It’s not difficult to get Lewis Black started. Just mention the state of politics in North Carolina, where the longtime New Yorker keeps an apartment (near his alma mater in Chapel Hill) and works with UNC students on the annual Carolina Comedy Festival.
“You really want to know?” says the veteran comedian, who returns to Ovens Auditorium Friday. Then he unloads.
“One side basically in North Carolina followed the playbook of someone they don’t like – (community organizer) Saul Alinsky. They went out and organized their communities and basically took control. There will be a backlash. Either that or the other side will just flee. It’s extraordinary. These white guys – a lot of them are my age, which is really disgusting – doing everything they can to set in place the way they think things should be. As if somehow it can always be that way. It’s like with universal acceptance of gays by kids. That’s going to occur in a lot of other areas. You can’t set these rules in stone. It’s amazing that a country that believes in freedom can’t handle it.”
Black continues: “My friends in Durham are not voting with the people they used to vote with. Then at the end of the day (the government is) going to make it really difficult for you to vote. They say, ‘No, we’re not.’ Yeah, you are. In a country where people barely go out to vote?”
Black was a student at UNC in the 1960s when Jesse Helms was still a conservative TV commentator on Raleigh’s WRAL.
“I watched it stoned because it would be intolerable to watch it and think it was real. It was unbelievable. By nature of having access to that media and the conservative part of the state, he becomes a senator,” he remembers.
Black studied theater at Chapel Hill and stepped on stage as a stand-up comedian for fun one night at Cat’s Cradle. He eventually moved to New York and worked as a playwright before delving into comedy seriously. He rose to national notoriety on “The Daily Show.”
While at UNC, he soaked up the live-music scene as future legends Janis Joplin, the Allman Brothers, and Ike and Tina Turner passed through, and as roots music stalwarts the Red Clay Ramblers were forming. At 65, he remains hip to bands like Alabama Shakes, Gov’t Mule, and Florence and the Machine and has raved about his experience at Bonnaroo.
On his latest tour, he is incorporating digital media into his performances.
“During intermission, the audience can Twitter any kind of question or comment and I spend part of the evening shaping the act out of that,” he explains. “It’s an experiment. It’s worked so far. The question is whether it takes the relationship between me and the audience to another level or not. Some people say, ‘You’re not doing any work!’ I’m trying to make something funny out of a question? What? It gives a sense of participation.”
For someone with a reputation for being the angry guy, Black is surprisingly pleasant. He says he wouldn’t miss it if there were no longer something for him to be angry about.
“I could retire. I’d be in Chapel Hill 24-7, and I’d become the alcoholic I was born to be,” he says of the town where he goes to write. “I’ve always been really comfortable there, and I’m not a person that’s really comfortable.”
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