Lewis Black on comedy, drinking and relaxing during year one of President Trump
Whether its offensive politics to even more offensive Halloween candy – looking at you, candy corn – Lewis Black has built an impressive career out of being really, really, ridiculously angry. So one might assume the Donald Trump presidency, which celebrated one year this week, would be a golden age of rage for the comedian and his signature furious finger-spasming, roiling rants.
"He's really good for comedy in the way that a stroke is good for a nap," Black jokes, during our phone conversation before he heads to Milwaukee – one of the few things to earn a rave rather than a rant during Black's bits, thanks to our impressive alcohol intake – for two nights of comedy at The Pabst Theater on Friday, Nov. 10 and Saturday, Nov. 11.
Before he hits the stage, though, we chatted some more about today's exhausting politics, Wisconsin's impressive obsession with alcohol and artery-clogging foods, and Black's insane way of staying sane through it all.
OnMilwaukee: I imagine it's hard to write comedy in this political climate just because of the amount of stuff every week. I was looking back and the Trump orb photo that went viral was just a couple of months ago, but it feels like five years ago already.
Lewis Black: Yeah, because he can't jam enough stuff into a day for us. I just don't understand how people miss the point that you can yell about all these presidents all you want – which I've done. I've been through all of them. I find them all kind of noxious in their own special way, because who would want to be president except for somebody where something is wrong. And then you come to this, and here's another way we're not going to accomplish anything. "Boy, he's getting stuff done!" No! Nothing's getting done. We don't do anything. We are really more interested in how NOT to get something done than actually how to do it.
In order for this to work – which most Americans seem to lose sight of; it's not that Washington is broken, Congress is broken – those people have to work together. That's the deal. You don't like the other person? I don't care! You come up with a prom float and shut up!
It's like that bit from your routine from years ago, that it's a party of no ideas and a party of bad ideas.
And I've got a really bad idea, and I'm going to make it worse! And really, his interests, whether people like it or not – and I can say this having been around him in New York City for 40 years – his interest is in himself. He's really mostly interested in what people think of him and that people are talking about him. Which is why all these comments from time to time, they go, "Boy, he doesn't have empathy." Well, no, because it's all about him.
I don't know how people miss this. I don't know how they're oblivious to it. I don't know if it's because we've been steeped in Facebook and Twitter to the point that we don't get it anymore? That we can't see something that normally, viscerally, Americans would react to. And they don't anymore. I don't get it.
And as a performer, it's exhausting. I just want to talk about weather. Not even climate stuff – just weather. Just today, in New York City, it's going to be 66 and rainy. Tomorrow it's going to be 40. You know what that is? That's a chest cold, that's what that is. That's not weather.
You've interacted with Donald Trump in the past or been at events with him?
He's been in my city! We've lived in the same city for 40 years. I was doing jokes about him 40 years ago. I don't need to keep making jokes about him! I need somebody else!
He's gotten in touch with me, because I did a piece about him on "The Daily Show" where we basically said what America needed in 2012 was a third-world, banana boat type of dictator – and that Donald Trump seemed perfect. And then I held up a "Donald Trump for President" thing. And then he got in touch. I didn't get back in touch with him, partly because I was busy – I was dealing with my parents and what was going on with them. And he kept trying to get in touch with his assistant, and all I kept thinking was I'm a comic and I don't have time; he's an entrepreneur, and he's got time to keep getting in touch?
Then I decided not to get in touch with him because that's what he expects. He thinks because he's him, because he's the Donald, people should hop to and get back to him. And no. And we never talked – and I had no desire to talk to him. Was he going to invite me to be on "The Apprentice"? Ugh!
So what do you do to relax during these high-stress times?
I take a toilet seat, and I hold it up, and then I drop it on my penis. And that kind of takes the edge off. I just think that, from time to time, you create a larger pain in order to avoid the other pain. I mean, I don't do it a lot, because then you end up having to see a doctor. All things in moderation!
You're also a huge wine connoisseur. Where did that come from?
It just came from the fact that I can't drink a lot of beer because I'm allergic to it, so I can only have a little beer but I can have a lot more wine. I wouldn't call it a wine connoisseur. I would call it a way to hide an alcohol problem. "Oh, he's drinking wine; he must have taste." No, he must have a problem.
It's mostly because my brother was over in Europe way early on, like in the '80s, and started sending back wine. When he came back to the states to live, he was, "Try this! Try this! Try this!" A couple of my friends were really wine – I don't call them connoisseurs; they're wine psychotics. They would introduce me to a variety of things, so just from the sheer volume of what I've drunk, I've got a pretty good idea of what's what.
We appreciate that you appreciate our love of alcohol here in Milwaukee. Is that your favorite part of visiting?
Well that, and I've learned how to drink there. The first time I had Jager was there; the first time I had Ketel One vodka was there. You were getting a variety of liquors before anyone else, so I don't know if you had guys on the side of the road pulling trucks over and stealing the liquor.
But the whole state has always been a joy to wander through and drink in. It was one of the places where you'd do shows on a Friday or Saturday, and the second show, generally in most cities, people would be really out of control. But in Milwaukee, you're just getting started. It was always a great audience. It's always been. I did Summerfest for years. Wisconsin's a big part of making my career happen.
Is there anywhere or anything in particular you have to do when you come to town?
Well, the butter burger is always fun, but generally in Milwaukee, it's wandering around and seeing what else you've done in terms of how you've added cheese to something that didn't need it or fat to something that didn't need it – and then usually the opportunity to eat it. I remember one of the first ones was there was a burger that was fried in a stick of butter, and I said, "Well, I have to have that." And I immediately went out to get it.
I do have to have a brat when I'm there. There's always stuff. If there's yet another craft beer I haven't seen, let's try that.
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