Talking to Lewis Black about his new special, “Tragically, I Need You”
May 5, 2023 Andrew Buss Features, Interviews, Lewis Black, News, Specials, Stand-Up
Comedian Lewis Black is back with a new special this week. As expected, Lewis has some strong opinions on what we’ve gone through in the last three years.
In Tragically, I Need You, Black talks about the pandemic and how it impacted him, how society has changed, conspiracy theorists, and his first time in a Wal-Mart. As far as specials go, we get to see Black in top form, showcasing his unique signature voice that always tells it exactly as it is.
Unlike his previous specials, Black decided to premiere the special for free on his YouTube channel. In an age where streamers have been cutting back on specials, we’ve seen more and more great specials hitting YouTube, naturally. It allows the artist to bring the special directly to the fans, and the new trend has been working well, garnering millions of views per special. Lewis Black’s latest definitely fits that mold, taking out the middle man and bringing his fine ranting directly to you.
We recently spoke to Lewis about the new special, how it was the fastest process he’s ever gone through, what he discovered during the pandemic, and self-releasing the special.
The new special is so good. And it must have been nice to actually have time to plan this special, as I know your last special was taped without you knowing it’d be your special.
Well, actually what is funny is it is the fastest I’ve ever wrote a special.
Yeah. I will tell you it was weird because it was things I had been talking about with my friends, and all of a sudden we hit the road and I just started talking about the stuff that had been concerning me during the pandemic and the way I reacted to the pandemic. I just kept kind of putting it together and remembered a couple of things with the help of Jeff Stilson who opens for me. Once I got that order down, it was actually faster for me to write it than it was to get it out on a platform.
I’m sure, and also I’m sure you had a lot of time to think about the hour during that time.
Yeah I did. I had nothing but time to think about time.
Absolutely. I’m just curious, how long once you get back on stage, does it feel like you can get back into the rhythm of everything?
Well, if you’re off for two weeks it’s crazy. You find yourself. It takes you a while to get it back to where you want it. The length of that was 500 days between shows. And then I went on and this will give you an idea of how stupid I was. So I went back and chose to work at a club first to work on myself. I got to work at Hilarities in Cleveland, which is a great, great comedy club and it’s always been good to me. So I was looking forward to it and I hadn’t worked in 500 days. I now have six shows in four days and I’m going, “This won’t be tough because they’re only 45 minutes long and I won’t be…” But I haven’t worked in 500 days.
Night one I go there and do the first show and I go too long [65 mins] because I’m so excited. I’m like a nine-year-old. Then afterwards the [NY] Giants were playing. I’m not even a fan, but it was a great game so I yelled through it and stayed up all night. The next morning, I woke up completely exhausted, and then struggled through the weekend because I’m doing 2 shows a night. I finished the first show the first night. The second night I did the first show and then I have to come back for another show the same night and I’m like, “I’ve got to go home. I gotta go. This is… What am I? What was I thinking?” So that was tough.
Sure. I’m sure once you got back in the theaters, it got a little easier?
Once I realized I hadn’t worked in so long, I realized that I have to relax a little and get back and find my rhythm. It took some time. Your sense of humor is a muscle and like any muscle it can atrophy. But it has muscle memory. I came back and it was instinctive. But it still takes time to find those things. You have to talk to people out there. You don’t know where they’re [the audience] coming from at this point. So you’re treading lightly and still trying to find your way through what is funny right now.
I’ve seen your act quite a bit and I love this new hour. You do have that moment where you anticipate someone getting upset. When you mentioned [Dr.] Fauci, you even stopped the show and asked about it. I’m curious, once you get back on the road is that something that becomes more typical? To anticipate boos in the special, it’s got to be something that’s happened a lot?
[Back in the early 2000’s], the people would get upset if you said anything about Dick Cheney. Not Bush, it was Dick Cheney that would set people off. Until the former president came on the scene, you didn’t have folks in the audience. That’s when there was some blowback and you would kind of go, “Seriously, guys.” Because for years, you know, you could yell about whoever was in office or whoever wasn’t in an office, you just yell about what was stupid and even the people who might be for the person who’s stupid would get it. But now all of a sudden it is like, “You can’t say that!” which is interesting because they get upset with the fact that the kids are saying to them, “You can’t say that.” They’re kind of in their own mirrored world at times. They’re basically yelling at each other, “You can’t say that!”
