Lewis Black up close isn’t nearly as deranged as those who know him only from his guest rants on The Daily Show might have supposed. We were used to seeing him at a desk, suit rumpled and tie askew, having a clamorous nervous breakdown over this or that. Lewis Black is the Andy Rooney of the Jon Stewart set, griping and grimacing for our amusement as the veins in his neck pulse like earthworms after a rain. But on the stage of Broadway’s Marquis Theatre on Monday night, Black leavened rants about Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton and the endless election cycle with crêpes of wrath that would have sounded right at home coming from the stage at Grossinger’s.
I grew up in a household where yelling was the currency of the realm, so Black doesn’t make me wince even when the curse words aren’t being bleeped. “We are living at the precise intersection of satire and reality,” he says, adding, “we are living in fictional times.” I know for a fact that it’s possible to holler for 90 minutes without a break, so for Black’s forays into such lighter fare as the sight in Denmark of a bus ad showing bare breasts (“Glistening!” he lily-gilds), I was modestly grateful. This led to a secondary diversion into the psychodynamics of breast augmentation and a riff on the dangers of eyeliner. A very odd detour into the widespread release, in the 1980s, of mentally ill people from institutions, is surprisingly naïve (though it does resolve in a plea for treatment and empathy for people suffering with mental illness). He read a brief newspaper account of a German woman who was lactating and robbed a pharmacy by squirting milk into the surprised faces of two clerks. Black suggested it as a tactic for the moderator of the candidates’ debate.
And that’s what we came for: the politics. Black is as sharp as his neatly pressed dark suit, white shirt, and powder-blue tie set snug against his neck. The show is called Black To The Future, and he launches the act by sharing our pain over the endless presidential campaign, which began, he notes, “sometime during the Second World War.” Listening to both candidates discuss how they’re going to defeat ISIS, he says, “I’m more afraid of the solutions and ideas of the leaders of this country than I am of ISIS.” Honestly? He avers that his own military credentials consist of “three years as a Cub Scout and three weeks of USO tours.” His plan is drop — well I won’t kill the joke (which was on a respirator to begin with). But I will say that most of the barbs aimed at the GOP Field Of 16 defeated by Trump, while funny, struck me as beyond their shelf-life. I’m pretty certain that universal loathing of Ted Cruz no longer rates as revelation. Even his notion that reality is so absurd as to defy satire seems a little tired.
And while Black is on the record as supporting Hillary, perhaps with fingers pinching nose, he doesn’t seem to see the reputed tightening of the race as cause for alarm. His arrows pierce all comers. Trump the great businessman? “He bankrupted a casino. Think about that.” He questioned Clinton’s mental health, yet it seemed odd that, following a weekend rich with material, Black stayed on script: No one likes either of them. The only thing he’s certain of, the comedian said, is that “this has to be the last time we spend this much time electing a president.” Yes, what a long, strange journey it’s been. But he could holler a little louder about what’s at stake. We can take it.