On paper, Lewis Black's success doesn't add up. He works in a medium that most of his Comedy Central colleagues would have you believe to be the utter antithesis of, or even a solution to, rant-laden ideological politicking. But Black's comedy is unequivocally political, and plenty rant-laden.
That in mind, I ask if he might even consider himself something of a pundit.
"I hope not," replies the man known to riff on (for example) the merits of Keynesian macroeconomic theory. "I'm a comedian. If I can't get laughs out of this shit, then I'm done."
Which leaves us with ideology, and Black's is decidedly different from those of his subjects: He pokes fun at whatever stupidity enters his crosshairs. Black is an equal-opportunity offender, a guy just looking to make comedy that he believes could double as "the logic of the situation."
"The more something is the truth, the funnier it can be," he says. After a beat, he adds the requisite touch of humility to any discussion of epistemology: "I don't know why."
I press for more on why Black thinks his seemingly didactic, quasi-punditry still manages to ring hilarious. "The kids like what I do because I'm not the adult telling them what to do, I'm telling them that the adults that they're dealing with are as dumb as they think they are."
Certainly, the one-time star of Lewis Black's Root of All Evil accomplishes one thing that pundits, left or right, fail to: He is genuinely funny. Even as lefty journalists increasingly attempt plugged-in humor to give their agendas a veneer of authenticity, Black insists "the right is funnier.
"The left is so busy trying to make everybody feel good that by the time they finish the speech, you don't really know what they said. And the right says stuff that's so profoundly stupid ... that you can only say, 'Wow, I can't believe they said that.'"
Then again, that would make perfect sense if it turned out that the entire right-wing project was one huge, comic performance from the get-go. "How do you out-satire what's already satire? I look at this stuff and say, you know, I wish I'd thought of it," Black says. "If I was writing fiction, or as a playwright"— Black, 64, worked as a not-so-successful playwright until age 40 —"I would love to create a character like Michele Bachmann."
In that vein, I ask him how he feels about former Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain appearing now on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart at least as frequently as Black himself. "Herman Cain was always a performer," he replies. "There is no reason he should've been running for the president. That was absurd."
Not that Black is some kind of Democrat, or worse, an insipid cheerleader for centrism or "bipartisanship." (In fact, he professes to be a card-carrying socialist.) He's fond of saying that "the only thing dumber than a Republican or a Democrat is when these pricks work together." With the ink still wet on Congress' last-minute compromise solution to the "fiscal cliff," let's hope he's wrong.