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Ask Me Another

Lewis Black: Which Is Worse?

Early in his career as a stand-up comedian, Lewis Black received a call from the famed television producer Norman Lear. The man responsible for All In the Family and The Jeffersons was about to change Black's life--or so Black thought.

"Quite obviously he has written something, and wants me in it, and the sad days are over," Black told Ask Me Another host Ophira Eisenberg.

But Lear's request was not quite what Black had hoped for: "The one thing his son wanted was for me to perform at his Bar Mitzvah."

Black, known for his recurring "Back in Black" segment on The Daily Show, in which he rants about current events, originally went to Yale Drama School to become a playwright. He ran a club in New York called the West Bank Cafe, produced theater, and did stand-up comedy on the side. Eventually, his rants paid the rent, and he ditched playwriting to do comedy full time. (For his Ask Me Another Challenge, however, Black dusted off his degree for a trivia round about American theater).

In this segment, Black explains how he developed his ranting style of comedy, and plays a game inspired by his 2008 series The Root of All Evil, in which he describes why he thinks certain aspects of society are "the worst."

Interview Highlights

On deciding to do stand-up comedy as a way to make a living

The real turning point came when I went to Houston and had a play done there. I thought that I'd made it. And it was one of the most horrible experiences of my life. When I think back, it was like an abusive orphanage. The whole thing was awful. I went across town to just audition at a comedy club. They offered me a headline shot, and it was the same amount of money that I was making for the play that I had spent three years with my friend writing. A musical--a musical! I knew where the money was.

On learning how to shape his rants

[In the beginning,] what I had not learned was to do something other than rant. So [my set] was 55 minutes, where I would start bellowing like a lunatic, and then top myself. My friend Kathleen Madigan, another comic, said, "Do you realize that, for eight minutes, the audience isn't laughing? They're scared to death!" I had no idea. But eventually I learned to modulate a little. Build some peaks and valleys. And now that I give them more valleys, and don't yell as much, they go, "He got tired." Idiots.

Which is worse: artisan foods or soy milk?

[Soy milk.] It's not milk! They squeeze a bean! It's disgusting! It's disgusting in a latte. I don't care if they flavor it. I would rather be at a coffee place, with a goat on the counter, and I would squeeze it.

This episode originally aired January 8, 2015.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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