JIM SLOTEK, SUN MEDIA
[an error occurred while processing this directive]
TORONTO -- Even for him, Lewis Black has been angry lately. The Daily Show's most caustic commentator fairly burst a blood vessel on Sept. 11 with a rant on various products being marketed around what some are now calling Patriot Day.
Among the merchandise: A Beanie Baby called Valor the Eagle ("born on Sept. 11"); a box of gourmet cookies called "a tower to celebrate America" ("It's so delicious, you'll wish every day was Sept. 11," Black says) and - believe it or not - a "legally authorized government coin" commemorating the event, struck with silver saved from a vault below Ground Zero.
"Thank God they saved the silver!" Black roared on the show. "When Abraham Lincoln was shot, it took an entire century to come up with the President's Day Mattress Sale. But it's all part of America's stages of grief - denial, anger, depression, acceptance and exploitation!"
All this and a presidential election, apparently being fought over Vietnam. You'd think this would be prime-time for the erstwhile playwright, America's angriest and funniest social commentator.
His voice hoarse over the phone from his New York home, Black says it's anything but.
"No it's exhausting," he says. "Everybody thinks it's primetime, but I really don't have the energy for this lunacy. This election is completely unlike anything I've ever seen - a candidate who really doesn't want to win against a president who's given us absolutely no reason to vote for him. It's spectacular.
"And it's worse than last time 'cause now we know what one of them can do," he adds with a sardonic chuckle.
Black is performing in Toronto this week and his recent HBO special will soon air on Movie Central. Those who see him in these environments may be surprised by a couple of things. First, he does not sustain for a full 90 minutes the spit-flying level of outrage he normally shows in two-minute Back in Black spots on the suddenly influential "fake news" show, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
Second, he uses the f-word a lot - as when we talk about Sept. 11 and "that f---ing idiot (Vanity Fair editor) Graydon Carter who declared the death of irony. Eighty per cent of Americans don't even know what the word means. Dead? It was never alive!"
As for his language, he says, "I'd like the people who object to tell me what words they use to express anger - *****feathers is my favourite. Our vice-president used the word in the Senate and he said he wasn't going to apologize and it felt good. Well, I feel good."
He mentions with some glee a recent show in Omaha, where a professed Born-Again got up to shriek about gay marriage while Black was in the middle of a rant about the Old and New Testaments. "As people started to heckle him, this devout Christian turned around and told people to f--- themselves," he says.
We'd met before, four years ago over lunch at the Just For Laughs festival in Montreal. At the time, we'd talked about how few political comics there were anymore. Apparently, there's been a major sea change since, with Dennis Miller shticking for the Republicans, Bill Maher hosting another show and Al Franken and Janeane Garofalo fronting an entire liberal radio network.
"I think what happened is a bunch of these f---in' pundits - Tucker Carlson, (James) Carville, (Bob) Novak, (John) McLaughlin, Chris Matthews, their pontificating gradually turned into shtick, and they're not especially good at it. It opened the door for people who actually do this sort of thing for a living. Rush Limbaugh was the first of these guys. He said, 'I'm not a commentator, I'm an entertainer.' And it's, like, 'No you're not!' "
So speaking entirely as an entertainer, what would be Black's best-case-scenario for the U.S. election Nov. 2?
"An alien invasion," he says. "Three or four UFOs land and they come out and say, 'If you don't get it together in 20 minutes we're gonna blow you f---ers up!"