It’s been a great year for Lewis Black. There was the budget sequestration, the government shutdown and the fierce debates once again over Obamacare. Politicians left and right have been acting like nitwits, and Congress has proved its incompetence over and over again.
The amount of comedic material that can emerge from these circumstances is endless. For Black, now 65 and best known for his appearances on “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart,” the absurdity in politics, government and society is nothing more than sheer inspiration for his act.
A stand-up comedian well-known for angry tirades against the government, religion and cultural crazes, Black is back with a new tour, “The Rant Is Due,” which he debuted in January. He will be making a stop at the Fred Kavli Theatre at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza on Oct. 27, and his main targets this time are his contemporaries.
In a phone interview, Black said, “My parents’ generation was a group of idiots. Now I’m watching my generation, and they are, too, especially the leaders. They are real idiots. I look at them and go, ‘Jesus, they are twice as dumb and should have known better. I look at John Boehner and think, ‘Wow! We were raised on the same planet,’ which is really astonishing. It’s just unbelievable.”
Black got his start as a playwright, and these days, he said, he performs on the road 150 days out of the year. He’s taped four “Comedy Central Presents” specials; appeared in movies, including “Man of the Year” with Robin Williams and “Accepted”; and is the centerpiece of “Back in Black,” a long-running “Daily Show” segment. He’s also written three best-selling books, won two Grammys and performed to sold-out houses at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center.
This latest tour has taken him across the United States, including to Ohio, Colorado, Florida, New Jersey, New York and Washington, D.C. The fall leg, which he began in Sacramento, is already extending into February 2014.
Black said he sees his generation as stuck in the past. “There is this mentality that has gone on in my entire lifetime. People don’t acknowledge that things have evolved. They want things to be exactly the way they used to be, and it’s going to stay the way it was whether people like it or not.”
He argues in his new show that while the United States is progressing in certain respects, his generation doesn’t want to transform with the times. “There’s been this slow change, while there is this whole [other generation] coming up who has already changed,” he said. “A door got opened, and this breeze came through, and these jackasses put coats on.”
Because he’s on the road a quarter of the year, his act is always a work in progress. “I’ll take one little fact, and I’ll work on it,” he said. “If a joke doesn’t work, I’ll try to make another joke. I’ll try three times, and it if doesn’t work, then I throw it out.”
Black is such a fluid writer that sometimes he pulls out jokes that wouldn’t fit into his previous special and reworks them into his new one. “I’m doing things now that weren’t in the last two specials. I spend a portion of the act on the legalization of pot. My generation needs a legacy [like pot legalization] because otherwise people are going to say, ‘What the hell were they about?’”
Although his jokes are oftentimes extremely current, he said they can also be evergreen, because “these people don’t die. If I talk about Sarah Palin, it’s because she hasn’t gone away.”
He finds his material appeals to anyone from “ages 12 to 95.” And he first started gaining younger audience members when he began playing colleges and theaters. The “Daily Show” gig probably helped, too.
Black, who doesn’t shy away from religion in his stand-up, was raised in a Jewish home in Silver Spring, Md., a mere 20 minutes from Washington, D.C. He isn’t religious, but he does take pride in his heritage. “Today I describe myself as a ‘deli Jew,’ ” he said. “I have a certain amount of faith. I believe there is something out there. I just don’t take that kind of comfort praying in a group.”
He said he had a bar mitzvah, celebrated the High Holy Days growing up, and went to Hebrew classes every Sunday. He even published a book, “Me of Little Faith,” which is about his relationship to Judaism and religion in general. “When I graduated from school, I was kind of done. I did try to hang in. I got a lot more of the ethical and cultural than I got the spiritual end.”
Along with perpetually writing and changing his stand-up act, Black is currently working on a new play, but he said he doesn’t “know how far it will go.” He will also be back on “The Daily Show” soon, he said, and people can catch his latest special, “Old Yeller,” on inDemand until early next month.
Although Black appears irritated, frustrated and flustered on stage, he said he wants, above all, that his audiences have fun when they see him live: “I hope they have a good time, and I can help them get away from whatever stress and nonsense they’re dealing with.”