The Naked Truth: Lewis Black talks education, the presidential race and staying relevant in comedy

For the last 27 years Lewis Black, the famously irate political satirist, stand-up comedian, author and actor, has run the gauntlet in the entertainment industry.

But despite being one of the most recognizable names in comedy, Black jokes that the Republican presidential candidates are making him irrelevant this campaign season.

“This year more than any other year, it’s just unbelievable,” Black said. “I don’t even know why I’m necessary. I don’t know what my job is now, because they’re already doing it on a regular basis,”

Black spoke with Spare Change News recently about the affects Donald Trump and Ted Cruz are having on political discourse, the need for a greater focus on education and his life in comedy. Black has made a career of turning his angry rants into critiques of everything from politics to cultural trends, from hosting his own show, “Lewis Black’s The Root Of All Evil,” and being part of “The Daily Show” team with his own segment, “Back in Black,” to being an actor in movies like “Accepted,” the Pixar smash hit “Inside Out,” and the Robin Williams-led film “Man of The Year.” He will be in Massachusetts on April 16th to perform his new show “The Emperor’s New Clothes: The Naked Truth Tour” at Worcester’s Hanover Theater.

While politics may have been ingrained in Black since childhood, given the fact that he grew up in Washington D.C. (“My local news was national news,” he said), the prospect of being a full-time stand-up comedian wasn’t even on the cards until this University of North Carolina graduate was 40 years old.

“I was writing plays and running a club here in New York that had a theater and a bar in it called The West Bank,” said Black. “I was doing stand-up on the side, while hosting these shows [at the club], and people seemed to really gravitate toward it. I was 40, I was writing plays and I was broke,” he continued.

“I guess it was [meant to happen that way]. Either that or the American theater just didn’t realize how talented of a writer I was,” he said with a chuckle.

Black, who also received his master of fine arts degree from the Yale School of Drama in the late 1970s, has made a huge name for himself, due, in part, to his brand of comedy that has enraged as many as it has educated and attracted. But even in his line of work, which could be equated to the little boy in “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” he’s having a hard time wrapping his head around what the political landscape has become, and how politicians are making his niche harder for him to be a part of.

“I feel like I’m in high school again, and I’m watching the same sort of things I saw when I was in high school,” Black said. “Only this is being done by people who call themselves adults, and specifically Trump and Cruz, who don’t even have the right to be referred to as adults.

“It’s not reality, it’s fiction. Reality is like going to see a movie like ‘The Martian.’ That’s where we should be. What we’re moving toward is fictional. I can’t treat this as reality. They are attempting to turn reality into fiction, and they’ve only done a good job because the news has bought into it. What it’s doing is taking time away from me talking about the Democrats, because Republicans take up so much of the airtime. [This election] is the most psychotic thing I’ve ever watched in my life,” he continued. “As I keep saying, even all the LSD I took when I was young didn’t prepare me for this.”

On the contrary, while Black finds people like Donald Trump and Ted Cruz incredibly frustrating, it doesn’t necessarily take all the fun out of it for him. He’d rather focus on what they do rather than on them as people.

“It does [take the fun out of it] a little bit,” said Black. “I mean, I’ve figured out how to go about it, and I don’t really like talking about them so much, but I like talking about the things they say, how they affect people. I don’t give them the kind of time they think they deserve,” he continued. “You just have to find other ways to talk about it.”

In terms of how things affect people, Black finds that problems in America’s education system are to blame for many other prominent problems, such as homelessness and poverty.

“The most important thing is education, and we aren’t doing that very well” said Black with a chuckle. “That’s the bottom line. Everything starts with education, everything follows with education. The smarter we are, the better off we’re going to be,” he continued. “We can talk about jobs and the economy, but if you don’t educate your children, you’re missing the point, honestly,” he said. “When a school system like the Detroit school system doesn’t have enough money to pay for itself, something is wrong. Nobody wants to lift a finger, either, but it’s just easier to blame it on the city. The kids aren’t at fault, but [the system] drops the ball, and they’re punishing the kids for the sins of the adults in charge of making sure the schools have enough money to run.

“Education and poverty are directly tied to each other. If you put those under-privileged kids into pre-Head Start programs, just look at the difference it makes. That’s how everyone got out of poverty. I’ve always said the reason that education went down the tubes was because parents didn’t want their children to become smarter than them.”

With all these problems becoming harder to process for some people, Lewis Black never gets tired of bringing awareness to political and social absurdities, but he knows that you have to stay fresh in order to prevent getting tired of everything.

“It’s just a matter of coming up with a different way of saying what you said before, in a more interesting way than the last way you said it, and maybe it will still be funny. It’s all [still fun, though]. If it wasn’t fun, I wouldn’t be doing it anymore.”

In the classic children’s folk tale, The Emperor’s New Clothes, the moral of the story is to bring attention to absurdity as you see it, in the face of ignorance, even if everyone else thinks you’re crazy. You would think after years of rants and political criticism, that Lewis Black would start to get tired of bringing attention to the absurdities he observes. Politics have a way of draining the life out of many, and some can’t handle it at all. Luckily, he is still driving hard up the lane, and dishing the naked truth.

The last half-hour of the Worcester show will be live-streamed around the world on April 16th, so log on to lewisblack.com/live to tune in.

Jason Greenough is a writer for Spare Change News.

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