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I've done interviews with quite a few celebrities, and though I'm fascinated by famous folk, I'm too old to be enthralled by them. That didn't keep me from being a bit nervous, however, when I called Lewis Black for an interview last week.

lewis black

Should the name not resonate with you, he is a comedian known for his rather caustic take on things. Hell, he even did the voice of the character called "Anger" in the animated film Inside Out.

If I asked him the wrong question, would he yell at me? And could I take it if he did? Right wingers on this ridge where I live in northern California may think I'm intemperate, but Lewis Black makes me look like Mary Poppins.

Lewis Black was freaking out before freaking out became the norm. He's the living embodiment of exasperation, the personification of what a sane person looks like when driven 'round the bend by the madness we all live with, especially in these demented days of the Donald, our glorious leader and "very stable genius."

I seldom shy away from cussing when the words fit, but I have the pristine vocabulary of a pastor's wife compared to Lewis Black. There have been occasions, however, when my choice of words has offered offense. I used to get regular invitations to speak to the Democrats up on this ridge, for instance, but those invitations dried up years ago because I would occasionally let a vulgar expression or an obscenity help convey the outrage I felt.

Lewis Black was freaking out before freaking out became the norm. He's the living embodiment of exasperation, the personification of what a sane person looks like when driven 'round the bend by the madness we all live with

Maybe local liberals are angry enough by now and will show up to see Lewis Black when he comes to Chico State's Laxson Hall on the 28th of this month. It'll do 'em good. And readers of the LA Progressive can find comedic sustenance a few days later when Black turns up at Largo at the Coronet for shows on January 31st and Feb. 1st, followed by another LA area show in Anaheim on Feb. 2.

Black is known to let fly with an obscenity or two, and his comedy is fueled by the anger he expresses. The difference is that Lewis Black, unlike our potty-mouthed POTUS, has a sense of occasion, of decorum, and of what is appropriate. He is also vastly more intelligent. Oh, and did I mention that he's very funny, with a sense of humor that releases the tension he builds through his stage persona.

Liberal readers in these parts will know of Lewis Black already, of course, and will recall his sharp-edged wit as exhibited in his "Back in Black" segments with Jon Stewart on The Daily Show, where he helped raise a flag for sanity in a country that seemed intent on going nuts, an intention we have since fulfilled. Lewis Black is so funny he could even make some humor-impaired Republicans up on this ridge cough up a reluctant laugh or two, assuming they were among those right wingers still possessed of enough brain cells to allow them to get the jokes.

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On the day we spoke, Donald Trump was, as always, sucking up all the media oxygen in the wake of his comments about "s---hole" countries. "My job these days," Lewis Black told me, "is to get through a show without mentioning his name. We hear his name too much. It's just intolerable. I went into comedy because a comedian is really like the unruly kid in the room. I liked being that kid. But now, with Trump, there are no adults, so I have to be an adult, and I hate that. When Trump tweets that 'my button is bigger than your button' at Kim Jong Un, it's pathological. I don't care if he's president; the adults need to step up."

Does he sense a different relationship with his audiences these days?

"I've lost some people," he told me, "but they were people who shouldn't have shown up in the first place. I've had to interrupt shows a few times to explain to the hecklers that if you've been waiting all your life for this president, you should leave the room now and get your money back."

"But, I get a real sense of gratitude from people after my shows, kind of like they're saying 'thank god you showed up'."

How much of what audiences see onstage is the "real" Lewis Black?

"The version of me people see onstage is an exaggerated version of who I am, a blown up version. I couldn't be like that all the time; it would kill me. Anger generally isn't funny, but I build tension with it, and the release of tension brings the laughter. Comedy is tension relief."

Contrary to the impression I may have created here, Lewis Black doesn't devote his entire professional oeuvre to ridiculing Trump. He has a range of targets for his riotous rage. But for those of us struggling, as he is, to maintain hope and balance in these times, a Lewis Black concert can be like a Red Cross station for wounded psyches. "Against the assault of laughter," Mark Twain observed, "nothing can stand."

With luck—and enough adults willing to stand up—perhaps the shameful absurdity of the Trump era may yet be brought down with the force of laughter prompted by people like Lewis Black.

And, though I risk blowing his cover and perhaps destroying his career when I do, I can't resist revealing the fact that, offstage and on the phone with a boondock scribbler, Lewis Black is, in fact, a pussycat.

jaime oneill

Jaime O'Neill