When rock stars start singing songs about being rock stars and comics start telling stories about being comics they cross some sort of perilous divide. Such seems to be the case with Lewis Black. I don’t know when I first became aware of him; three or four years ago maybe. He’s a pretty funny guy in the social and political vein who swears a lot. Some of the material is really solid in its own right but a good deal of the humor lies in his delivery.
He gets pissed and right there on stage looks as if he is going to suffer an apoplectic fit, this from a guy who recommends that kids distract themselves by whittling. Part of the deal—part that’s funny—is the impotence of his rage. He starts sticking out his hand with his finger out as if he is making points. But the finger is crooked.
The last time I saw him on TV though he had started telling stories about being a comic. Seems he had been invited to be the MC, I think it was, at some white house affair. Now half of his bread and butter is attacking Bush and the current administration, so there he is in the white house, or some official white house place, standing right next to Chaney and Bush and he has agreed not to lambaste them. Afterwards, his parents, whom he has invited to bask in his glory, will hardly speak to him.
So he acknowledges having made a mistake and goes on to tell the audience what a comic is. A comic is a person who goes out into the audience with a flashlight and sneaks up behind every person who is there, and pulls down their pants, and shines the flashlight up the person’s asshole, and upon examination proclaims that the person’s asshole is shit free!
This suggests that being a comic is pretty dirty work. It also suggests that the purpose of comedy is to make people laugh and as they do so to feel, at least momentary, because they are in the know and can laugh at the idiots being mocked, that they have a clean conscience. But of course Black implies, nobody really has a clean conscience. So if we think, even momentarily, that we have clean consciences or assholes then we too are idiots.
We are just knowing idiots laughing at unknowing idiots. What this means is that Black has grave doubts about the function of comedy, his role as a comic, and about the audience that he seeks to make laugh. Maybe part of the problem is the material. Any idiot can make jokes about Bush. It’s almost too easy, since Bush has lowered the stupidity bar so damn far. So people can yuck it up at Bush and feel momentarily superior to the moron and his moronic minions who are driving the country to rack and ruin.
Cheap laughs degrade comedy.
In any case, I am worried about Lewis.