America’s favorite hot-tempered comedian and social critic Lewis Black returns to Eugene Oct. 30 and he’s madder than ever, in a clever, “LMFAO” sort of way. EW caught up with Black to yell about everything from voter suppression and being a socialist to Oregon’s efforts to legalize recreational marijuana and the downfalls of the 21st century. Under Black’s flame, no topic, politician or village idiot walks away unscathed. To read the full interview, visit eugeneweekly.com.
You recently paired up with the ACLU for the “F*** Voter Suppression” campaign. Why did you get involved with this particular issue and what’s it about?
Because it’s just common sense. It’s a right. I don’t think it’s a political issue. It’s not a Democrat or Republican issue.
We’re going to argue this again and I’m tired of the argument. Most of my life has been spent arguing the same things over and over and over again. There’s certain things that just need to stop being argued and one is, you don’t make it harder for people to vote, you make it easier for people to vote. No one is trying to steal an election. If you want worry about something, worry about computerized voting machines. I did a movie, called Man of the Year, which was about that and how you could rig an election with computerized voting. I don’t get it! I don’t know what goes on in other parts of the country, but for years I walk into a place, I give them my name, they check the box off. You can’t walk in as an imaginary person … In the end, Americans don’t have that much energy.
Have you always been interested in politics?
I first became interested in politics because I was born and raised around Washington D.C., so it’s right in your face.
What issue first caught your attention?
The war in Vietnam. That was probably the one that really drove the engine. It was just the sheer stupidity of it. Then my generation doubles down and goes into Iraq.
You’ve said your political affiliation is socialism, which has become a bit of a code word for communism in this country. What does being a socialist mean to you?
First off, there are no rich people, there are no rich socialists — that’s a myth. They’ve got plenty of money, they’re doing all right; they have lots of homes. What I like about socialism is it’s enforced Christianity — “Sorry, you got to help everybody.” I just think it’s the way it’s gotta be. If you want to look at what socialism is, you go to Norway, Sweden and Denmark, who’ve been practicing it for years and somehow within their culture it seems to be a driving force. … We just fear it. Our big fear is that the 5 to 10 percent of the people who are going to take advantage of it. And the same exists over there, there are those people. They themselves in those countries have a fight about it. My feeling is, there’s always going to be those people. That’s the deal, stop worrying about them. By worrying about that 5 to 8 percent of the people — it’s the next 12 percent who are being screwed, who are really trying and you’re screwing them. Stop worrying about the parasite. The parasite is always going to be there, much like it is in your stomach I guess. It’s always going to be there so what are you doing? The real problem is the American people would have with socialism is it’s too many meetings
In your 2013 “Old Yeller” comedy special, you say, “the 21st century blows chunks.” What is the worst part of the 21st century?
The worst part is it’s just like the 20th century all over again, only this time it’s in high definition. The life that was presented to me in “Tomorrowland” when I was 10 and what I was told was coming is not the flying-cars type of life where all of this kind of technology would make it easier and bring us closer together and be timesaving. In a sense, we’ve created this environment where no time seems to be being saved and people are working harder and more hours and having to take another job, or both parents have to work, plus we add on the childrearing, which has become a full-time job. Because if they are going to learn Mandarin Chinese and be on the soccer team and hopefully get into like, Reed College, you’ve got a whole work week there to deal with your kid stuff.
It’s just not what it was cracked up to be. I would have liked to see us control the weather as opposed to being able to make a phone call without having a cord. I mean I just think everything we ended up doing technologically is not the choice I would have made. I would like to be able to say, “OK, here’s what the weather is going to be like.” Then we can vote on it.
What’s the best?
