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He is best known for his regular appearances on Comedy Central's The Daily Show delivering his "Back in Black" commentary segment, in which he ridicules (often simulating a nervous breakdown or rant) recent trends and cultural phemonena. He currently lives in Hell's Kitchen in New York City.
Lewis Niles Black was born of Jewish descent in Washington, D.C. and raised in Silver Spring, Maryland, graduating from Springbrook High School in 1966. He was exposed to playwriting as an undergraduate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where he was also a brother at the Pi Lambda Phi fraternity. He earned a Masters in Fine Arts at the Yale School of Drama in 1977. Originally, his career was in the theater as a playwright. He has written over forty plays besides serving as the playwright in residence and associate artistic director of a Hell's Kitchen theater bar and restaurant on 42nd Street in New York City from 1981 to 1989. Black's stand-up comedy began as an opening act for the plays as he was also the master of ceremonies. After a management change at the theater, Black left and began working as a comedian as well as finding bit parts in television and films.
Lewis Black's style of comedy is that of a man who, dealing with the absurdities of life and politics, is approaching his personal limits of sanity. Sarcasm, strong language, shouting, and trademark angry finger-shaking bring emphasis to his topics of discussion. He once described his humor as being on the Titanic every single day and being the only person who knows what is going to happen.
Some examples include:
"I don't use sunblock anymore. Instead, I use a very fine American product: Crisco. Oh, it's incredible. For a buck-ten, you get a tub you can share with everybody at the beach. And you never get burnt with Crisco, ever, because when you start to sizzle, you move your ass!"
"Now if you ever have the opportunity to go to Los Angeles, why don't you take a pencil out, sharpen it, and shove it in your eye? You'll be better off sitting in a hospital emergency room holding the pencil steady, wondering what you're going to be looking like in a jaunty eyepatch."
"...when, from behind me, a young woman of 25 uttered the dumbest thing I ever heard in my life. That was until Dan Quayle was elected the vice president and things took a turn. She said 'If it weren't for my horse, I wouldn't have spent that year in college.' I'll repeat that. I'll repeat that because that's the kind of sentence that when your brain hears it, it comes to a screeching halt. And the left-hand side of the brain looks at the right-hand side of the brain and says, 'It's dark in here, and we may die!' She said, if it weren't for my horse -- as in giddyup giddyup, let's go -- I wouldn't have spent that year in college -- which is a degree-granting institution. Don't, don't think about that for more than 5 seconds or blood will shoot out of your nose."
"How stupid are we, the most technologically advanced society in the world, to be living without an ozone layer? We have men, we have rockets, we have saran wrap;...FIX IT!!"
"Our government told us we could protect ourselves from a CHEMICAL ATTACK... with duct tape. I think that a group of Americans should have been sent to Washington on our behalf. And they would take everyone, from the President on down, out for an afternoon of electroshock. Duct tape?! The only way duct tape helps is if you can get enough that you can wrap it around yourself and suffocate before the chemicals kill you."
"Michael Jackson. That's all I gotta say. That really is all you have to say. You don't even have to say anything. You don't even have to say a joke. Everyone has a vision in their head, as soon as you say 'Michael Jackson,' you see a guy, a fucking deformed fuck running around with a God-damned monkey, you go 'what the fuck!' He's become a punch line. He has. Michael Jackson is a punch line to any joke you want. If you forget the punch line, all you have to say is 'Michael Jackson.' Two Jews walked into a bar...Michael Jackson."
Though never quite specifying a political preference, a good portion of Lewis' political material seems to be aimed at exposing both the comedy and tragedy of staunch conservatism, as well as disbelief at the mystifying combination of thick-headedness and condescending attitude in authoritative figures. While the beliefs featured in his act tend to fall into the moderately liberal category (criticism of opposition to gay marriage and belief in the necessary evil of taxation), Black seems just as disenchanted with Democrats as Republicans. He is quoted with saying: "You elected Bush, so that's who I'm going to rant about. If you elect Kerry I'm going to rant about him too. My problem is with...authority!" Also quoted with saying "what is the difference between a Democrat and a Republican? A Democrat blows, and a Republican sucks."
Black lists his comedic influences as George Carlin, Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor, Lily Tomlin, Bob Newhart, Shelley Berman.
In 2002, Black and fellow comedian Jim Norton were arrested because of their involvement with "The Naked Teen Voyeur Bus", a specially designed bus with Plexiglass walls that contained numerous (18 and 19 year old) "teen girls". This bus was to ride around Manhattan while being broadcast on the famous Opie and Anthony radio show. Unfortunately, management at the radio station failed to inform the O&A show that the route the bus was planning on taking was also the route that the President was taking that same day. Twenty-eight hours after the arrest, Black and Norton were released. Black appeared on "The Daily Show" the following night and made numerous allusions to the event. Additionally, at a fundraising event for New York Attorney General candidate Mark Green on June 28th, 2006, Black talked about how he was unable to make a previous fundraising event for Green because the arrest occurred on the very night of the event.
Since 2003, Black has hosted the World Stupidity Awards ceremony at Montreal's Just for Laughs comedy festival for the three years the awards have been presented.
Black appeared on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit as a Howard Stern-like disc jockey in New York.
In 2004, he had an HBO stand-up special entitled Black on Broadway, in addition to three previous Comedy Central Presents specials. He also released his autobiography, Nothing's Sacred, in 2005. Since November 9th, 2005, Lewis has been making appearances in small segments on The Weather Channel. In December 2005, he appeared in an animated holiday special The Happy Elf, as the voice of the extremely tightly wound elf, Norbert.
He is slated to become the host of his own show, Red State Diaries, in development by Comedy Central to begin airing in 2006 . Comedy Central says it will feature Black on the road exploring the red states for explanations of the subjects of his comedic rants. This will be the second spin-off from The Daily Show, after The Colbert Report.
On April 21st, 2006 Lewis performed at the Warner Theater in Washington, DC for an HBO special, "Red, White, and Screwed." It aired on June 10, 2006 and a DVD release is expected to follow.