Lewis Black pulls no punchlines on his ‘Joke’s On Us’ tour


At this point, it’s borderline lazy to say something along the lines of “Lewis Black is pissed off” — that’s usually a given.

But even after 30 years of rants and revelations, the political satirist has kept his perspective fresh — — while indeed still very pissed off — and will continue to do so as he brings his The Joke’s On Us tour to The Shubert Theatre this weekend (November 9 and 10) for some much needed post-election decompression. Let’s all just hope that the 50 degree forecasts stay put.

“It’s always great to come back to Boston,” Black tells Vanyaland. “I feel like Boston was pivotal in shaping my comedy. It’s a great city, and inevitably, as soon as I leave Boston, I’m going to feel better about the weather wherever else I’m going. I’ve spent a fair chunk of time in the city, like when I was at the A.R.T. a number of years ago, I was there for about three or four months. I developed a real affection for the city. But you’re still delusional when it comes to weather.”

Sure, the weather this time of the year may be somewhat representative of Boston’s leathered and weathered personality, but that won’t phase Black as he brings his newest hour to the stage, complete with his customary post-set rant, dubbed “The Rant is Due,” a portion of the show where Black goes off-script about the day’s most intriguing (and often, downright insane) headlines.

“We go live from every theatre, and generally, I’ll have folks write to me about certain topics,” says Black about what he considers a “city-produced” part of the show. “Like with the shows in Boston, I’ll ask people to send in their complaints, what they like about Boston, what they don’t like about Boston, and about an hour before the show, I put them all together into a 15-minute rant that goes live throughout the world.”

It hasn’t all been ranting to the masses for the 70-year old socialist, though. Aside from bringing his well-crafted diatribes to crowds all over the world, Black has also had a few of his stage plays produced over the years, with one in particular hitting a milestone in 2018. While a full-length production, One Slight Hitch, has been published and produced all over the country since its debut at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in 2011, Black finds pride in one of his lesser-known efforts, the now-20-year-old The Deal — a one-act production in which two guys are making a deal, and you never know what they’re making a deal on. It just gets bigger and bigger, and you really don’t know what they’re talking about.

While he’d most likely want you to see for yourself just what the show entails, he’s not shying away from letting us in on what his masterpiece boils down to.

“Quite simply, all you need to know is that it ends with the two of them grabbing each other’s balls and screaming ‘it’s a deal!’. I’m very proud of that play,” says Black with a slight chuckle. “I’m also amazed that not only has it ever lost it’s timeliness, but I feel like it’s gotten more timely as time goes on.”

Timeliness has never been an issue for Black. Over the course of his three decades in comedy, the Maryland native has attained and retained his rightful place as one of the most sought-after political voices in the industry, with a recurring guest spot on The Daily Show since 1996, and a treasure trove of stand-up specials and albums.

But in terms of how the outcome of the 2018 midterms will shape his act when he visits Tremont Street, it’s not going to phase Black too much. It’s really business as usual for him, especially when you’re dealing with so much on-tap material. “No matter what happens with the election,” he offers, “on the basis of how it affects my act, the stupidity of the people in charge, on both sides, will ensure that there will still be a profound amount of stupid to discuss. That’s one thing you can always count on.”

Black has always aligned the names of his tours with what is going on in the world around him. With The Joke’s On Us mantra, it’s his way of realizing we’ve sort of reached the end of the line.

“We’ve tried intelligence, and that didn’t work, so now let’s go for stupid,” says Black. “But it’s not just [Trump]. When you’re standing around, having to waste time with people to discuss how 97 percent of the world’s scientists believe there’s climate change, it’s absurd. We’re in the late innings here. We don’t have time to discuss this anymore. I’m not going to sit here and discuss whether the earth is flat. I mean, are you shitting me?”

Black certainly has a leg up on most pundits and satirists with how he approaches the day’s hot-button issues, since he really could care less about Trump’s antics. That allows him to craft his set around more pressing issues instead of Trump, who Black feels is “good for comedy the way a stroke is good for a nap.”

“I don’t even talk about him until 40 minutes into my set. He just doesn’t interest me,” admits the Yale School of Drama alum. “The response from Congress interests me, because there are no adults in the room. Not that he’s not an adult, but the fact that there are no adults around him. I don’t listen to Mitch McConnell or Chuck Schumer anymore, either, because these people are not adults.”

So how does Black keep a fresh perspective after covering the foibles of capitol hill for so long, you may ask? For him, a veteran in the art of telling it like it is, new angles are as easy to find as items on a dollar menu. “Every time you turn a corner, something new pops up. Recently, I was traveling, and I noticed on a McDonald’s menu that there were McNuggets and buttermilk tenders, so I asked the difference between them,” Black recollects. “Just in doing that, I learned really what is wrong with America. So, each time, I kind of discover a new way to define something, and give people a way to stand back from the madness for a minute and see what I’m talking about.”

Of course, just because he doesn’t let Trump clog up his set doesn’t mean Black is going to let him get away from his strategic and intellectually-driven criticisms. He may not be enthused by the President’s antics, but the Inside Out actor has made a career out of eviscerating elected officials and their supporters — and he’s found more than a few problems with how Trump’s supporters handle things: “There’s a real chunk of time where the President isn’t telling you the truth, and that’s kind of a fucking problem. The President doesn’t know what the law is, and that’s kind of a fucking problem. Under the circumstances, as of today at least, his approval rating is up. So apparently, we don’t need law, and we don’t need to be told the truth anymore. We’re in the spin-cycle.”

He doesn’t think his job is being done for him with every tweet or public snarling at the press, but, for Lewis Black, finding new ways to present his widely-sought viewpoint has certainly taken a toll. But that isn’t going to stop him anytime soon.

“I’ve had to find ways to out-think the idiocy we live in. It’s exhausting.”

LEWIS BLACK :: Friday, November 9 and Saturday, November 10 at The Shubert Theatre at The Boch Center, 265 Tremont St. in Boston, MA :: 8 p.m., tickets start at $59.75 :: Advance tickets :: Venue event page :: Featured photo by Clay McBride