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February 20, 2003

Back in Black

By Nick Parker
Assistant Arts & Entertainment Editor


February 07, 2002

After more than 30 years away from his alma mater, comedian Lewis Black is returning to UNC on Feb. 11 for his first on-campus performance.

Indeed, Black is back -- and he has plenty to say.

Since his graduation in 1970, Black has been furiously ranting about everything that boggles his mind. Best known for his energetic segment "Back in Black," which airs on Comedy Central's "The Daily Show," Black is revered for his witty criticism and intense diatribes.

Black will be bringing all that anger to Memorial Hall. He said much of his inspiration comes from his observations of daily life.

"(I enjoy talking about) the stupidity of authority figures, from the person that is in charge of airport security to the president of the United States," Black said. "And then just the basic American lack of common sense. It usually just appears for a moment and then it's gone."

Along with his stand-up and weekly rants, Black has been working on putting out his second CD, which is due to come out this spring. Also, he has been working on a pilot with Comedy Central tentatively titled "Lewis Black's Guide to Practically Everything" and has ambitious plans for the future.

"Gun running, I think that there is going to be a lot of money in that," he said. "No, I would actually like to spend a little more time growing into something larger than just the 'Back in Black' segment."

Even though he plans to branch out, Black says he does not plan on ever leaving stand-up.

"You work your whole life to find your audience, and then you find your audience. It would be crazy to just leave them," Black said.

Despite his wide success, loyal audience and future plans, Black still remembers his humble comedic beginnings at UNC. The year after he graduated, Black started to perform stand-up at Cat's Cradle.

But comedy and drama were not Black's only interests. He was socially and politically active, even winning a position in the Student Congress at one point. What Black says he misses most, however, is UNC's atmosphere and youthful energy.

"I thought the great thing was at any time during any 24-hour day you could either be at a party or be studying," he said. "It was kind of a revolving door. But what I miss most is the sense of freedom and the fact that you were allowed to escape from reality for four years."

Black said college gives people the chance to dream unabashedly.

"You can go ahead and be and try and do whatever you want without anybody telling you you can't do it. That opportunity is rarely presented in life unless you got a lot of courage," he said.

Black's courage to say what he feels despite controversy has taken him far since his days on the stage of the Cradle. His experience in the business, especially with "The Daily Show," has helped to mature his comedy and character. "(My stand-up) is funny now; when I was there it was horrible," Black said. "Now I know who the character is, I am comfortable on stage, and I am having a good time. I have an audience that really allows me to talk about whatever I want to talk about."

"The Daily Show," which Black has been with since its beginning nearly six years ago, has been his biggest stepping stone in gaining a following.

"It is a funny show, and it is nice to be on a funny show that is really well-written and has garnered some interest," Black said. "I also like the fact that it has gotten me an audience for my stand-up."

Now that he is respected and has secured a large audience, Black is excited to be getting back to his roots. Although he still has friends in the area and performs at Raleigh's Charlie Goodnight's about every eight months, Black seldom makes it into Chapel Hill.

"Now it is like they refuse to believe there are cars there. When I perform at Charlie Goodnight's it is such a pain in the ass to get into Chapel Hill, I feel like I am going to a mall," he said. "When I was there it was really kind of bucolic and idyllic, and now it has grown a bit too much -- but that is me just whining. It is still one of the most beautiful spots on Earth."

Traffic aside, his return to UNC is long overdue.

"I was performing throughout the South at places like (N.C.) State and (University of Georgia), but my alma mater had never asked me back," Black said. "I was wondering when my alma mater would discover that it was my alma mater."

While at UNC, Black plans to spend time revisiting college activities. Be it roaming Franklin Street or cheering at a basketball game, he said he will just enjoy being back.

"Of course I would get (basketball) tickets during a losing year, but it will be fun," Black said. "I'll just wander around and take it in."

After nostalgic trips around campus, Black will be speaking to students in the Department of Dramatic Art. With experience in acting, writing and performing, Black will answer questions about the different aspects of show business.

"It will mainly be about what it was like at Carolina and trying to make a living in this life -- not just as a comedian," Black said.

Only two hours after his time with the drama students, Black will take the stage at Memorial Hall. Though much of his material will be his basic routine, Black has interesting stories that he can't relate elsewhere. "I will try and talk about my time there. It was the late '60s, and it was just unbelievable," he said. "Between the drugs and the civil rights movement, the school itself was trying to make a statement."

Black said that in his comedy he has always sought to do more than simply amuse. His angry rants, though intense, confront serious issues and make audience members think once they get done laughing. Black will bring that here and will remind students that are responsible for using their voice, he said. "I want to use some time to talk about a couple of things that happened in Chapel Hill -- it was crazy.

"As much as it was about whatever was going on in terms of the war, it was about trying to get student input in what was going on. It was really about being taken a little more seriously."

The Arts & Entertainment Editor can be reached at artsdesk@unc.edu.

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