Right. And that’s why now you say during your show, “If you get upset, it’s on you for not doing your research.”
Yeah, I mean, it’s really not tough to find my stuff. It’s out there. It takes 2 seconds. Chances are these people, some of them should be on Twitter now because the former president got them on to Twitter. You expect that they do, but it kind of makes it easy after that. In part, I could be considered a public service, not that other comics need me to point it out, but because somebody’s got to stand up there like an adult and say, “Okay, you’re going back into the theater. This has got to stop. You don’t get to do this. You don’t get to ruin the show for your own entertainment.” And that’s really what that’s about. And then once people have gone out long enough and they’ve learned it, then I’ll shut up.
Right, absolutely. Well, hopefully, they learn eventually.
I mean they were before. I mean, they always kind of return. But it’s really the people on the other side who get upset if you kind of cross the line to them. It’s like, “Hey, what is the matter with you if it doesn’t, it doesn’t change anything.” Just because a comic is saying something, even in a theater or a club, they’re saying it to a limited group of adults who have made the choice to go there, and it will have no effect on f****** anything. What they do is then they start tweeting it out and talking about it and making it like, “This was so terrible, he said this.” It’s like, stop it. Just stop it. Because if it’s so terrible, then don’t send it out there. What are you proving by sending it out there?
Right, absolutely. Everyone feels like they’ve got a voice thanks to Twitter and they can say what they want now.
And that it matters. Some of them are saying things that are just like, “What is the matter with you?” I got on Facebook and within two months was mostly enraged at myself for getting suckered into it. It still appalls me. It’s a whole group of people, and there were no instructions. None. Here you are. You’re on Facebook. Go ahead. And they see it as some sort of a freedom. It’s not freedom. There’s gotta be some sort of rules. Like, you don’t get to use this platform for hate. It wouldn’t have been tough to come up with about two or three rules. You know, we we’re not interested in seeing your c*** on Facebook.
Right. And it’s kind of a shame. By the way, when did you film this special?
The special was filmed on May 15th.
Okay. So last year.
Yeah, like I said, it took longer to get it up, and I mean to get it. We had to wait. Meanwhile, all the new streaming services were in chaos and still are. It ended up taking us a long time to get it out there, but it’s certainly no different. I would have liked for it to come out sooner because it just would have worked better, I think. But I think it works fine. There is a sense in which people kind of feel like they’re over this. They can tell me that all they want but the way things are in this country at this point in time, you don’t know. People aren’t over this and with the people who are still mentally wobbly, there’s still a residue of anger about everything because they were locked up. You got a whole group of people who want to ban books. Meanwhile, their kids can’t read anymore. What is the matter with you?
It has been almost a year and so much has happened in that time. During that time, you got Elon Musk , you got Twitter, you’ve got all these things happening. Are you someone that does feel frustrated like, “I wish I could have gotten that in that special”?
What happens is, you do the special, and two weeks later you go, “Oh, that’s what I should have said instead.” You start to drop things that were in the special, but there’s things in the special you hold on to. I started doing the bit about the audience and the, “Shut the f*** up,” opening and I’m still holding onto it. That will go away in time. But 2 weeks after I’m done with the special and you’re in the middle of doing something you’ve done before, you go, “Oh. I left all of this that could have been said. This would have been great.” And you could do that and never do a special, but you just get it up and get it out there and move on.
The special was about telling that story of myself and the pandemic and what I was witnessing. There was no way to put other stuff in. As a matter of fact, things that weren’t put in are now going to be in the next special. There are all the things I thought were going to be in that special that got dropped. I’m doing this thing, it’s an article that I read years ago and it couldn’t be in the special before this and I dropped it and then it was going to be in this special and I dropped it again. Now I’m picking it back up and now it is better because it’s about guns and one would have thought by now they would have been dealt with. So it actually is more partisan now than what I wanted to do five years ago.
