By Kristi Kates
He counts among his fans George Carlin and the recently-retired Larry King. His stature onstage is that of beckoning aggression - even as you might be a little taken aback by his in-your-face performance style, you cant help but admire his steadfast determination to state his opinions on, well, pretty much anything and everything.
And hes perhaps one of the best known stand up comedians performing today, venting in a comedic - and loud - fashion about everything from business to politics to pop culture.
As Lewis Blacks press release explains, Lewis yells so his audiences dont have to.
Born in Washington D.C. (perhaps the catalyst for such comedic statements of Blacks such as Republicans are a party with bad ideas, and Democrats are a party with no ideas) and raised in Maryland, Blacks disgruntled personality surfaced early on. A colicky child who was easily irritated, he found an outlet in his early teens through the theater; he saw his first play at the age of 12, and decided to pursue a career in drama, acquiring degrees from the University of North Carolina and Yale Drama School. While at UNC, he first ventured into standup comedy performing, and found yet another productive venue for his skills... and his ongoing need to complain.
From North Carolina, it was on to New York City, where Black became a playwright-in-residence, overseeing over a thousand plays that took place on the stage of the West Bank Cafes Theater, including those by West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin and American Beauty writer Alan Ball in addition to his own plays.
But comedy kept calling.
STANDING AND RANTING
By the late 80s, Black had left the theater scene for the most part, and had decided to pursue stand up comedy full-time. By the mid-90s, his friend, Lizz Winstead, called upon Black to create a weekly segment for Comedy Centrals The Daily Show. The segment was right up Blacks alley, as it was basically three minutes of him ranting and raving about whatever was currently annoying him - and it became one of the most popular segments on the show.
Connections are everything in the entertainment business - and with Blacks segment on The Daily Show a success, it wasnt long before he was offered his own Comedy Central specials and series - by 2001, hed won Best Male Stand Up at the American Comedy Awards, and had snagged a record deal with Stand Up Records, which released his first CD in 2000. Six more CDs would follow, as would specials on HBO, a spot in the acclaimed Comic Relief special, appearances on Larry King, Conan OBrian, David Letterman, and Keith Olbermann, and a busy touring schedule.
Whew. Lewis Black had definitely arrived.
CHARITY IN COMEDY
With all of that going on, youd think Black wouldnt have time for much else. but he keeps writing, and has dabbled in acting, as well, taking on roles alongside Robin Williams in Man of the Year and in the comedy film Accepted, among others.
And hes balancing out his curmudgeonliness with his dedication to a number of charity organizations, including the 52nd Street Project, the Ron Black Memorial Scholarship Fund, fundraising for the Rusty Magee Clinic, and the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation; he supports our military personnel (having become involved with the USO to tour the Middle East with Robin Williams), and is committed to ending gun violence. Returning full circle to UNC, hes developing the schools Carolina Comedy Festival to provide workshops and lectures for beginning writers, performers, and comics, giving back to one of the schools that helped him get his own start.
How he does all of this while still performing over 200 nights a year across the world remains a mystery. But Northern Michigan residents will get a chance to see this multi-faceted performer in his comedy role with his upcoming show at the Traverse City Opera House, where the show will contain adult language and humor - and plenty of Blacks trademark views of the world.
Comedian Lewis Black will be bringing his comedy tour to the City Opera House in Traverse City on February 18 at 8:00 p.m. Tickets $55/$40. For tix and more info, visit www.cityoperahouse.org, or telephone 231-941-8082.