You’d be forgiven for thinking that Lewis Black has a heart as dark as his last name. Most of the prolific comedian and actor’s work, from his stand-up routines to his recurring “Back in Black” segment for “The Daily Show,” draws on his talent for angry and venomous rants. For the latter bit, which he’s performed for nearly two decades, Black sounds off on topics as varied as CBD, flat earth theories and deceptive medical insurance practices with such intensity that you might worry he’ll pop a blood vessel—that is, if his heart pumps blood. If that’s not enough, he literally portrayed Anger in the animated movie “Inside Out.”
But much of that anger comes from a place of compassion. He carries that empathy into two causes—finding a cure for cystic fibrosis (CF), a genetic condition affecting the respiratory system, and autism services—for which he hosts fundraiser shows. A 60/40 split of all proceeds from his November 12 performance at The Modell Performing Arts Center at The Lyric opera house will go to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and Hunt Valley-based Pathfinders for Autism, respectively.
Black, who was born in Washington D.C. and grew up in nearby Silver Spring, said that he first got involved with autism fundraisers through Robert Smigel, the comedian behind “TV Funhouse” on “Saturday Night Live” and Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, whose son has autism. Black has performed at several iterations of “Night of Too Many Stars,” Smigel’s annual televised comedy show that benefits autism education and support services. He also recently did two benefit performances with his friend and fellow comedian Kathleen Madigan.
As for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, Black said that he began hosting a recurring golf tournament and fundraiser for the organization nearly a quarter century ago. This year’s tournament took place in mid-October, only a few days before he spoke to The Baltimore Sun—"hence my voice being a little raggedy," he explained. “I host and play golf, it’s more than one man should be doing.”
“We just celebrated our 25th year [of benefit golf tournaments]," he added. “In that time, apparently, we’ve added at least [an] average one year of life to the life expectancy of someone with CF, which is pretty extraordinary.”
The 71-year-old comic’s life frequently intersected with Baltimore. He visits his mother, age 101, in Owings Mills often. He appeared in an episode of “Homicide: Life on the Street,” the 90s police procedural inspired by former Baltimore Sun journalist David Simon’s book. And while he had to pause the interview to look up some names, he fondly remembered Brooks Robinson, Jim Palmer, the late Mike Flangan and other players that made the Baltimore Orioles his favorite baseball team.
He remembered the Os’ last disastrous season much less positively.
“I don’t see what they’re doing,” he said, gearing up for a characteristic rant. “I’d like to have known what the concept was. I’d like to have known, what’s his name, the guy that went to Arizona...Adam Jones, why would you let him go? You got one guy who, in the history of baseball, plays out his contract for you, and is the kind of ball player you want to teach professionalism to other ball players, why would you get rid of him? What did you get for him? It was so staggering, as opposed to the ability for what he could pass on. He was class, greatness, everything that that Orioles organization has been about, and you let him go? You know, f**k you. That’s how I feel.”
Black shared equally strong criticism for the networks and streaming services that made securing a new comedy special, whose material he’ll try out in Baltimore, difficult.
“This has been as hard [of an experience] getting a special as I’ve ever had, while people are telling me, ‘Oh boy, you’ve really done well at this!’” he said. “Netflix didn’t answer a call for a year and a half...so we checked with other things, went to Amazon, Amazon said ‘No,’ and then they went and turned to [fellow comic Jim] Gaffigan—which is fine, I get it, don’t get me wrong...But we’re getting closer."
Although he’s discussed President Donald Trump and country’s political chaos during his current tour (“It was the first time when people would come up and say, ‘You talk too much about him,’ or ‘You talk too little about him.’"), Black said that the Baltimore audience will see him delve into a more personal issue: aging.
“I’ve heard all my life, ‘We’ve got a really good economy now'—the only people who say that are rich people and politicians, which is kind of a tipoff that there never really has been a good economy,” he explained. “I know that we don’t have a great economy because we don’t prepare for anything. And I know this because none of us were prepared for our parents to live that long...But the government shows no interest in it. And we’re going to live longer, and nobody’s dealing with it. There’s no financial dealing with it whatsoever. We’re just ignoring it. We’re all going to be in bunks together or something, who the f**k knows?”
If you go
See if Black figures it out during “An Evening With Lewis Black," which takes place November 12 at The Modell Performing Arts Center at The Lyric,140 W. Mt. Royal Ave. in Baltimore. The show starts at 8 p.m. and tickets, which benefit the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and Pathfinders for Autism, cost between $60 and $200. Purchase them at modell-lyric.com or call 410-900-1150 for more information.