Thanks For Risking Your Life
Available as a video (streaming) or old-fashioned CD/comedy album, Lewis Black must have just snuck in with one of the last ‘proper’ comedy specials ahead of the pandemic. As you see from the cover he was masked up – and his audience was socially distanced, he jokes that they were small in number, and maybe not just because of the oncoming/ongoing pandemic and the various measures haphazardly being put into place.
As scathing indictment of the stupidity and uselessness of the Trump administration you could have – and probably did – turn to any of the many late night talk show hosts. But no one cuts to the quick sharper and better than Lewis Black. He of course has been part of the industry of late night talk shows – hosting his own for a time, being a must-have guest on any of the obvious suspects and winningly being a correspondent for a time on the Daily Show; always one hell of a ranter his political chops were brilliantly showcased in this role.
There’s something so visceral and, well, ‘right’ (righteous?) about Black’s version of rage. Anger is his gift. But here he is sometimes very subtle in the way he puts across that anger. He’s incredulous. Pointing out that the gamechanger should simply have been that Trump is orange. Where some were worried that Obama was possibly from another country, why was there no concern that Trump was most likely from another planet?
It’s awful stealing jokes or ruining punchlines but here’s one where Black is – proudly – quoting himself. He refers to when the question was first raised about Trump being good for comedy, a gift. His reply in an interview was to quip that Trump is good for comedy, “the way a stroke is good for a nap”.
Outside of the pandemic there are riffs on health and aging (Black’s parents both made it to 101, his mother is still going) and the general brokenness of America, even outside and away from and well before Covid. These might seem like obvious comic riffs but there’s a power in the way Black stands at the mic – at one point even telling the audience he could care less whether they laugh or not. He’s not remotely concerned that a joke might fall flat. Because as much as he is deeply funny, Lewis Black is also a playwright, a truth teller and seeker, a philosopher, pundit and commentator. That it all gets wrapped up as ‘comic’ is perhaps just because that’s the simplest way to fit it on the business card. Though comedy is his job – his first and foremost – he is one of the great 20th and 21st century raconteurs. You might not like the way he says it but you have to hear what he says. Or you might not like what he has to say but you’ll love the way he goes about it. That dance – the jostling between those two modes – is the secret skill that only 40 years at the wheel can earn you.
This is a masterclass. And when the dust settles, when the masks maybe one day come off for good, this will also be the finest example of ‘pandemic comedy’.
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