There’s another generation coming along, you pay attention to them. Instead of paying lip service to them and saying, “Boy, they’re not going to get their social security. Boy they’re not going to get this, boy they’re not going to get that,” give them something in the meantime like information and knowledge. You’re not willing to properly educate them, you fuck. You’re going to worry about what it’s going to be like for them in 30 years? Why not pass on the education? And they’re the ones who give me hope, because they’re the ones who’ve already lived through the ideas that many of those in the community who are as old as I am, find abhorrent, like gay marriage. They’re already way beyond that, and if a lot of those social issues can get out of the way, maybe we can move forward. So there’s my hope. My hope is that we have children and hopefully they’re smarter than we are. My mother doesn’t agree with that. She said that when I was kid, you can do whatever you want, it’s going to be the same thing for you, and in a sad way, she was right.
In your comedy special you also say, after touring the country for 25 years, that “Many states shouldn’t be states.” What’s the verdict on Oregon?
Oregon is not a state; it’s its own island [laughs]. It’s an island that isn’t surrounded by water. You guys are all marching to a different drummer and you know it and that’s why you’re all there.
There’s some big issues Oregon is facing with the November ballot coming up — one is to legalize recreational us of marijuana (Measure 91). Any thoughts?
I’ve been to Oregon enough that basically your reality is, whether you like it or not, you’ve legalized recreational marijuana. So if you want to have a vote on it, please be my guest. … I kind of smoked myself out of marijuana. … We really have to stop this and get on with the research. Doctors need to research the medicinal properties of marijuana. That’s got to be done. It’s patently absurd. If people are finding that it works, and they’re stumbling on this on their own by trial and error, for Christ’s sake, pay attention to it and don’t give it to the pharmaceutical industry.
The other is to mandatory labeling of GMOs.
As with regards to the GMO … I don’t buy it, there’s no need [for GMOs]. I don’t get it. It creeps me out. The only thing that I lean toward in terms of it — if it helps find some sort of quickly grown food that can be given to people who are starving to death around the world, which is a ton of them, then I’d probably go OK for that. Why I need a modified fucking banana… I don’t trust the food industry. If I trusted them, I’d say great, but I don’t. I don’t trust big agriculture. There are enough books you can read on it to not trust them so opening up the laboratory for them is kind of foolish. If we’re not going to pay enough money to monitor these people, then you have to tell these people no at the beginning.
You’ve been doing stand up for a long time. What’s your favorite thing to be mad about?
Stupidity, where it’s just blatant stupidity. That’s the thing that really gets me. Like what they’re doing now with our response to Ebola and ISOL is just blatantly stupid. Our response is like — they’re using the word “Ebola” in which some idiot screams the word fire in a crowded movie theater, the same with ISOL. The level of panic they’re causing — it just rattles peoples and they don’t keep their focus. I mean, come on! It’s like the elementary course in terms of being a human: You don’t scare the shit out of people. You got a group of the people already who think Ebola is a plot, you’ve already got the conspiracy theories about Ebola — they’re popping up. But nothing gives me more happiness than when a political leader says something really stupid, that’s my most joyous moment.
We lost two legendary comedians recently, Joan Rivers and Robin Williams. Do you have any favorite memories of either?
I met Joan a couple of times but I didn’t really know her. It was mostly “Hi, how are you?” We were like ships passing in the night but I liked her a lot. I ran a room in New York City called the West Bank Café Downstairs Theatre Bar … That was the room she worked in. It’s the room I really made the transition from being a playwright to a comic in. I was always thrilled that she was around. Then I went and saw her in a big theater, because I wanted to see her there, in a big one, to see how she’d work a big room … Her energy was astonishing.
Robin I knew. I was a friend of Robin’s, but not in like a Billy Crystal or the guys who were really close friends [way]. We’d try to see each other. When our paths crossed, we’d make sure to get together. He was just a remarkable man. He was really very, very generous with me. He took me on the USO tours with him, which was a life changer for me and then I did the movie with him, which was really phenomenal. We did Man of the Year and he was part of the reason I got that role.
Lewis Black performs “The Rant is Due” 8 pm Thursday, Oct. 30, at the Hult Center; $29.75-$59.75, college student discounts available. This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.