Right. It is a shame how timely it still is.
Well, everything. It’s also timely that I’m talking about other things I dropped out. I’m talking about our healthcare system. I was treated in a hospital in Ireland for pneumonia. People talk about what those hospitals are, you know, “Boy, you’re lucky you’re here.” No, I’m not. No, it was great. It was one of the best near death experiences I’ve ever had.
I like that you can bring everything back and it all comes full circle.
No, it does. It’s funny because people used to say, “oh, you’re doing that political stuff. It’s not Evergreen. You can’t put it on again and again and again.” It’s like, well, it is Evergreen because stupidity is Evergreen.
It is. And also, specials are kind of a time capsule. In this special, you talk about your COVID experience and we haven’t heard your take on it so it works.
It really does. You touched on it briefly, but by distributing it for free on YouTube, how do you feel now that it is coming out? This whole new platform that you utilized with Laugh Button for the Rantcast. But you haven’t utilized it for a special before.
No, I mean. We put two specials on that I did before. We started to do that with old specials and put them on for free. I’ll know when it’s done. It’s gonna be interesting because you feel like we couldn’t get this done anywhere. Then you see people getting on to certain platforms and you’re questioning yourself and wonder, “How come I don’t get it?” And then all of the professionals tell you, “Well, you know, this is this is this is really the way of the future.” It’s young people watching. It’s where they used to go to Comedy Central for comedy. Now they go to YouTube. And they tell me, you know, “Oh, they’re going to watch you.” And I’m kind of going “Okay, we’ll see.”
So to me, I’m thrilled to get it out there for free and hopefully the ads come at the beginning so they don’t interrupt it. That’s what I want. I don’t want it interrupted. There’s no need. I would rather put the ads on at the beginning and then later on run the ads with it. I just want to see what happens. That’s really what I feel like. For me it’ll show whether it is always true or not. So we’ll find out.
No, absolutely. And that’s something I’ve seen. I write a lot about comedy. I watch a lot of those special those specials are getting great numbers. I’m sure yours is going to do fantastic. I really think it’s going to be great.
Yeah, it’s impossible to tell. I mean, I’m fascinated by it. If they watch it, phenomenal. In the end, the other thing is that I own it and that’s really been important over the past 20 years. I own my stuff. That’s another reason that YouTube is an important place to go.
Absolutely, absolutely. I mean, I’m sure you know, if you went to any streamer, you would have had that kind of tug of war over whether you could own it or not.
There was definitely, “We’re gonna do it for this amount of time.” But what’s interesting, too, is the other special will go back on Amazon Prime soon.
Twll me a little bit about the ending, because I really love how you spend the hour ranting and at the end, there was so much sincerity in talking about the lack of companionship. And then also, your relationship with the audience. Is that something you had wanted to talk about before?
I was alone in my apartment and after about five weeks of being alone, I was like God, this is what a separation is like. This is like when you’re in a relationship and let’s say I was with this woman and we decided to have a trial separation. It’s from the audience. It’s not from some person, it’s from these thousands of people who show up from all these towns across the country.
And that was the kicker of it. That was when I began to think about it more and more. My primary relationship really had been for years with the audience. The book I wrote, I’m Dreaming of a Black Christmas was about how I finally reconciled with the fact that I was single. Now it was really in my face. What saved me from feeling alone was that audience. And now I really felt alone. I had no relationship and I was like, “Did I make the wrong choice?” It sprouted a lot of the undertone of the special.
I loved how you incorporated that. And I’m sure, there was nobody happier than you than once you got to perform again and have that relationship back.
No, it was. There’s some that were able to do it [over Zoom], and I don’t know where the satisfaction came from because I write in front of an audience so it becomes ludicrous that I’m not. So I started doing the Rantcast and I just felt like an insane person. Without the audience, you feel like you’re subtonic. You’re just talking to yourself. But what kept me in touch with the audience, and my sense of humor was beating these rants that were coming in. I know I can read that rant. It’s like me. It’s like looking at a piece of music and I know where the notes are.