Lewis Black returns to the Straz Center in Tampa

He's an actor, a playwright and an author but he still loves stand-up comedy best

mclear@bradenton.comApril 14, 2013 

Yes, he's really as crotchety in real life as he seems when you watch him on TV.

He's also just as funny and just as likeable.

Lewis Black is talking on the phone from his apartment in the trendy Hell's Kitchen neighborhood of Manhattan. He speaks in that dark growl, and he speaks louder than most people, so he sounds annoyed even in casual conversation.

But a lot of the time he really is annoyed.

When he's unable to find some information peripheral to an interviewer's question, he starts cursing at his own stupidity.

Obviously, he does not restrain himself, whether he's on stage or at home. Which somehow is what makes him so oddly likable.

He'll be in Tampa on April 18, for an evening of stand-up comedy called "The Rant Is Due."

"It's scripted, but it's about whatever's bugging me before the show," he says.

Black has done a lot of other things lately -- about a dozen film roles, some guest spots on TV shows such as "The Big Bang Theory," ("Those kids are great," he said) and his regular "Back in Black" segments on "The Daily Show." But his main job is still stand-up comedy.

"I still do about 120 to 150 dates a year," he says.

It's only a little over a week before this appearance at the Straz Center, but he rattles off a long list of places he has to visit in the interim -- Las Vegas, Omaha, Salina, Kan.; back to New York for "The Daily Show" and then down to Tampa. Then a couple of more dates in Florida before he heads home.

Tampa's not just another stop for him, though. He spent some time here about seven years ago, when he workshopped one of his plays, "One Slight Hitch," at the Patel Conservatory (which is part of the Straz Center). It was one of the first workshops for that play, and he made changes to it based on feedback he got from audiences in Tampa. (Johnny Galecki of "The Big Bang Theory" starred in a later workshop at Vassar College).

The play is now complete and is slated to appear at several theater festivals across the country.

"That was the first workshop, in Tampa," Black says. "That's what got it going so I'm grateful for that."

Despite his gruff persona, the people at the Straz Center found him singularly agreeable.

"When you hear his comedy, he rants, and by the end you know his political views," says Wendy Leigh, the Straz Center's vice president of education. "When he was here he took the time to talk to students at Blake (the nearby performing arts high school in Tampa) and they loved him. They just loved him. He's really warm-hearted and incredibly generous."

Black has other connections to the area, too. One of his best friends, composer-musician Rick Redcay, lives in Tampa, and Black also has fond but fuzzy memories of the Hub, a famous dive bar a few blocks from the Straz Center that's known for especially stiff drinks.

"I remember the Hub," he says, "but I don't remember anything that happened inside the Hub."

That play that he started to develop in Tampa isn't an anomaly. Although he's more well known as a performer, for most of his adult life he was a playwright. He has a degree from the Yale Drama School, one of the best in the country, and for a time he served as the playwright in residence at the West Bank Café's Downstairs Theatre Bar in New York.

"I've written about 40 plays," Black says. "I was a playwright until I figured out that I could make more money being a migrant farmworker."

Black's talent and education bare evident in his plays, Leigh said, which is inventively conceived and structured.

"You can tell how much he loves theater," she says.

When he was working as a playwright in New York, he would often introduce plays at that theater bar (most people would call it a cabaret, he said, "but to me that's too fruity") and his introductions became a hit with audiences. That helped him get comfortable in front of audiences and helped spawn his stand-up career.

After he hit the comedy big-time, offers of film roles started coming in. He's done about 10 feature films. "Accepted," a 2006 teen comedy is by far his most famous.

"It's short, it's like 90 minutes," he says of the film. "So by the time you thought you hated it you were already home." (He actually likes the film a lot, though.)

He also starred in "Unaccompanied Minors," another youth-oriented comedy, around the same time. Like "Accepted," it found an audience despite mediocre response from critics.

"They review these things like they're aimed at 40-year-olds," he said.

He's also authored three books that made it to the New York Times best-seller list and recorded a bunch of comedy albums, two of which won Grammys. He's doing some voice work for an upcoming Pixar film.

But he still considers himself a stand-up comedian at heart, and if he keeps up a hectic touring schedule at age 64, that's OK with him.

"Look, I'm just really happy to be able to have the opportunity to be doing this," Black says. "I just wish I'd been smart enough to start when I was 30 like normal person. Instead I didn't start until I was 50."

Details: 8 p.m. April 18 at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts, 1010 N. MacInnes Place, Tampa. Tickets: $39.50 and up. Information: 813-229-7827 or www.strazcenter.org.

Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-748-0411. ext. 7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.

Bradenton Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service