Lewis Black: Back for One Last Time

Before ultimately deciding to retire from the road after his current, and final, tour, Grammy-winning comedian Lewis Black had little respect for so-called “five-year plans.” 

Then the pandemic hit.

“That proved to me what I’ve always thought, which is: There’s nothing dumber than a five-year plan,” Black told Revue via phone, while battling what he called “the cold that never dies.”

Recording what became his 2020 standup special “Thanks For Risking Your Life,” at the Four Winds Casino in New Buffalo, Michigan, in March 2020, the day before COVID-19 lockdowns cancelled all live entertainment, Black added that he has always had a special connection to our state, even before that terrifyingly unprecedented event.

“When I first made the transition from writing plays and theatre to standup, I spent a month doing standup with my friend John Bowman, who was, and hopefully still is, a very well-known Michigan comedian,” Black said. “So it was in Michigan where I actually made the decision, ‘I could do this. This is fun.’”

Having something of a full-circle moment, Black plans to return to writing once he retires from touring. Working professionally as a playwright until he turned 40, Black is eager to get back to the craft, and has a modern version of the classic “Our Town” in mind, as well as other projects.

The longest-running contributor to Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” with his regular rant-fueled “Back In Black” segments going all the way back to the show’s first season in 1996, Black was slated to guest host the show for a week last year, but had that opportunity shelved due to the WGA Strike. 

But he said he plans to continue his own beloved “Rantcast” after he stops touring, where he’ll continue to share his fans’ own rants online. 

“The problem was I was really doing two full shows when I was doing the Rantcast live,” Black said about including the live podcast at the end of his hundreds of tour dates year after year. “Now what I want to do is maybe at each show read a rant, and that will go on the Rantcast… And then maybe I’ll get a couple of colleagues to join me, and we’ll regroup.”

Not only giving voice to his fans’ ubiquitous rage, Black has become perhaps best known to some as the voice of Anger in the 2015 Disney Pixar movie “Inside Out,” and the upcoming sequel, “Inside Out 2,” due out in June of this year.

“When they first approached me (about voicing Anger) it was like a form of recognition for the work that I had done,” Black said. “Pixar is like the Hall of Fame of animation, so working with them was phenomenal, and working with them again, I never thought they would do a sequel. So watching what was involved and the story they have… the whole thing blossomed into something I never, ever would have imagined.”

He says he’s not sure if a new generation of fans who grew up with his Anger character have started discovering his standup on their own, but added that he has gotten recognized by younger fans for his appearance on “The Big Bang Theory,” back in 2009.

Now 75, and having done comedy for going on half his life, Black said the art form has changed massively during the many years he’s done it, with a major shift occurring now for comedians on social media.

“I couldn’t imagine doing five nights in a theatre before,” Black said. “There was maybe one comic who could do five nights every so often, and now there’s a whole group of them.”

In his act, Black has discussed the longevity of his own parents, who both lived to over 100 years old, and when asked if he might return to comedy when he crosses that milestone himself, there’s only one way he’d consider it. 

“Maybe I will do a special, on my 100th birthday, lying on a gurney,” Black said. “That’s the only way I would a special on my 100th.”

He said that he was lucky to have a relationship with his parents for so long as they did not suffer from Alzheimer’s or dementia in their old age, and he’s grateful for the care they both got for their physical health as they got older, and he saw some of their struggles.

“But then there’s a part of my brain going, ‘Do I really want to go this long? It becomes tough to think about because it’s real. Yes there’s a joy to it, but I better start exercising a lot more is all I can tell you.”

As for what he’ll miss most from touring once he retires, Black didn’t hesitate to say it’s the audience.

“I’ll miss being able to talk to them,” he said. “Standing on that stage, they helped me figure out what was going on in the outside world, and I owe it all to them.”

Lewis Black: Goodbye Yeller Brick Road, The Final Tour
GLC Live at 20 Monroe, 11 Ottawa Ave., Grand Rapids
Feb. 16, 7 p.m., $53+
Glcliveat20monroe.com, lewisblack.com