American Lewis Black is a veteran of comedy stage and screen, probably best known for his appearances on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. His occasional, tightly scripted rants on that program, about the failings of American society and government, are always a hoot; one 2010 segment, in which he concluded that right-wing pundit Glenn Beck had “Nazi Tourette’s,” is one of the great moments in television satire.
A Just for Laughs regular, Black returns in 2014 with The Rant is Due. Another year, another title, but more of the same frustrations for the famously angry comedian, who always seems on the verge of a stroke when he gets going about his country’s shortcomings: a government that shut itself down; a Congress that has 12% public approval; climate-change deniers who dismiss the conclusions of 96% of scientists. These were but a few of the red rags for this angry bull on opening night.
Typically for a Black performance, the US dominated, so if you don’t have a bit of a handle on American current affairs, especially politics, The Rant is Due may not be for you. There were a handful of dispatches from his travels, however, including several chance encounters with military bands in Nordic countries. Most observers would probably not make much of these bands playing patriotic American tunes, but Black had plenty to say.
Montreal got a mention too: the bridges, after all his years of visiting, still aren’t fixed, and being surrounded by conversations in French means Black can remain blissfully ignorant of what stupid things are being said. At show’s end he had some extremely nice, apparently sincere words to say about our city… which seemed strange coming out of the mouth of a man known for sarcasm.
Over-the-top sarcasm in fact, spiced up with plenty of cussing, and garnished with anger that sometimes becomes an implosive, inarticulate rage. It’s both hilarious and uncomfortable to see Black get so mad that he tears his glasses off and pulls at his hair – is it an act, or is he really that incensed? In which case, is there a doctor in the house?
Another key ingredient of Black’s art is intelligence: he had facts – as well as plenty of what he considers a great virtue, common sense – and made clever observations.
Black’s wise-man-surrounded-by-morons routine is slightly cerebral, so on opening night there was steady laughter, but more chuckles than guffaws. The laugh-o-meter also didn’t overload because, amusing though the material was, the connections between segments was often disjointed, and sometimes the segment itself was a little rambly.
For the most part, however, the audience got what they came for: an hour or so of Old Yeller, live, funny and very, very angry… Plus an enjoyable 15 minutes of stand-up from Daily Show executive producer Rory Albanese at the top of the show.
Lewis Black’s The Rant is Due was at Théâtre Maisonneuve on July 24. Just for Laughs continues until July 28, visit hahaha.com for more info.
Patricia Maunder is a Montreal-based writer and editor