UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN-MADISON — When he’s not appearing in his weekly segment on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” comedian Lewis Black tours the country as a headlining stand-up comedian. Whether he’s pointing out the foibles of your local politician or foaming at the mouth while complaining about the weather, few can keep a straight face when he gets going. Mr. Black took the time to chat with The Badger Herald about college kids, errant fastballs, and why he’ll never single you out in his audience.
The Badger Herald: You recorded The White Album in Madison, and you’ve been to Summerfest several times now. Does Wisconsin hold a special place in your heart?
Lewis Black: For some reason I’m oddly attracted to the state. It’s not only the beer, it’s that federal grant for liquor that you people have. There’s now like 300,000 some microbreweries in the state!
BH: Do you enjoy going on college tours to cities like Madison?
LB: Yeah I love Madison, it’s a great town. The thing about college kids is that they’re the ones who discovered me. They’re the ones who drag their parents in, people who should’ve known about me in the first place.
BH: Conan O’Brien said in a recent interview that it bothers him when he has a bunch of drunken frat-boys in the audience that respond with hoots and hollers no matter what he says. Does that happen to you at all?
LB: No, it’s amazing how attentive they are. They’re more interested in me than I am.
BH: Most of the college kids are into your political sense of humor then?
LB: Yeah, yeah and only occasionally will I get someone screaming, “If it weren’t for my horse . . .”
BH: How did your standup style evolve into the angry rant that it is today?
LB: Well, it started with real anger, and then I realized that wasn’t going anywhere. So a friend of mine said, “You’re really angry and you’re always yelling, why don’t you go on stage and laugh too?” So the next time I went on stage and started yelling more, and it took me nearly three years to get to this point.
BH: So how do you feel about some of the comparisons made to your style and those of Sam Kinison or Bill Hicks?
LB: Well, those are nothing but compliments, really.
BH: Have you ever sought anything more day-to-day on “The Daily Show”, say, as a correspondent?
LB: No, actually, the only thing I ever tried was to be anything close to the host before Jon [Stewart] got there. But it’s working out great now, whoever’s in that slot, it works out wonderful for us.
BH: How many times did you watch that clip of [Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher] Randy Johnson hitting that bird with a fastball?
LB: [Laughs] At least eight times. We only originally used it three times in the segment, but we had to just keep showing it again and again. That was unbelievable. There have actually been a couple things like that. Pig races, these pig races in Oregon that we kept watching over and over. You know you’ve got like 20,000 people watching these things too!
BH: What do you like to do when you’re on the road touring at this time of year?
LB: Well at Summerfest it’s great, I see a lot of the bands, and wander around from ten to ten, thinking I’m in the wrong place.
BH: Do you get stopped a lot in the crowd?
LB: More each year. You know, someone will stop me and say, [imitating girl’s voice] “I can’t believe it’s you!” No but I love Milwaukee and Water Street. I love seeing that big brown building on Water Street because I immediately get a contact high.
BH: Do you usually try to poke fun at whatever city you’re in to try to get the crowd into it?
LB: Yeah I did that one year in Milwaukee and the critic chastised me, saying, what the fuck did he say, that I was kissing up. It’s like, mister, what am I gonna do, talk about chess? Then one year they said I was dirtier than George Carlin.
BH: How much do you like to improvise on stage?
LB: Twenty percent of the time, usually about politics. Right now I got [Vice President] Cheney’s pacemaker to talk about. Certain sections fall into a pattern after a while, and that becomes the bit. But some sections I just do different every time out.
BH: Do you ever like to pick on people from the crowd?
LB: I never pick on the crowd because they’re the ones who pay me. The targets should always be much bigger.