.
L: No problem, the college kids are the ones that found me and they've been terrific. We do a comedy festival in North Carolina called the Carolina Comedy Festival. We're going to do it again in February, and my hope ist hat it will evolve into a large scale comedy festival. I go down with a group of my friends, and then we go around and have seminars, and we get to talk to the kids which is always very fun.