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Mad Black: Fury Road Comic

Lewis Black rages against every part of the machine

Lewis Black rolls into Tacoma mad as hell, Sunday. Photo courtesy Broadway Center

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"If it weren't for my horse, I wouldn't have spent that year in college."

This is a sentence that was stuck in comedian Lewis Black's head, and has thereafter been stuck in my head. What resonated so infuriatingly in Lewis Black's head, as a bit of overheard nonsense at an IHOP, resonated with me for a different reason. I heard Black tell the story of the possibly aneurysm-causing non sequitur on his 1998 Comedy CentralPresents special, one of the first comedy specials I can consciously remember seeing.

What struck me about Lewis Black, as a kid, was that he was made up of contradictory elements. This was a man who was brimming over with rage (both real and manufactured, it's safe to assume) and also fundamentally silly. When he remarks in that horse bit that IHOP brings you way too much coffee for one person, he says that it's nice because it makes him feel like someone else is gonna show up, and he doesn't know who. It's a tender bit of cuteness coming from the embodiment of pent-up anger.

He also felt like a grown-up. Black was 40 years old at the time he recorded that special, a relative late-comer to standup comedy. Black spent most of his early years in show business as a playwright. His penchant for writing cutting comedy on the stage led his way to opening for his plays, and to eventually going solo. The archetype of the furious comedian was not unexplored, when he first started standup, but people like Lenny Bruce and Bill Hicks would often sacrifice the joke for a larger point. Not to say that Black is shallow, but the joke is always in service, even when he tackles things that you know really rile him up.

Black's tenure as The Daily Show's Andy Rooney, with his occasional "Back in Black" segments, nailed the idea of the op-ed, pundit-based desk piece long before Stephen Colbert took the concept and pushed it to its limit. While it was essentially an excuse to do a topical Lewis Black set under the disguise of a news show segment, the opportunity to see Black with a straight man sitting next to him not only shined a light on the inherent theatricality of Black's stage persona, but it brought out the unforeseen improvisational skills of the comedian.

Now some 25 years into his onstage career, Lewis Black has cemented his place as a comedian who not only churns out quality material, but the bittersweet position of being a comedian that upcoming comedians look up to and imitate. How many times have you seen an upstart comedian doing their best Dave Attell, Todd Barry or Steven Wright? Great comedians are infectious.

For one night only, Lewis Black will be appearing in Tacoma, giving us his The Rant is Due: Part Deux show. When Lewis Black rages against the machine, he sees all of the cogs and gears, not to mention the superfluous bits that some people don't even know are there.

Lewis Black: The Rant is Due: Part Deux, Pantages Theater, Sunday, Sept. 27, 7 p.m., $59.50, 901 Broadway, Tacoma, 253.591.5890

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