Everyone – especially fans of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart – knows Lewis Black is one of the funniest, most politically astute men in America. Not everyone, however, knows Black is also a darned good playwright.
This month, both sides of the acerbic commentator will be on display: his solo show, Lewis Black: Running On Empty, begins a brief run at Broadway's Richard Rodgers Theatre on Tuesday, October 9, and his autobiographically-inspired romantic comedy, One Slight Hitch, gets a four-week run at the George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick, New Jersey. TheaterMania recently spoke to the ever-outspoken Black about these two disparate projects.
THEATERMANIA: Are you ready to tell Broadway audiences what you think of our political system?
LEWIS BLACK: It's what I've been working on for months. I get to tell everyone why I think we're screwed no matter what happens in November. There are four reasons we've gotten nowhere in this country: the Democrats, the Republicans, the Tea Party, and the rest of us. We've got this two-party system where each just points the finger at the other and no one explains what they're going to do. I think my generation started with the best of intentions, but we screwed everything up. It's just ridiculous.
TM: Do you have a theory why it all went wrong?
LB: I think a lot of it has to do with how our whole society is ADD. We've got the email, we're bombarded by tons of websites, then we wanted more friends so we log onto Facebook, and we have our cellphones and our texts and our twitter so we never need to be home. I think we all just live in an imaginary world.
TM: Will the Broadway show be the same every night?
LB: Each night, I might find something new to add, so I'll open another box and then put in stuff from what's going on that day. That's always the way my act evolves.
TM: How excited are you to be doing this show in New York City?
LB: To be able to work in New York City for eight nights is a gift. First off, the theater is just three blocks from my home. And to talk to people from New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania will be unbelievable. Not only do they get it -- they're more bitter than I am.
TM: And those same audiences can now finally see One Slight Hitch. What was the inspiration for the play?
LB: About 30 years ago, I was living with my girlfriend, who was an actress, and she really didn't seem like someone who would ever get married and I wasn't ready to get married. And then she goes to England to make a movie, we split up, and then she calls me about six months later and says she met the man she's gonna marry -- and within six months of that, they got married. One of my friends went to the wedding, and he told me all her family talked about was me instead of the groom. So I started thinking what would have happened if I had showed up at the wedding. At that point in my playwriting career, I decided that a romantic comedy might be something I could sell commercially, as opposed to all the dark things I had been writing.
TM: Sounds good. Why wasn't the play a big hit back then?
LB: Some producer optioned it for Broadway, but it never saw light of day. Then about 12 years ago, my friend, Joe Grifasi, started to direct plays, and I took this script out of my trunk and I told him go cut it and direct it. And he said, I think I know what to do with it. So we had four workshops over a 10-year period, including ones in Williamstown and Seattle, and each time, we kept slashing, and then went back and wrote new stuff in terms of the plot, and kept rewriting.
TM: Is it done?
LB: If it's not done now, I'm going to kill myself. Even if it's really 80 to 90 percent of what it could be, I think this is the closest I am going to get. Joe and the cast are dealing with it now, and I think they're all really smart, terrific people. Well, at least, there are no assholes.