For comedian Lewis Black, anger has been a potent force.
Being angry isn't only comedian Lewis Black's calling card; it's his method. When the human consequences of political or cultural decisions are severe, Black's rage helps him find its comedic heart. "Once I get angry I can nail down what's funny about it," he says by phone. " You use the words 'forcible rape' that [Paul] Ryan and [Todd] Akin had come up with in the bill they passed. You're stunned first, then you go, 'Well, there's forcible rape. What, is there a seductive rape I don't know about?'"
Black will play the Mahalia Jackson Theater on Sunday night, and these days he's doubly frustrated. The war on science waged by Republicans is galling enough, but its made worse by the fact that it all sounds so familiar. "I've sat through all these arguments before," Black says. "I can't sit through them again."
The recent Republican National Convention similarly seemed like conventions he'd seen before.
"I was probably 8 or 9 or 10 years old and they took place in rooms that didn't have enough air conditioning and I watched them in black and white," he says. "That convention would have been absolutely spectacular in 1956."
Black's comedic voice comes to some extent from his mother, who would watch the news and yell at the television. "It took me a long time discover it onstage, but for years I was funniest when I was angry," he says. "When people watch me get angry, they laugh."
In a world of moderate voices and mediated sentiments, Black's cuts through as authentic. Not only is he upset by the same things that upset us, but he's upset in the same way and expresses his anger in the same language we'd use. He gives voice to what we're thinking.
"I hope that's what I do," Black says. The kids say, 'You're like my dad, only you're funny.'"
Expressing outrage often involves extreme language, which Black doesn't shy away from. On one hand, it keeps his comedy real because it's the language he uses offstage as well - "like commas," he says. It's also therapeutic, though. "When I was 12 or 13, I'd go seek out people who would use that kind of language. I'd go listen to Lenny Bruce, I'd go listen to George Carlin. I'd have to sneak away, but it was the stuff that helped form me. Some people think I'm screwed up but it really helped. It made me feel saner, that's for sure."
Since politics are a major part of his comedy, Black's become adept at dealing swiftly with current events. "Some stuff's just immediate," he says. "I watched Paul Ryan's speech today and I know he's speaking English but I don't understand it." In other cases, it takes more time and careful crafting.
"The embassies, I'm not going, 'Wow, here's comedy fodder.' But something about it struck me, so maybe in a few days I can talk about it if it works out in my head."