Lewis Black’s career began as a playwright. His life as a successful stand-up has its roots in serving as an MC/opening act for the hundreds of one-act plays he wrote or co-wrote as the playwright-in-residence and Associate Artistic Director of Steve Olsen's West Bank Cafe Downstairs Theatre Bar in New York City from 1981-89. Since then, via numerous specials and shows across a variety of networks from Comedy Central to The History Channel, he has become everyone’s favorite wielder of the twin blades of anger and sarcasm, perhaps most famously as a regular correspondent to The Daily Show. At The Vanguard in Hollywood, California, Lewis sat down with Buzzine’s Nicole Rayburn before his appearance on The Green Room with Paul Provenza and characteristically began on the offensive…
Lewis Black: This is a fake mic, isn’t it?
Nicole Rayburn: Oh, absolutely.
LB: I’m serious.
NR: It’s all props.
LB: Yeah they are. This is bulls**t. This is not a real microphone. I’m looking into two f***ing Canon cameras – they’re not even cameras anymore.
NR: No, they are plastic little cameras…
LB: What is this for?
NR: This is for you. [Laughs] Just for you…
LB: This is gonna turn it all around… [Laughs]
NR: So you’re here for Paul Provenza…
LB: Well not for Paul. I mean, I love Paul dearly, but I’m not here for him, per se. But I’ve done a ton of stuff with Paul over the course of the last 25 years, so yeah, it’s good to be here. It’s good to see him. And it’s the only way we get to see each other. [Laughs]
NR: How often do you actually get to mingle with your comedy comrades?
LB: As much as I possibly can, but it’s not enough. One of the things is I’m in New York and there’s clubs and stuff, but I’m traveling so much, when I get back, I really don’t want to go in a comedy club. So it’s like, “No, I have a night off.” So tonight is a real opportunity. Ron [White] I saw about six months ago; Kathleen [Madigan] and I have had the opportunity to work a bunch together recently, so that’s been good; Jamie [Kilstein] I see every two years, like a satellite; and Paul -- it’s been a while.
NR: So there’s nobody on this panel that you don’t know well, right?
LB: No, there’s not a person…I know them all. I know the people coming on the next show after this, and the show before, and one of the guys who’s writing for it – David Feldman is an old friend.
NR: Do you feel that at this point you almost know everybody in the business?
LB: …it only took about 10 years, maybe 15.
NR: So you’re saying that it’s a myth that everyone knows everyone else in the comedy world?
LB: It is a myth. First off, there’s only…how many of us? 2,500, 3,000? Who knows?
NR: That are really doing it, or that say they’re doing it?
LB: I mean, please, if we just go with the ones that are really doing it? No, not a lot. There’s a chunk, but it took time. What was strange is I broke so late. I was older and had done standup on the side and worked and worked and worked, so by the time…I was a headliner almost immediately, but I was older. And I’m aging as we speak. [Laughs] So it took me really a while to meet people because it wasn’t like I was a middle and met guys, or an opener and met guys; it took a while. I met a lot of them in New York.
A lot of them I knew right off the bat because of the city, and then you go around, and then you start hearing about people. So I heard about Ron White forever ago, and then all of a sudden we stumbled into each other at a comedy festival, or Paul, and you’ve heard of each other or you’ve got a friend who’s a friend who’s a friend. And then eventually it comes full circle… But it’s not like you go in and they give you a card, and all of a sudden you’re a member of the f***in’ Elks Club…
NR: Are you gonna hang out and see everyone for the next shows as well?
LB: No, I’m gone. I am a busy… Look… I keep telling people my vacation started on Monday, and I had actually a little bit of stuff to do yesterday, and now I’m done. So really I’m taking this as a part of my vacation. So I may watch some of it, but really I’m ready to kind of ready to just be done with everything and go on my vacation. [Laughs]
NR: So you’re coming here as part of your vacation to have a chat with some old friends, but it is in front of cameras and a live audience, so how do you think it will go: Can you just tune the rest out and have the conversation, or do you feel the pressure to be ‘on’ all the time?
LB: It depends on where the conversation goes. So you basically take it from there. And then also, since there is an audience there, one of you had better get a f***ing laugh within a certain amount of time, or you’re all screwed. But the nice thing about working in a room with that many good comics is it’s not all on your back. And I’m on vacation, so let them do the f***in’ work.
The Second Season of ‘The Green Room with Paul Provenza’ premieres new episodes on Showtime every Thursday night at 11pm ET/PT beginning July 14, 2011.