GRAND RAPIDS – Despite the insanely vigorous national touring schedule – including many stops in Michigan – he’s maintained over the years, it has been a long time since Lewis Black has set foot in Grand Rapids. Leave it to the organizers at Gilda’s LaughFest (of which the show was a part) to change that. But as he told the crowd of 2,200 people at the DeVos Performance Hall last night, his absence wasn’t by his design. “’No, no, you can’t go there. They’re too happy,’” Black said, mimicking what I assume are his booking agents. “They don’t want to hear your whiny, crybaby shit!’”
As evidenced by the standing ovation Black received at the show’s conclusion, however, listening to his “whiny, crybaby shit” is exactly what folks from all over Western Michigan wanted to hear.
Of course, Black’s self-description of what he does onstage is just part of the underlying humbleness the wildly successful comedian brings to his otherwise headstrong, spirited act. How spirited? Well, I’ve seen hundreds of live comedy shows, and this is the first that has included the performer accidentally striking his teeth with the microphone mid-rant. It was audible. Ouch.
Accidental self-injurious behavior aside, Black provided the truly all-ages crowd with the type of catharsis and therapy not found in any shrink’s office or in a rattling bottle of Zoloft. Perhaps most comforting about Black’s perspective on life – whether he’s opining about Social Security (or the inevitable lack thereof), the Consumer Price Index (whatever the fuck that is) or the failings of his generation – is that he rarely has any answers. Wait, what’s comforting about not having any answers, Dylan? I’ll tell you, snarkypuss.
When a 64-year-old man as well-read, well-written and well-educated (UNC, Yale) as Black becomes completely undone — as he did many times last night — by the way our government runs the country, or why we have Smartphones but haven’t mined effective alternative energy sources or why, that in the 21st Century we still don’t have robots walking around, it means we get a pass. It means maybe we’re not supposed to understand the things we so desperately try to grip. Unfortunately, it probably also means there’s little hope we won’t all perish due to our own stupidity.
But that’s ok. As long as we have Black as our angry, agitated guide, when the flames that will ultimately consume us start lapping at our flesh, we’ll all have a good laugh.
I should also note that comedian John Bowman, Black’s longtime friend and opener, kicked the night off with a stellar set, wherein he peppered in references to his hometown Howard City, a village of less than 2,000 people about 40 minutes north of Grand Rapids. When an audience member shouted out during his performance, Bowman responded. “You can’t talk. If you were here to see Phantom of the Opera, you couldn’t yell, “Hey, stop killing people, you fucking weirdo.” It’s a good thing for would-be hecklers to remember.
photo by Rudy Malmquist
Proceeds from all the show’s during the 10-day Gilda’s Laughest goes to the Grand Rapids chapter of Gilda’s Club, which provides support for cancer patients and their friends and families. You can donate here.