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Lewis Black comes by his yelling honestly

Clay McBride

Lewis Black makes his living ranting, often profanely, about politics and pop culture. He does this mostly in places where adults can have an alcoholic beverage or two, where everyone, including Black, can blow a little steam from the pressure cooker that is modern life. It’s a strange life to begin with, and it got a little stranger recently when Black, who performs Sunday at the Cape Cod Melody Tent, found himself staring at toy likenesses of a character called Anger from the new Pixar movie “Inside Out.” Black is, of course, its voice.

“It was really strange,” he says of seeing the toys at the movie’s premiere. “It was just stacks of stuff, and then dropping stuff in my room. It’s like 10 different dolls.” He laughs, a sound that rumbles in his chest. “Then it was: They’re using my voice and I’m not going to see a dime from these dolls. There’s no merch thing in the contract.”


Unbeknownst to him, the film’s creators had Black in mind for the role when they pitched the idea for the movie to Pixar boss John Lasseter. “One of the things they told Lasseter was, ‘Imagine Lewis Black as Anger.’ So they kind of knew.”

Anger and Black formed a partnership a long time ago, but a wider audience began taking notice when he took the job as a kind of ranting Andy Rooney on the first iteration of “The Daily Show” on Comedy Central in 1996. Hunched over his desk, twitching and pointing with wildly flicking fingers, he has ranted himself hoarse about everything from presidential scandals to fast food. He gives his stand-up specials names like “Stark Raving Black” and “Old Yeller.” Anger is his hook. It’s what people expect.

For his 2012 special “In God We Rust,” Black tried to change up his delivery. “I tried to really modulate and find other forms in which to show anger without screaming all the time, and also to give more modulation to the act itself,” he says. When “Rust” came out on DVD, Black was surprised to find fans online commenting that he must be slowing down.


“It was like, really?” he says. “You missed how angry this was? You really need me to yell? So I was kind of stunned that it wasn’t seen for what it was.”

Black, 66, has said that if he had to do his career all over again, he’d come out on a gurney with an IV drip to set a different, less taxing precedent. But he comes by the yelling honestly. He is generally a laid-back presence, even soft-spoken. Talk about politics, though, and the twitchy, shouty guy from TV comes roaring back. And since he recorded “Rust,” the tenor of public debate has reached the point where he says he needs to get loud again.

“I went back to yelling because it’s the only thing that would give me any satisfaction in response to what these idiots are doing,” he says.

Sometimes he can barely get the words out. The morning of his interview with the Globe, he had been taking in news about Donald Trump’s lawyer and his comments about rape, Senator Ted Cruz complaining about Senator Mitch McConnell, and Mike Huckabee’s statement that the new Iran nuclear deal will “take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven.” All of it sends Black back to his stage persona.


“It’s the summer and they really shouldn’t be allowed to be talking to us anyway, because this is our time off,” he says. And political campaigns need to be shorter. “I mean, this is ludicrous. I don’t need to hear about what they’re going to do about something they should have done eight years ago, or 10 years ago, or 12 years ago.”

He does see some bright spots. Not all the presidential campaign news is a turn-off. A self-identified socialist, Black is happy to see Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders in the race. “People should be happy for me that I finally have a candidate,” he says. “Is that candidate going to win? No. Why? Because he’s a socialist. We’re not going to have anything to do with socialism in this country. So all of those of you in a panic, there’s nothing to worry about.”

Black is also a fan of Pope Francis and muses that the Constitution should be changed so the pontiff could run for president. “I didn’t think I’d see another real statesman, someone like a Martin Luther King or a Gandhi,” he says. “And I put him in that category. He’s already said more in a year than all of the other leaders combined together.”

Expect to see Black again on “The Daily Show” after he helps send off longtime host Jon Stewart on Aug. 6. The “Back in Black” segment will continue when Stewart’s successor, Trevor Noah, takes over. It will be a tough task replacing Stewart, Black says, because “people are attached to him, like they were attached to Johnny Carson or they were attached to Walter Cronkite.” But he’s optimistic about the show’s future.


“I think, as long as we maintain the quality of the writing, we’re going to be fine,” he says. “As long as people are sitting there laughing, we’re going to be fine.”

Despite the ranting he does in public, Black thinks he carries a generally positive outlook on life. “I don’t see myself as negative,” he says. “You’re not this upset unless you think there’s a way that this all really works. And you believe that it works. I don’t think there’s inherently a flaw in human beings that brings us low.”

Has the world gone to hell? “It has,” he says, “and it’ll come back, because it always does.”

Lewis Black

At: Cape Cod Melody Tent, Hyannis, Sunday at 7 p.m.

Tickets: $44.50-$68.50,

508-775-5630, www.melodytent.org

Nick A. Zaino III can be reached at nick@nickzaino.com.