Last year, in a cavernous southwest Houston club, Lewis Black did a solid 20 minutes of material based on his experiences at Party on the Plaza that very afternoon. Unlike many headlining acts, who come up with only 45 minutes of new material a year, Black never makes you sit through a set you've seen him do on TV, and that includes any "ad-libs" and "spontaneous bits" from talk-show appearances.
Although Black does a couple hundred stand-up shows annually, most fans know his fervent, insightful comedy only from the The Daily Show's "Back in Black" segments and correspondent pieces. The intense comedian comments on the events of the day and raises questions about what it means to live in a society where Tom Cruise and the Queen Mother's hat are considered newsworthy.
Black's stand-up persona, outraged to the point of aneurysm, is informed by a careful study of our dismal race, and the craft and style of his writing and delivery owe a lot to his struggles in American theater. In fact, Black says -- in calm, even tones -- that a fiasco at the Alley Theatre led to his comedy career.
In December 1990 the Alley's production of The Czar of Rock and Roll, a musical for which Black wrote the book, was going badly. He was living at the Aquarium Lounge and suffered an opening-night disaster (a catastrophe that one should not blame on the woman who puked in the front row). In terror, Black fled to Spellbinders, where he did a spontaneous ten-minute gig. There, he reports, he killed. As Black fought the Alley to obtain comp tickets for his own musical, other comedy gigs followed. Young Lew soon realized, "Here I am working in a bar, and being treated nicer than I was ever treated in the American theater."
Black eventually got his comp tickets, but by that point his comedy career was well under way. Fortunately his bad experiences with The Czardidn't squash the theater bug completely: This summer he will work with the Willia\mstown Theater Festival.
Lewis Black performs June 15-18 at the Laff Stop, 1952 West Gray. Showtimes: Thursday, 8:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. (no-smoking show Saturday at 8 p.m.); Sunday, 8 p.m. $10-$14. For more information, call (713)524-2333.