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Lewis Black wants you to know he's more than his anger: 'People are surprised that I'm an optimist.'

Headshot of comedian Lewis Black standings with his hands crossed in front of him
Courtesy photo

Comedian Lewis Black is one of the country’s best-known stand-up comics. He’s also an actor, an author and a playwright.

At age 74, he continues to tour stages around America. And on Thursday night, Black will perform at the Colonial Theatre in Laconia.

NHPR’s Rick Ganley spoke with him about his current tour, ahead of his show in New Hampshire.


Transcript

You're a podcaster now, I know. You've got a microphone directly to your audience. Why do you still tour? Why do you still want to be on stage?

Because podcasting is just kind of I'm sitting in a room by myself. I might as well be in a bunker raving like a lunatic. There's no bounce back. What I enjoy is reading rants or having the rants get out there, but I prefer to talk directly to the audience. Their presence is vital. It's what it's about.

I wonder, with everything you've done in your life, you've been a playwright, you've obviously done some acting, some voice work, and of course, lots of television. But once a stand-up, always a stand-up?

Stand-up was the evolution from theater. I really never planned for this to be what I was going to be doing. I thought I'd be in theater. I thought I'd be teaching theater if worse came to worse. I had a real love of it. And this I was just doing on the side as kind of a hobby, and then it kind of took over. It allows me to write. It's all the things that theater did. I write, I direct and I'm performing.

I'm wondering about the evolution of your act. When you are working on things now, when you are going to take them out on tour, do you still go into a cabaret style setting with a small audience and work on things?

No, I'm an idiot. I do it in a theater. I work on it in a theater in front of a lot of people, and it seems that my audience has figured that out. So that in part is why they kind of come to see me, because they know what they're getting is kind of raw. And then during the course of the year or two years that it might be until my special, they've seen a show and then they'll see where it ended up.

Has the audience evolved with you as you've evolved?

Yeah, I think so, and I think they've helped me evolve. I mean, as I say in this new special of mine, they've given me a kind of an artistic freedom that I can never repay. I mean, it's extraordinary to be able to be given that kind of freedom up there.

There's a rather sweet moment at the end of your new YouTube special. It's titled 'Tragically, I Need You.' You thank the audience, and not just that particular crowd, but those who have come to see and support you for decades. And you actually appear to tear up a little. Can you tell me about that?

Yeah. No, don't tell people I teared up.

Well, they're going to see it.

I know, but I'm a brilliant actor. No, I did, because I've always had that kind of like — there's a softie inside me that just irritates me. And so, that's what kind of came to the fore. And I was completely kind of lost without that audience, because that audience really had been my primary relationship. I felt when I was in the middle of the pandemic of what it must feel like to have a trial separation.

Is there something that your longtime audience might not know about you that you'd want to reveal? Besides being a little bit of a softie and that annoys you, is there something about Lewis Black that we don't know?

I think you know a lot more now because of the podcast, really. Because I start saying stuff and then later on I go, I can't believe I just said that. I mean, sometimes people are surprised that I'm an optimist, because I wouldn't be this angry if I didn't believe things could change. Life's little irritants, and they add up all day, and I'm lucky enough to be able to go on stage and then yell about banned books.

Is it therapeutic?

I believe it is. I think I should be doing an infomercial. Lewis Black shows you how to rant and rave, because the weirdest thing is how good my blood pressure is.

For many radio listeners throughout New Hampshire, Rick Ganley is the first voice they hear each weekday morning, bringing them up to speed on news developments overnight and starting their day off with the latest information.
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