“When it comes to idiots,” Lewis Black starts. “Our country’s like whack-a-mole.” Angry, agitated, and verbose, Black picks up where he always leaves off angry, agitated, and verbose. He speaks in one language: garbled. But we get him, possibly because he lets loose everything we feel inside on a day-to-day basis. He’s got the keen eye of Carlin, the energy of Kinison, and the absurd timing of Hicks. And while he’s better seen than heard, it’s hard to listen without seeing him, regardless.
On Stark Raving Black, his eighth effort to date, it’s a little more of the same. If you’ve sat through his landmark comedy record, 2000’s The White Album, then you’ve pretty much hit the guy’s career milestones. (It’s sad, but true.) However, when he’s not relying on “fucks” and gibberish, Black manages to tickle not only the funny bone, but the brain, as well.
As always, Black is at his best when he’s telling stories. His high and low tonal decisions tend to get repetitive throughout his 75 minutes, though there are plenty of moments when he uses them with timely precision. Take, for instance, his 12 minute sprawling digression on following Vince Gill and Amy Grant at a past benefit show. It’s pretty epic, rivaling past treasures like his experiences at IHOP or overheard conversations about horses and college. (If that doesn’t make sense to you, please pick up The White Album now.) On the other hand, he loses touch during a few tales, specifically his diatribe on birth and death, which seems to wander a bit, even if brief glimpses of genius pop up. He makes up for it, however, when he spends nine minutes discussing why his parents are still together after 64 years. Hint: It’s pretty outrageous.
Naturally, Black touches upon current events – you can’t blame him, he nails it right on the head – and when he spends eight minutes talking about greed and how the country is in the shitter financially, he seems hardly surprised. He sounds amused, actually. The same goes for his thoughts on our country’s reliance on hope. But he’s hardly screaming his head off, despite the album title. If you’re familiar with his segment on The Daily Show, “Back in Black”, you’ve come to associate the stocky comedian with violent outbursts and unpredictable hand gestures. And while that’s here, it’s a little more subdued, especially when he’s discussing some of the most aggravating issues today. It’s not because he’s 60 and “settling down”, either. (Well, it could be, but let’s assume it’s a little more deeper than that.) There’s another reason.
Nobody’s really talked about it, but the death of Carlin has changed comedy today. Why? It’s the end of an important era, really. So many comics today rely on punch lines and timely expletives. Black is victim to it, too. But there’s a quality he exhibits here, and it’s one of the most important characteristics he can carry. Like Carlin, Black can state a personal observation, dwell on it, and allow the humor to surface naturally. It’s a little deeper than the generic observational humor seen today, too. He doesn’t need to yank the laugh (at least not always), which is something Carlin trademarked so well. Half of the time you hardly even chuckled – especially during Carlin’s last two specials – but that was okay.
When Black defines the idiocy behind turning 60, and how all the things he wants in life will surface after his death, he’s turning a corner. He’s approaching the terrain that Carlin and Lenny Bruce circled about for years. The sticky existential wasteland, where it’s dark and foreboding, yet highly enlightening and, at times, oddly reassuring. Few comics care to breach this area (probably because it marks an end of sorts), but if Black’s smart, he’ll keep exploring further. It’s not a pretty place – growing old, that is – but it’s far more appreciating than dick and fart jokes. Besides, it might be funny to hear Black tell death to FUCK OFF.