The Comedy of Cognitive Dissonance
Lewis Black brings his The Rant is Due tour to town, and as usual, Texas politicians provide endless fodder. Hello, Ted Cruz.
published Monday, September 30, 2013
Fort Worth — It’s a fine line between being an aware, informed and empathetic person, and being driven bat-crap crazy from the knowledge. Comics of depth dance that line all the time. For Lewis Black, performing at Bass Performance Hall last Sunday at age 65, his dancing days may be nearing the end.
“Every day I wake up and say ‘This is the day, this is the day we figure it out.’ It’s got to be today, we’ve been at it so long.”
But not today, he said, looking a bit haggard, leaning on the mic stand, and wondering aloud just how much longer he could keep the rant alive: “This shit gets harder and harder to talk about.”
Lewis, here’s a tip: Don’t watch the Sunday morning news and politics programs on television. Just don’t. Especially when you have a show that night. Somehow Congress sounds saner in print.
While this was his first time in Texas since his spectacular rant on Gov. Rick Perry that he did for The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, which inspired its own website, Black was equally obsessed with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz: “Two of them? Really, how’d you do it? Were they running against armadillos?… If Bush Sr. was like Churchill compared to Bush Jr., then Bush Jr. is Churchill to Perry. (Insert face-shaking noises of exasperation here.) Next time, elect the armadillo.”
Texas-trashing segued into into his first extended rant of the night on science, ticked off by Perry’s rejection of global warming: “What? Was chunks of the arctic melting into the ocean not enough proof for ya? I get faith, faith is really important. But in the face of facts, faith is stupid.” Much finger pointing and face shaking ensued. Black chewed into Perry’s dismissal of evolution—odd since the oil industry is built on geology, the science of Earth evolution—and made the great observation: “Why believe in the Rapture, but not global warming, since global warming is the logical stimulus of the Rapture?”
Cognitive dissonance in all its manifestations is Black’s favorite target. He pondered how one could believe in the Garden of Eden and then trash it: “I think we can all agree that science is good. We should listen to the scientists,” reminding us that it was the scientists of the Medieval times who convinced the castled gentry that getting their drinking water from the same moat they “dumped their piss and shit in” was a bad thing. Tying that history tidbit to global warming, Black growled: “Is it so hard to figure out? Take care of the garden and don’t shit in the moat!” Much finger jabbing ensued.
Then back to politics. Black gnawed on Cruz, the “fake filibuster,” and the senator’s need for a foil hat, and agitated through the Affordable Care Act: “It’s not Obamacare. Obamacare is the care and feeding of Obama!” He got all wonky with the debt ceiling, U.S. credit rating, and the Consumer Price Index. Social Security launched into a bit on longhand division—“You know, when you put the number under the little hut”—and suggested that its insolvency was caused by “some guy who forgot to carry the 2.” Anti-abortionists claims of masturbating fetuses was another topic: “You don’t use ‘fetus’ and ‘masturbate’ in the same sentence, not even in the same paragraph!”
But when Black veered into non-political bits, his slump straightened, his face lightened, and he seemed to delight in his own humor. He riffed on his mother, turning 95, who insisted that she delay getting a new computer for 10 months until Windows 8 was released: “That’s why she’s lived so long—that’s optimism!” He mused that he’d never have kids because he found soccer tournaments intolerable. There were bits on pot legalization—“Pot is a gateway drug to one thing only and that’s the kitchen”—and getting stoned enough in college to tolerate yogurt. A great bit on the travails that teachers must endure went beyond frustration to a true passion for the profession.
Perhaps the toned-down vitriol is a sign that Black yearns to return to his playwriting roots. The man has a MFA degree from the Yale School of Drama and in the ‘80s wrote hundreds of one-act plays for New York City theaters. His stand-up originated as a warm up for those plays. With Rusty Magee, he penned the musical The Czar of Rock and Roll, which premiered at the esteemed Alley Theatre in Houston. His 1983 farcical play One Slight Hitch, on our delusions that we control our fate, has been staged several times in the past few years.
Black’s long-time opening act, comedian John Bowman, was dry and word-oriented, as cool and contained as Lewis is not. He spun fun stories on travels with Black, such as doing a show at Penn State on the last day of the Sandusky trial and the mayhem that ensued when Black decided “not to ignore the elephant in the locker room.” Bowman’s job is to test the audience mood for Black and he deemed the Fort Worth crowd a little too meek and possibly not informed enough. His description of the tour-bus drive from Wichita, Kansas, to Tulsa, Oklahoma, and on to Fort Worth—“We could practically see the longhorns in front of the bus”—provoked a delicious head tilt and expression when he realized much of the Cowtown audience did not get the Chisholm Trail reference.
An aside: The overland route from Dallas to Fort Worth for Bass Hall gigs is such a trip, with plenty of cars on Interstate 30 clearly sprinting for an 8 p.m. showtime. A woman in the parking garage elevator asked “We just flew in from Dallas? How about you?” The journey back is always better. Fort Worth has the good sense and kindness to erect signage pointing the way back to I-30 and the free parking policy always causes me to leave that town with a smile on my face.