With arms flailing, fingers jabbing every-which-way, and a gravely voice ranting about hypocritical politicians or ridiculous social mores, comedian Lewis Black made a living spewing disdain and vitriol, both as a stand-up comic and as a weekly commentator on the popular mock news program, "The Daily Show" (Comedy Central, 1996- ). Black turned the role of the angry curmudgeon railing against the injustices of our times into a cottage industry, becoming a favorite among an increasingly skeptical and cynical audience that has ranged in age from teenagers to the elderly. Prior to "The Daily Show," Black toiled in stand-up comedy, performing at clubs and venues across the United States, while trying desperately to become a successful playwright. But it was his grumbling grouse character developed over the years in front of a microphone, that finally launched Black into celebrity, a slow process that brought the comedian eventual triumph at twice the age of other comedians around him. Although Black left "The Daily Show" in early 2016, he continued his stand-up and writing careers, as well as taking on high profile voice gigs such as playing the emotion Anger in Pixar's "Inside Out" (2015).
Born Aug. 30, 1948 Black was raised in Silver Spring, MD. His father, Sam, worked for the Defense Department as a mechanical engineer building sea mines for the government during World War II and the Vietnam War. He quit ten years earlier than he had planned after reading the Geneva Accord and, deciding there was no justification for the United States occupation of Vietnam, promptly becoming a painter. His mother, Jeannette, taught high school math and became a substitute teacher at Black's school. Famous for her sarcasm, the comedian always credited getting his sense of humor from her. After high school, Black was an undergraduate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he nervously began doing short stand-up bits to open shows for his friends' rock band. He later attended Yale University's prestigious drama school and studied to become a playwright, earning a Master of Fine Arts in 1977. He then moved to New York City to pursue writing, but found that trying to make a living as a playwright probably was not the greatest idea. Black did land a steady gig as the playwright-in-residence at the West Bank Café on 42nd Street from 1981-89, where he and two alumni friends from Yale oversaw the production of over 1,500 plays - some of which were his own.
While Black maintained a steady presence at the West Bank Café, he began delving deeper into stand-up comedy, honing his microphone skills as the opening act before the plays. Then two fortuitous - though at the time, disastrous - events occurred in the late 1980s that helped propel Black into comedy full time. First, West Bank owner Steve Olsen lost his hold on the restaurant after a fight with his business partners, prompting them to kick him and Black out. Second, Black and fellow collaborator Rusty Magee went to Houston to stage "The Czar of Rock & Roll" - a musical about an Elvis Presley-like character in the Soviet Union - at the Alley Theatre. But the play bombed and Black quickly found himself out of work. To salve his wounds, he took to the comedy stage in Houston and killed the crowd, going full-bore into stand-up without looking back. He also began appearing sporadically in films and on television, starting with a small role in Woody Allen's fine relationship drama "Hannah and Her Sisters" (1986).
Black continued appearing on screen, playing small parts in "Jacob's Ladder" (1990) and "The Hard Way" (1991), before landing a role as a porn director in an episode of "Law & Order" (NBC, 1990-2010). He soon developed a strong presence on the road, playing some 250-odd dates a year - a lifestyle he grew accustomed to, despite the difficulty in trying to maintain a romantic relationship. In 1996, Black joined "The Daily Show" - then hosted by Craig Kilborn - doing a weekly editorial segment called "Back in Black." After Stewart took over in 1999, Black's prominence on the show increased, particularly after his participation in Indecision 2000 - their satirical coverage of the bungled 2000 presidential election. His popularity continued to rise alongside the show's, reaching an apex with their hysterical coverage of the next presidential election, Indecision 2004. Meanwhile, his "Back in Black" segments skewered everything under the sun, from the immigration debate and violent video games, to the Greek Olympic Games and the FCC's handling of Janet Jackson's bare breast - nothing escaped his sharp, punctuating satire. With his profile raised from "The Daily Show, Black made his official arrival as a heavyweight comedian with his first HBO special, "Lewis Black: Black on Broadway" (2004), which showed him taking typically poignant potshots at political parties, corporate scandals and the miseries of flying coach.
Though he maintained regular appearances on "The Daily Show" until 2016, Black continued his grueling stand-up schedule, but found himself playing to larger audiences around the country - he went from small clubs to 2000-person theaters virtually overnight. Thanks to his widespread appeal, he began spreading his wings a bit more, showing up in a 2004 episode of "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" (NBC, 1999- ), then releasing his first book, Nothing's Sacred, in 2005, a crude but surprisingly heartfelt memoir detailing the budding nonconformist's rise from frustrated playwright to successful comedian. Returning to features, he had a walk-on part in the teen comedy "Accepted" (2006), before appearing in a meatier - albeit more subdued - co-starring role in "Man of the Year" (2006), playing the political operative of Tom Dobbs (Robin Williams), a famous talk show host who runs a mock presidential campaign only to shock himself - and the nation - when he gets elected. Meanwhile, Black starred in his second HBO comedy special, "Red, White and Screwed" (2006), which featured his jabbing commentary on the Iraq War, gay marriage and Vice President Dick Cheney shooting his hunting buddy in the face. After starring in the series "Lewis Black's Root of All Evil" (Comedy Central 2008) for two seasons, Black subtly began to change his comedic persona, de-emphasizing political invective in favor of a more general curmudgeonly act. Black began working frequently in animation, guest starring on various television series most often as villains; his animation profile shot up considerably when he co-starred alongside Amy Poehler and Bill Hader in Pixar's "Inside Out" (2015), playing the emotion Anger inside the mind of a pre-teen girl. After appearing in a supporting role in the miniseries "Madoff" (ABC 2015), it was announced that Black would appear in Woody Allen's first TV series, "Crisis in Six Scenes" (Amazon 2016).
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Special Thanks (Special)
Wrote the musical "The Czar of Rock and Roll," which premiered at Houston's Alley Theatre.
Began appearing as a commentator on "The Daily Show."
Starred in his first stand-up special on "Comedy Central Presents."
Starred in the stand-up special "Black on Broadway" on HBO.
Played a controversial "shock jock" on an episode of "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit."
Began providing the recurring voices The Deadly Duplicator and Elliott on "Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law."
Starred in the stand-up special "Red, White, and Screwed" on HBO.
Won a Grammy award for "Best Comedy Album" for his album "The Carnegie Hall Performance."
Hosted the two-hour documentary " History of the Joke with Lewis Black" on the History Channel.
Starred in the stand-up special "In God We Rust" on Epix HD.
Provided the voice of Anger in the Pixar film "Inside Out."
Played Gregory Perkins in the mini-series "Madoff."