As a two-time Grammy-winning comedian and longtime Daily Show contributor, Lewis Black has carved out a career as the thinking-man's angry American.
Performing Saturday at The Ryman — in his second appearance at the famed auditorium — the ever outraged, sardonic stand-up comic and social critic will preview material for a television special set to air in March and a live album slated for release later this year.
Recently Black spoke to the Scene, ranting about the paralyzing rhetoric of today's congressmen, performing for Southern audiences, the current Republican primary season and more.
Are you having a good morning?
As good as you can when you've got a mild stomach flu that you don't know what it is, and you're looking forward to dental surgery. But otherwise, I'm great!
I'm sorry to hear that, and to make you work in such a condition.
It's OK. It takes my mind off of it.
Well, pretend I'm in even worse shape and that I've just woken up from a yearlong coma. Briefly tell me what I have missed in American culture and politics.
Nothing! Nothing! You've missed nothing! Nothing has occurred. Nothing at all. There has been no movement. There has been nothing [unless], like, you're interested in the verbiage that makes no difference on any level whatsoever, that's what you've missed. You've missed nothing! I've never seen anything like it. We've accomplished utterly nothing within the course of the year except to listen to a bunch of blithering idiots.
Is that in large part due to the Republican electoral freak show?
The Republicans or the Democrats — they've done no better. I mean they're really kind of an appalling group on their own front. What are they doing? They're shutting up. Instead of actually trying to step in and go, "Let's try and be lucid," they just sit back because all it's about is winning. We might as well just have a Super Bowl everyday.
And in the end they're all ineffectual?
Well, it certainly has seemed to reach that point. They don't seem to really give a shit, other than to win their district or an election.
Do you think the Republicans have a chance of winning the next election?
You never know what's going to happen. Every time you think it's reached massive insanity we move into a different plateau.
Do you have a prediction on who's going to win the Republican nomination?
Not at this point. A week ago, two weeks ago I would have said Romney, but now I'm not sure. The Republican who wins is the one who eats the most of his young.
Who do you say is currently the most evil man or woman in America?
(Long pause) Eric Cantor.
He's Jewish. I'm Jewish. He should know better. He's really said some things that are beyond appalling. When he said that you're not going to send aid to the state of Vermont until you cut a certain amount out of the budget, that's when the ball game is over. That's when you've forgotten what the country is about, what Judaism is about, what the deal is about.
What's the stupidest news story that you've heard this week?
The stupidest thing is the fact that they're doing this dance around Medicare, payroll tax cuts and unemployment benefits. Just the fact that they continually go, "We're not going to deal with unemployment benefits."
The fact of the matter is that basically most economists I think agree that the bang for your buck, in terms of federal aid, that nothing works better than unemployment benefits because it continues to stimulate the economy. So to sit there and argue about it, at a time in which there's still massive unemployment, is really just disturbing beyond belief. They say, "Well, these people aren't trying." Just stop it with that! It's not 20 years ago. It's not a fight over the welfare state.
We are in the midst of a massive switch, a massive changeover in the way people make a living, and we have to figure out how to do it. Just because these sons of bitches make a living and have survived this crash, it's just mean. It's mean-spirited. It's tiresome, and it's greedy.
Do you think that the Occupy Movement has been at all effective in shifting the debate toward that kind of economic inequality?
If anybody points a finger at nonsense, it's good. The problem I felt that the Occupy Movement had was that it was two years too late. It came way after the fact, and we live each day as if we've had a stroke. "Look what happened yesterday." "Where was I?" They're like guys waking up in some alcoholic haze.
What do you think Americans should be more enraged about?
That their leadership is massively less than what they deserve. Or maybe it is what they deserve? I think our leadership is appalling. I think our leadership is really great for 25 years ago. Twenty-five years ago none of these pricks would have been elected. That's the other thing. None of these pricks could hold a candle to the people who worked in Congress, because the people who worked in Congress actually worked.
Do you think that's a media issue, with the constant cycle of sound bites, etc.?
No, I think that that's their fault. That's the leadership's fault. The leadership has to go ahead and do the work it has to do. They choose to be involved in the cycle. It's the same way in which I've watched certain celebrities go, "Gee, I can't believe those people are waiting outside to take my picture. I wish I didn't have to deal with that." And then they do something that makes the people chase after them.
What do you think people should be less enraged about?
I think they should be less enraged about losing their freedom.
You mean like the soldier-of-fortune crowd?
It's not even that. It's the people who say, "The government's taking our freedom away." You've still got more freedom [here] than you've got anywhere else. No one's taking your freedom away — you can carry a gun if you want. It's absurd.
Do you notice much of different between audiences you perform for in the South, such as here in Tennessee, versus audiences in a place like New York?
It's been interesting. There's a slight difference in the South, but not a major difference. I'll have more people get upset because probably they feel like I come down too hard on their Republican brethren. ... The South is a funny place. I like it a lot. I really do. But the exchange is dealing with people who still, you know, it's that whole kinda religious thing that holds sway over it.
So you have a lot of Republicans who come out to see your show?
Yeah. I get a pretty mixed crowd. But up north they're not as conservative because they get it. Look, I try to explain it to these people — I'm in the middle. I don't think that Obama has done a very good job, and I wait around for the Republicans to come up with someone, and they had four years to do it and they can't. And most people get that. A lot of people are locked in to their Newt or their Rick. It's ridiculous.
Is there anyone in the political spectrum that you appreciate, or would you like to see them all just be chained to the bottom of the sea?
Probably the ones who do the work. The ones you don't know. The one's who don't come out in front of me and puff their chests up and tell me that we're all going to drop dead tomorrow.
Have you followed much in the way of Tennessee politics?
No, I haven't. I've missed it. There's enough on my plate without adding the Tennessee politics [laughs].
You're not missing much, except maybe in way of comedic fodder. Anyway, you've performed at The Ryman before, right?
This is my second time. It's great! I feel privileged.
What was your experience like here in Nashville before?
I like Nashville a lot. I don't really get to do a lot. I wander around. I like the town. ... Nashville's a great town! You've got that great music scene. Jack White's down there. You've got all of those musicians from all over, they're all moving there. You can't beat that.
Do you have any plans to return to Bonnaroo?
Probably I'll get back at some point. This year I've got other things on the plate, but last year was fun and we'll see what happens next year.
Exactly how miserable did you find that heat out there?
Between the heat and the dust, the music really helps [laughs]. ... I wish I got to see more [of it]. I got to introduce Gov't Mule, Warren Haynes' band, and that was one of the highlights of my life.
Every time you tour is it an entirely new act? How much of your act is scripted and structured and how much of it is just riffing off the cuff?
I finished a special that comes out in March. So for the past seven months, like, 60 percent of what I've been doing is I've been trying to figure out what the next show is. Every night at least 20 percent of it is, "Let's try this. Let's try this. Let's try this." But my audience gives me a fair amount of space to try shit in.
If only they would show HUDSUCKER PROXY, the Coens' most overlooked and underrated movie. It…
One I'm really looking forward to is KANSAS CITY LIGHTNING, Stanley Crouch's book about Charlie…
Another excellent idea: Prints! Check out Sam Smith's shop of awesome limited-run movie posters: http://samsmyth.wazala.com/widget/?nicknam……
Just realized Rayna is wearing the same frilly pirate blouse I wore for school photo…
It hardly seems news that the classic White Christmas is a corny show with contrivances,…