There was a time when my parents actually controlled what I watched on TV. The Simpsons were a no-no (which still baffles me as there really isn’t anything that inappropriate), and God forbid I was caught surfing on MTV or Comedy Central. I eventually grew up (well, my age grew), and they soon didn’t care whether I watched Nickelodeon or Cinemax late at night. It was at this point that I saw my first stand-up comedian. I flipped to Comedy Central one afternoon to find an older man standing on the stage, screaming at the top of his lungs about how the Super Bowl half-time show has gotten progressively crappier over the years.
The man was renowned comedian Lewis Black, one of my favorites, and I finally had the pleasure of seeing him in Albany (with the very parents who originally prevented me from watching this sort of thing) this past weekend at the Palace Theatre. Black is known best for his incredibly angry persona and his biting political commentary. But unlike most public personalities who convey their arguments through large vocal amplitude, Black gives logical, coherent arguments for every point he is trying to make. He points out the absurdity of everything that we have come to expect as normal, and he also concretely identifies why it’s absurd.
The topics of the evening covered everything from the absurdity of the Transportation Security Administration to getting older to why apps are the most pointless thing ever. The first thing I noticed about Black was that his persona has changed some from his older material. He’s become more tired and fed up (not that he wasn’t bitter before). However, instead of just trying to do the same style of constant screaming with veins bulging from his neck, he uses his exhaustion to restrain himself and only raises his voice to drive a point home. He went into how in the past 60 years of his life, entire arguments have been fought, died down, and rekindled over and over with no progress being made. He cited the example of the abortion debate, and he did so very tastefully. Not once did he mention his opinion on the issue, but only pointed out that in 60 years, the debate has gone from ‘pro-abortion versus anti-abortion’ to ‘pro-life versus pro-choice,’ “so at least now we’ve found a way so that we can all be ‘pro’.”
The worn-down tone in his voice really drove home the point that after all of this effort being put forth by both sides—the court cases, laws, and organizations that were established supporting one side or the other—not a single thing has changed. According to Black, this is because no one actually wants to solve a problem, they just want to argue. He then rattled off a slew of other topics that follow the same trend, including raising taxes, health care (about which I was shocked to find out that Nixon had planned a far more progressive healthcare plan, which only failed because the Speaker of the House at the time was too much of a drunk to remember to submit the bill), and market regulation.
I haven’t laughed so hard in a long time. Black is a man who has not let his ever-growing age get the best of him. He is still relevant, still irreverent, and still capable of making everyone in the room look at all of the absurdities of everyday life. Even if you don’t have much knowledge of the topics he is discussing, Black’s delivery and distinct facial expressions would still be enough to make you laugh. He’s a man who truly owns his angry character on stage. He was even able to ad-lib five minutes of funny material going off on a tangent from comments made by audience members. I would urge anyone to see him when he inevitably returns to the region; he’s a comedian that will make you laugh just as much as he will make you think.