Comedian Lewis Black on living at intersection of satire, reality

Lewis Black may be a native of Washington, D.C., but judging from a recent conversation between the political satirist and students at the UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism, he doesn’t have any more of an explanation than anyone else about Donald Trump’s election as president of the United States.

Ed Wasserman, dean of the Graduate School of Journalism, talks with comedian and friend Lewis Black. (UC Berkeley Public Affairs photo by Brittany Hosea-Small.)

Ed Wasserman, dean of the Graduate School of Journalism, talks with comedian and friend Lewis Black. (UC Berkeley Public Affairs photo by Brittany Hosea-Small)

“I had this faith that American would not accept this s___ coming out of his mouth,” said Black on Monday. That faith, said the stand-up comedian, actor and author, has been shattered.

Living through the aftermath of the election, he said, has been akin to the trauma felt post-9/11.

“We live in fictional times,” Black quipped, adding that if someone had written about what happened in the last 18 months before it happened, it would have been “one funny f___ing book.”

Today, no so much.

“My real faith… is sadly in millennials,” he jokingly advised the 20- and 30-something journalism students assembled in North Gate Hall’s library for a profanity-laden chat about politics, real and fake news media, American voters and the reasons for the country’s Election Day tumult.

One answer lies with the Democrats, Black speculated. “If there’s a sword in the room, they’ll run through it.”

He compared the vanquished Hillary Clinton to the woman you’ve carpooled with for years and years and years. “You hate her for the wrong reasons,” Black said, noting that one cause is that she’s just been around for so long and voters have heard her name on too many broadcasts and in too many print stories.

“Nobody was hearing her anymore,” he said, adding, “She went into the 24-hour news cycle and she got lost.”

The cable TV news media erred, Black suggested, by giving Trump so much free airtime from the outset.

Black said he’s long been fond of print news and reading a real newspaper, in part because he knows the reporters have had education, training and job requirements, as opposed to writing fake news to generate clicks. “They weren’t typing s___ into space.”

The intent of many voters who turned out Nov. 8 to vote for Trump was to deliver a message: “It was a f___ you vote.”

Black noted that he receives positive feedback from audiences in red states, where they seem to appreciate his shows, maybe in large part because much of his vocabulary and attitude matches their own.

Asked if reporters should spend more time covering and conveying the message of Trump voters from middle America, he responded, “You mean cover them by putting blankets over their heads?”

Black said he spent the Thanksgiving holiday in Rome, where Italians told him they were appalled by the U.S. presidential results and were particularly unsettled by the media’s lack of coverage of real issues. He suggested journalists cover important and impactful stories such as gerrymandering of the boundaries of voting precincts, which has given Republicans a solid edge.

Meanwhile, he warned that the country is operating in a “post-truth world” in which the U.S. soon will be run by “a moth… with the attention span of a 6-year-old.” Trump’s tweetstorms, Black theorized, reflect in part that we are “living at the intersection of satire and reality.”

Black is the author of more than 40 plays, and three best-selling, critically acclaimed books, Nothing’s Sacred , Me of Little Faith  and I’m Dreaming of a Black Christmas. He earned degrees from the University of North Carolina and Yale Drama School.

He is currently on tour with a show called “The Emperor’s New Clothes: The Naked Truth Tour.”