Sept. 14 2016 12:46 AM

Lewis Black talks politics, theater and ‘The Daily Show’

Courtesy Photo

Lewis Black has built a career on anger. The standup comedian rose to national notoriety through “Back in Black,” a recurring segment on Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show” where Black unleashed scathing diatribes against politicians, consumerism, “artisan” foods, the news media or whatever else had raised his ire that day. His fan club is even called Lewis Black’s Frustrated Union of Cynical Kindreds Universal. (You can figure out the acronym on your own.) But if you ask him about it, anger is not his natural state.

“My natural state is I’m close to taking a nap,” he said, laughing. “I’m fairly calm, and I try to enjoy things. But I turn on CNN or look at the front page of the paper in the morning and I start to get crazy.”

He admits that he’s easily amused. (“Bonerama — I’d like to know what that is,” he said, chuckling as he read the poster for a touring brass band.) But his attitude turns on a dime at the mention of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

“We’re still two weeks away from them debating,” he opined. “Are you kidding me? You go through this cycle, and at the end of the cycle, two people are nominated that nobody likes or trusts. How is that humanly possible?”

Black’s latest comedy tour, “The Emperor’s New Clothes: The Naked Truth,” comes to the Wharton Center Saturday.

“The best piece of political satire, still, is a children’s fable written god knows how many years ago,” Black explained. “The emperor wasn’t wearing any clothes, and everyone said they loved the clothes he was wearing. That’s exactly what I think every four years.”

While he admits that the presidential election cycle has given him plenty of material to work with, it bothers him at a deeper level.

“It’s disturbing,” he said. “The one thing we should learn from this election cycle — which we never seem to learn — is that we have to shorten to the election cycle. We spend nearly a year torturing ourselves; this is self-torture. There’s nothing gained from this.”

Black has harsh words for cable news networks and their parades of talking heads.

“You don’t need to comment on what I just saw. I just saw it!” he said. “I know what I saw. I don’t need four analysts. I don’t need surrogates. You don’t need somebody interpreting what you saw.”

Black, 68, studied theater at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Yale, with hopes of working as a playwright.

“I realized that by the age of 40 I was completely broke,” he said. “My idea that I would make a living as a playwright was somewhat delusional.”

Black started to find success doing standup comedy at a theater in New York where he worked. His appearances on “The Daily Show,” he said, “certainly played a part in the career I have as a stand-up.”

“It’s huge to be able to work in a place where the people were that smart and that funny,” he said. “Look who I got to work with — Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert, Jon, Samantha Bee, her husband Jason (Jones), plus the people behind the scenes. The list is endless.”

“Back in Black” opened up greater opportunities for comedy tours, as well as TV and film roles.

“I loved theater,” Black said. “I still love it, but I don’t know if I want to work in it again. I no doubt will write another play, though.”

While he still performs at a few of his favorite comedy clubs, Black prefers the atmosphere of larger theaters.

“I’ve always been someone who writes my material on stage, and in some ways, it’s easier to do that in a theater,” he explained. “The quality of the silence is different than a club where they’re serving drinks, and people are ordering food, and there’s a certain amount of noise. In the theater you get that complete silence that allows you to think more clearly.”

Lewis Black 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 17. Tickets start at $39.50/$25 students. Wharton Center, 750 E. Shaw Lane, East Lansing. (517) 432-2000,

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