Lewis Black does not raise his voice once in conversation.
The comedian is known for his politically-inspired riffs and rants, in which his jittery anger increases until you think a blood vessel might pop. But in conversation, he’s good-natured and genuinely engaged. Then again, it could be an act: After all, the man has a Master of Fine Arts degree from the Yale School of Drama.
Black, who was perfectly cast as Anger in the animated “Inside Out,” will be at Comerica Theatre in Phoenix on Saturday, March 25. Black, 68, called to plug the gig and talk about how losing your temper can be great for a comedy career.
Question: How are you doing?
Answer: It gets better every day. Every day, the lights get brighter, the highs get higher. It’s just incredible.
Q: You’re playing Comerica, which is a big room. Do you prefer that to something intimate like a club?
A: Well, one thing: They’re not serving food. In a club, there’s 32 things going on. Audiences have kind of gotten better in clubs, but you still know they’re going to serve food and they’re going to have a check drop. There’s a quality of silence you get in a theater you don’t get in a club. Silence is where comedy starts. Venues that are 1,500 to 1,800 seats are really kind of intimate. The Comerica is a very comfortable big room. I’ve played some big spaces that are just too much like warehouses; the Comerica is not one of them.
Q: Anger is your trademark. When did that become part of your act?
A: When I kind of stumbled onto the fact that I’m funniest when I’m angry. That became the hook for me, and the hook for the audience.
Q: Does the anger ever become real?
A: There are times I cross the line, or times I’ve gone too far. I literally toy with that line where the anger becomes real. I have to be careful. I don’t drink before the show. Real anger will freak an audience out. You’ve got an edge, but you’ve still got to keep it light.
Q: What happens when you cross the line?
A: It happens every so often. I’m pretty quick to reign it in. Sometimes it has to do with somebody in the audience. A good example is I was talking about climate change maybe three years ago. I was saying how 96 percent of the world’s scientists think climate change is real, and this man disagreed with me. I went berserk. I started to walk up the aisle, and I’m not someone who leaves the stage. I was saying, “Let me see who you are.” It was somebody younger, and I said, “Really, you’re too young to be thinking like this.” I mean, how many more scientists do I need on my side?
Q: It’s got to be a weird time to be a comic who talks about current events and politics.
A: It’s as out there as it was in the ‘50s, or in the early ‘60s when they were digging bomb shelters.
Q: Do you think people go see you to laugh at what’s going on or to get away from it? Or is that examining it too much?
A: Well, I do get a lot of “You’re like my father, only you’re funny.” I think some of it is that it’s a bit of that “Let’s go somewhere we can hide for a while” mentality. It’s also insulation. It allows you to step back from the madness. It’s really silly what’s going on, and how much longer can it be this silly? And I guess it’s kind of the thing where I’m told, “You’re saying what I’m feeling.”
Also, I don’t write any stuff down. I don’t write jokes. I kind of find them on stage and put them in the act. They’re watching me write and watching me think. I think they come to watch me figure out what we’re all seeing, and watching me apply my insane logic to it.
Q: Because you don’t write, do you know where the show is going?
A: It’s scripted in my head, and there are trigger points. I know what I’m going to say about Kellyanne Conway, I know what I’m going to say about mental health.
Q: A lot of performers have met President Donald Trump from playing in his casinos. Do you know him?
A: He tried to get a hold of me once. On “The Daily Show” in 2012, I said what the world needed was Trump to run for the presidency because we needed a Third World kind of dictator. His assistant called my assistant and said he wanted to talk to me. I wouldn’t talk to him. I was away and busy, but he shouldn’t feel just like he can pick up the phone and somebody’s always going to answer him. I felt this sense of entitlement that he didn’t deserve to have.
Q: Who were you for in the election?
A: I was for Bernie (Sanders), but I knew Bernie wasn’t going to win. He’s a Socialist, come on, so that wasn’t going to happen. My feeling is people wanted someone to blow up Washington. Then, shouldn’t we have found someone who knew where to place the sticks of dynamite as opposed to holding them?
Q: Did you ever imagine that anger would be your calling card?
A: I thought my calling card was going to be Professor Black at some theater school. Are you kidding? This is beyond my comprehension. When this started happening, I thought, ‘’You gotta be kidding me.”
Reach the reporter at email@example.com or 602-444-8849. Twitter.com/randy_cordova.
When: 8 p.m. Saturday, March 25.
Where: Comerica Theatre, 400 W. Washington St., Phoenix.
Details: 602-379-2800, livenation.com.
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