Lewis Black Gets Down to 'The Root Of All Evil' In This Exclusive Q & A
With your new show, you're putting pop culture on trial. Is there any cultural artifact in particular that you think captures the modern zeitgeist?
What sort of scale?
The one people weigh themselves on. [laughs]
Why do you say that?
That's basically what we do. All people care about are numbers. That's all we're reduced to. There's no interest in what's what or what's where. Really, if anything matters, it's numbers. Numbers are more important than anything. How many numbers do we have? Are the numbers larger? Nobody cares if the show is any good- my show, any show- it's, "What are the numbers? Really, those are the numbers? Is it a good show? Doesn't matter; it's got numbers."
It's across the board, people's obsession with numbers -
It is! It's everywhere.
When do you think numbers began to dominate our lives?
I'm not quite sure; I just know that you can basically tie it to when the greed factor started to go up. And, that started, I think, probably the early 80s, late 70s.
How have numbers shaped your life?
Not much. I don't really pay much attention to them, except my age, which just keeps seeming to go in the wrong direction. [laughs]
And what sorts of effects of aging have you noticed?
Oh boy, I don't remember things. That's just irritating. People will have that condition where they'll walk out the door and think they didn't do something, and it's kind of OCD. I'm becoming much clearer on what happened 25 years ago and less clear on what happened two hours ago.
What sort of things are becoming more fleshed out from 25 years ago?
Just my youth, moments of my youth that take on bigger and broader meanings. The other thing really that's a bitch about aging, is when you're young a week seems like a month, but as you grow older, a month seems like a day. Time really just whips by.
Do you keep a journal or anything like that to save time?
No, I have no time to save the time. [laughs] I'm too busy promoting myself through time.
How would you say the youth you had compares to the youth of children today?
Kids today have a ton more information than my generation had ever dreamed of. In a lot of ways it's a really great thing, but it's also difficult to filter.
How interested in the world do you find kids to be?
I think they're just as interested as we were, if not more so. I spend a lot of time on campuses, and they seem just as bright and just as inquisitive about what's going on, why, how, and what they can do. They also seem much more interested, in some ways, in the wrong direction, in terms of "How can I get a job that pays a zillion dollars immediately?" but also in terms of "How can I make my way in the world?"
What should people who are searching for a job that can make a zillion dollars immediately expect?
They can expect nothing but pain and heartache, unless it's really what they want to do. If their whole idea is that money will make them happy, then they'll be happy. But there's not a lot of people that money makes happy. You have to focus on what it is you want to do. The culture also has to begin to focus on the fact that people who are basically considered public servants, like nurses and teachers, have got to be paid more. You just have to pay them. What goes on is absurd. Isn't it odd that kids are going to business school? There were a lot of people in my generation that went right to teaching. Now it's considered what you do "if".
Business is actually the most popular major in the country.
Yeah. It's absurd.
On the first episode of your show, you did "Oprah vs. the Catholic church" and I thought that there was one big thing that both of these entities have in common and that's that they both entail people giving up a big portion of their moral autonomy, if you will. People say, for example, "Hey, I don't need to think about this particular issue, I'll just go with what Oprah or the Catholic Church has to say," and this seems to happen a lot, today. Why do you think that is?
A lot of it is just that sense that people have that they don't have time, and in a lot of ways they really don't. A lot of people are working two jobs, there are 500 channels on TV, there's the Internet. There's nothing but a constant barrage of facts and figures coming your way. I always say the universe became ambiguous when we went from black and white television to color.
And what do you think it will take for people to make time to think for themselves or to care?
It's like a big pendulum and eventually people will kind of start thinking. You get to the point where there are actually articles about families really having to remember to make time to eat together. "We have to have three meals together a week." Three? We ate dinner together every night, my family and I. I don't know when the world changed in such a fashion. I think that eventually will people go, "Ooh, yeah, that's right." I think the pendulum seems to swing and it goes in one direction and then it gets completely out of control that way and it starts to come back. For all they scream about family values, they're really pretty simple. But it starts with paying attention to your kids and eating dinner with them. It's stuff that used to be rudimentary and people just seem to need to re-learn. I hope they will.
And when was the last time that the pendulum swung to the extreme?
In the late 60s it went way to the left, at least among the kids. And I think what we're seeing now is the pendulum pointing the other way and I think this is the comeuppance for that time. This is all of those guys who were in college, who felt disenfranchised, and it was like, "Ok, I'm going to show you." And there they are. These are all the people I went to school with who were crazier than bed bugs at the time, and you can quote me on that, with my little southern cracker vernacular, wherever the fuck "crazier than bed bugs" came from.
And what do you mean by "nuts" exactly?
What I mean by "nuts" is that they took at face value the lockstep of the Vietnam War. "This is a war, it's an important war, and we have to stop the Communists here." They were conservative back then, which is also a sign of madness. If you're 18 and you're a conservative, something is wrong. It's just the way of the world. You start as a person who is generally liberal. When you're 18 you should be looking at the world from every possible angle. Then, as you grow older, you become more conservative. You don't start conservative. Anyway, they believed that if you didn't stop the Communists there then they were just going to take over all of South-East Asia. It was called the domino theory, and now they put it to work as the reverse domino theory, that if you start democracy in Iraq everybody will become a democratic country. It's the same theory in reverse.
Of course, in both cases it's a war fought on the moral grounds of, "We're good and they're evil."
Oh yeah, absolutely. They never lose sight of that.
Going back to the idea of cultural artifacts, it seems like a lot of television programming that's available today, like To Catch a Predator, There's Something About Miriam, and The Moment of Truth, suggests that we're going to have The Running Man literally on TV.
Oh yeah, eventually. You keep thinking that we're going to get to that point; you keep thinking that a live execution is coming. I think that eventually the Internet hooks up with television and we'll reach the point where the two finally get married. Basically, and I said this really early on, almost 20 years ago, every American home will have cameras in every room and everybody will be their own channel. That's where we'll reach, that's the ultimate as I see it.
And how would that work exactly?
Everybody would just have a channel. You'd have your own channel. You would be on 24 hours a day and people could turn you on and watch you. People in the more poverty stricken areas especially so that they can watch you and live vicariously through you and your many appliances.
And when you get the chance, what sort of TV do you watch?
I watch Arrested Development, I watch The Office when I get the chance. I watch Weeds, Californication, The L Word, The Wire, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and I watch House, mainly for his character, and I know Robert Sean Leonard. I watched Lost for a while when I actually was having some time off, and then I just did not get caught up with it. Deadwood I thought was spectacular.
And what do you hope to accomplish with The Root of All Evil?
I just hope people laugh. And I hope that that's really the thing that they get for 22 minutes, that they get really a bunch of really good laughter. Hopefully, as the show evolves, it in some way, like The Daily Show and Colbert, acts as a filter for the nonsense that people have to deal with on a daily basis, except we'd do it in terms of the other side of the street, in terms of cultural stuff.
The Root of All Evil airs Wednesday, 10:30p/9:30c on Comedy Central - Next episode: Donald Trump vs. Viagra March 19th
Interview by Ben Kharakh
Starpulse.com contributing writer
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