Lewis Black Sounds Off on Trump, Jon Stewart, and Almost Getting Pushed Out of ‘The Daily Show’
On this week’s episode of “The Last Laugh” podcast, the comedian talks about his new stand-up special “Thanks for Risking Your Life” and his 24 years on “The Daily Show.”
Lewis Black is the only Daily Show contributor to appear alongside every host past and present: Craig Kilborn, Jon Stewart, and Trevor Noah. “And whoever they want to bring in next,” he jokes on this week’s episode of The Last Laugh podcast.
The comedian has delivered his signature “Back in Black” segment hundreds of times over the past two and a half decades, most recently roasting New Yorkers—like himself—who have escaped the city during the pandemic. Currently, Black is holed up in North Carolina and driving himself stir crazy.
It’s been just about seven months since he last got on stage to perform stand-up comedy. Now, that final show has become his latest special, available to stream now on iTunes and other platforms. Taped on Friday, March 13 at a casino in Michigan, it’s the first stand-up special to actually address what was then full-on coronavirus panic.
“Everything was starting to close,” Black explains. “We were at a casino, not one of your bastions of health. It’s not like a health center.” As showtime approached, he figured it might get canceled, but people kept “pouring in” so he decided to go through with one more show while he still could.
Black improvised the opening line that became the special’s title: “Thanks for risking your life.”
During our long conversation the morning after the first presidential debate, Black ranted about President Trump’s deep moral failings, his sometimes rocky tenure at The Daily Show and other memorable moments from his career, including his first USO tour with Robin Williams, Kid Rock, and Lance Armstrong and the lasting impact of personifying Anger in Pixar’s Inside Out.
Highlights from our conversation are below and you can listen to the whole thing right now by subscribing to The Last Laugh on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts.
On almost getting pushed out of ‘The Daily Show’
“When Jon [Stewart] came in, they had a couple of producers who wanted to get rid of me. They just didn’t get me. I felt I was not a part of it. And that really made me psychotic. I didn’t realize at the time what was going on, but they were cutting lines that I had written. ‘This isn’t funny.’ So I was dismissed as a writer and I thought about leaving, and then I thought, what the fuck is the matter with you? What are you, stupid? It’s a very good gig. If they want to write the stuff, great. And if they can’t write to you, fine. You’ll act it and make it yours. By that time most folks who can write well knew how to write for me. It’s not hard to write for a barking dog. Jon was really—and not to discredit him—but he’s a micro-manager. Not a bad micro-manager. He’s a very good micro-manager. But it didn’t leave much room. So the choice was that I could be part of the show, but they were picking out what the subject would be. It was all very fine because meanwhile, I was getting a raise every year.”
Why he dodged Trump’s phone calls after a scathing ‘Daily Show’ piece
“His assistant got in touch with my assistant and said, can we set up a conversation? And I was like, really? What does he want? I think The Apprentice was on and I don’t want to be on The Apprentice. I just didn’t have the time to talk. So initially I just went, you know well, maybe we’ll try tomorrow, have him call back. So they call back the next day and say, ‘We’d really like to talk to Lewis, what would be a good time?’ And I was like, I don’t think I’ve got the time at all to talk with him, we’re going to have to push this down the road. And then they got back in touch again and I said, ‘Just tell him, I don’t want to talk to him.’ Because what I finally realized is that I didn’t want him to feel just because he picked up the phone and called me that I had to talk to him. I did not want to give him a sense of entitlement. But you know, I wouldn’t have arrived at that kind of thought if I hadn’t had three days of going, this guy is supposed to be an entrepreneur, a businessman, a mogul, how does he have more time in the day than I do?”
When Lance Armstrong tried to fat-shame him on their USO tour
“Lance, on that trip, as I remember it, took a picture of me on the seven- or eight-hour flight. My belly was a little out and he took a picture of that and showed me the picture and he said, ‘You know, one of the things I’m going to do on this trip is I’m going to whip you into shape.’ And I was like, ‘You know what, Lance, one of the things you should understand is that this body is a vessel that I’ve been loaned. I’m not really here. So you can try to whip this into shape all you want. But I don’t really care.’ So I kind of got him off of the phys ed kick. He was very strange. Really strange. And at that point he was not exposed. And the troops loved him. They adored him. But he would do things that were appalling. Later on, this guy has a magazine and Lance is on the cover and he wants him to sign it. And [Armstrong] looks at it and goes, ‘Wow, geez, I don’t have this one. This is really great, thank you.’ And he takes it.”
What playing Anger in Pixar’s ‘Inside Out’ meant to him
“People are like, ‘Oh, you must have made a gazillion dollars.’ No, you don’t. But what they tell you, and it’s true, is, ‘We’ve given you immortality.’ And I’ll take that. I wish that [Inside Out] had been around when I was a kid. Because I think it opened up a door to emotion, which really, my generation, a little less than my parents but still, did not have access to. And then we ended up, you know, going to see shrinks. Because then kids started to say things like ‘I’m feeling red today, I’m feeling blue today.’ It gave them a way to start to define the way they feel. That’s huge. So being able to send that on to children, that to me is what’s important. The most important thing you do is to take what you learned and pass it on. You don’t fuck with it.”