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Lewis Black
Lewis Black

Lewis Black brings his righteous political rage to Broadway with Running on Empty

The stand-up and recognizable The Daily Show ranter tears into American politics in his latest show

By Elise Czajkowski

Lewis Black was angry before it was cool. Before tea partyers, Occupiers and screaming pundits filled TV screens, Black was expressing his fury at the world in his stand-up and in his “Back in Black” segments on The Daily Show. Now, in the midst of a heated election year, the comic (and playwright) is bringing a new show, Running on Empty, to Broadway’s Richard Rodgers Theatre.

Why bring your show to Broadway?

[It’s] hard to pass up, when you live three blocks from Broadway. But I also aspired to get there as a playwright, so you take it any way you can get it. I’ve actually got a play opening across the river called One Slight Hitch [at the George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick, New Jersey through October 28]. No one would believe that I wrote it. It’s a romantic comedy, and audience-friendly to the point of being disturbing even to me.

Your new special, In God We Rust, doesn’t spend much time talking about politics. Were you saving it all up for Running on Empty?
There’s certainly more politics to this one. In the best of all possible worlds, I’d take what I did [in the special] in Minneapolis and put it together with what I’m doing here, and if the audience could handle it, I’d go on for four hours. But that’s psychotic and I’m not gonna do it.
What I’m doing up there when it comes to politics evolves as I watch these people. And what they’ve really done, over the course of the past three years… I feel like when I’m onstage, my character has to be crazier than what he’s seeing. And now, I’m reaching a tipping point. Because this is really as crazy as I’ve ever seen [American politics]. Both sides seem to be talking in completely different languages, both of which resemble English, but which I find difficult to understand.

Did you have any favorite speeches from the conventions?
No, because the level of rage I was at during the conventions prevented me from sitting through the conventions. I watched some of it. Just shut up, is what my feeling is. Because I’m watching something that shouldn’t exist anymore. I’m watching an anachronism. And to watch them, in a time of economic problems, basically wasting money in front of me… the speeches, it’s the same thing. You’ve got Clint Eastwood, of course. Within three minutes, I’m reminded of my own mortality. While he’s speaking, all I’m thinking is, Oh that’s right, I’m gonna die. That’s what I got.

Do you ever have days when you don’t feel angry?

I can’t remember one. I will be tired, and when I was younger, I would try to push it. And you can’t really push it. So now I just start. Instead of worrying about it, I just start where my energy is, and then it builds up. And something happens every day. Everyone has something that happens every day that just pisses you off. So a lot of the time, I may be screaming about Harry Reid or John Boehner, but what I’m really screaming about is that I had to deal with trying to get a loaner phone from Verizon and it took three hours. There’s something always feeding it.

So all that fury doesn’t drive you crazy?

When I’m home, sometimes it does. I have, I think, much more optimism than people give me credit for, and probably rightfully so. But when I’m just left to my own devices, and I’m looking at what’s gone on in this country, and my feelings about where it could be and what it should be, I look at people who just seem to fall further and further short of it. I’m profoundly disappointed by both parties, who basically, I think, had a birthright and pissed it away.

What’s your favorite subject to talk about onstage?
I mean, my favorite thing is just stupidity, as a general rule. Like [the term] legitimate rape. When somebody is that fucking stupid, it’s like being in a hot tub. It’s one of the most comfortable places I can be. People can think all they want to think, but they should have to keep their mouth shut. And so when that comes out, you just get to go crazy for a while.

Lewis Black: Running on Empty runs Tue 9–Oct 14 and Oct 19–Oct 20 at the Richard Rodgers Theatre.

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