Black Thursday: Comedian Ready to Rant and Roll

By Steven Libowitz   |   January 4, 2018

Grammy-winning standup comedian Lewis Black has been working more than 200 nights a year for nearly two decades, ever since his early appearances on The Daily Show led to comedy specials on HBO, Comedy Central, and Showtime. His gigs have taken him across the world, with shows throughout Europe and North America, selling out such legendary spaces as Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, the Main Stage at the Mirage in Las Vegas, and a Broadway run at the Richard Rodgers Theatre.

And it’s always pretty much the same show: pissed-off pronouncements on the stuff that annoys him, from political perfidy to relationship foibles, with queries and statements turning into rants that offer cathartic release for both him and his audience.

Black is back in town for a show next Thursday, January 11, at the Lobero Theatre, a far smaller venue than his previous appointment at the Arlington. All of which means the upbeat upbraiding will hit even closer to home. He talked about current events and his career over the phone during the day on New Year’s Eve, the end of year one of President Trump.

Q. I’ve got to start with asking if you if you make New Year’s resolutions?

A. No. That’s insane. Why don’t you start out the year with an immediate disappointment. Great. I’ve already blown it!

Your new tour is called “The Jokes on US”. Clever but also already a criticism in the age of Trump.

It really is on us. Comics have been rendered obsolete. It’s hard to satirize something that’s already satiric. Or comment on reality that’s so far-fetched. It’s already so beyond anyone’s imagination. I don’t like to say his name, but who could have believed this would happen?

How do you even keep up with the news cycle when it goes so fast? Your material is out of date by the next morning’s news shows.

Yeah, it creates an anxiety level, and I never had that before. I can only watch the news for a few minutes. And I need a research team to keep up with it all. Who can do that?

What issues are particularly galling you right now?

It’s the tax stuff. I still can’t get over the fact that they just decided that the most important thing was to get something done before Christmas, rather than getting something that helps. There’s a selfishness involved in that. It’s ludicrous! But the Democrats did it with health care, and now it’s the Republicans with taxes. All I can say is there’s something wrong with the plan because it helps me and I don’t need it. Get the facts out. Stop with the f—ing nonsense. Only a country that behaves like a 9-year-old thinks that you should be making a profit on health. I mean, think about it. Do something about it. Don’t get rich off of it!

Okay, switching topics: You sounded like you had a lot of fun being the voice of “Anger” on Inside Out a couple of years ago.

It was phenomenal, one of the great experiences of my career. And it’s a great movie. It says things to kids that I would have liked to have heard back then. Where… was this when I was 9?! My generation didn’t know about emotions until we were 32! There was hunger or I have to pee. That’s it! We didn’t have “What’s that I’m feeling?” We didn’t even have words for it! I mean, I had to wander into a shrink’s office at the age of 50. Are you s—ing me? But even so, with my mother, I’d still have been angry. No questions. There are things that just fan the flame. All I did was watch in my lifetime for us to go to a culture that once had a sense of redistribution of wealth and it wasn’t a filthy concept to what has become out-and-out greed as a motivating factor. I don’t think I would have been terribly different anyway.

You’ve made a career out of being angry at all the nonsense in politics and the world. With all that yelling, how’s your blood pressure?

For some reason, it’s perfect. I get it checked all the time and it’s good. I think it’s because I’ve been allowed to yell and scream for the last 25 years. I don’t keep it in. I don’t sit on it. I get to let it out. I get to scream about all the basic stuff in life, and you keep listening.

You’ll be 70 next August. Any thoughts on slowing down or even retiring?

I’m not big on mortality. My parents are still alive – my father will be 100 in February. So, I don’t have to think about it yet. I mean, they’re finally starting to slip so you have to deal with it. But I like it here. It’s nice. I like being here. Anyway, I do think there’s somewhere we go. We don’t end up all in darkness. But even with that, I like it here too much. I’ve been lucky. This has been fun.

I’m almost afraid to ask, but you might be one of the few remaining well-known male comedians who hasn’t been accused of sexual harassment or worse. Has the whole thing had you wracking your brain for any incidents from your career that might be viewed differently? Does the issue shown up in your comedy?

I know I never did anything at a show. But you don’t know if someone isn’t going to come out and say you did something that you never did. I’m at that age where my memory is like a broken vending machine. Sometimes I pull it and the candy comes out, other times I have to kick it for 10 minutes before anything happens.

Let’s end on a local note: The Thomas Fire consumed our thoughts, if not our forest and some houses all month. Do you have any Santa Barbara connections? And do you take note of such major local stories when you come to a town?

My Christmas gift for people in the area was to give money to the Thomas Fire fund. As for onstage, what I’ve always felt about Southern California is that a lot of it is a desert. It’s a desert! They didn’t think about that when they were building all those towns and houses. There’s no water! It’s a desert! But places I love went up in smoke. There’s no humor in that. But maybe bring a gas mask to the show.

(Lewis Black performs at 8 pm Thursday, January 11, at the Lobero Theatre. Tickets cost $78. Call 963-0763 or visit

Song of a Preacher Man

When Kenneth Mosley preaches the gospel of love through the music of Motown in the Broadway show that makes its Santa Barbara debut at the Granada on Tuesday, January 9, and Wednesday, January 10, he’s not just going through the motions. The actor, who portrays Berry Gordy – founder of Motown, the record label that first brought to the world the music of Jackson 5, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross, Gladys Knight, and Smokey Robinson, among others – is an actual minister.

Mosley’s résumé has a large line item that makes sense for an entertainment industry hyphenate: TV producer and director, in his case for TD Jakes, the bishop of The Potter’s House, a nondenominational mega-church that was once the fastest-growing such ministry in the nation. It’s what happened next that stands out.

“I just became so motivated by the message of love that he shared that I became a minister myself,” Mosley explained over the phone a few days before Christmas. “I taught, ministered, and preached, and then wrote books, recorded albums. I was in hook, line, and sinker.”

But eventually, he returned to his first love of appearing on stage as an actor. “I had to go back to that passion that motivated me as a kid in the performing arts, taking that same love and passion for people, for touching hearts, and using it in a different way – which is really what the Berry Gordy story is all about.”

Indeed, Motown the Musical, which feature more than 50 classic songs from the label’s heyday in Detroit, turns both on the music and the motivations behind the company, Mosley said.

“Motown has a catalog of music that may very well be unmatched with any other company. We cover a time span from 1959 to mid-’80s. and it’s just hit after hit after hit, R&B to Top 40. You get to relive the wonderful music and also see the story behind it. Mr. Gordy started out as a champion boxer, then turned that into his career in music. He was all about a passion for making people feel happy and loved through music.”

It was through Montecito’s most famous resident that Mosley first made that connection himself, long before getting cast as Berry.

“I saw him on Oprah’s Master Class about five years ago, talking about his journey. I had one of those Oprah Winfrey moments, the ‘A-ha/light-bulb’ moment. Something in me said, ‘I’m Berry Gordy. It’s weird. He made drastic change in his life, turned the corner and followed his passion. I had gone from theater to journalism to ministry. So I just had a strong connection with his story. Nothing narcissistic, just something deeper than I can even verbalize. I just remember thinking ‘Oh, my God, that’s me.’”

To research the role, former journalist Mosley did a rash of research into the early days of the record label – which played an instrumental role in the racial integration of popular music as the company’s roster of black artists cultivated a great deal of crossover success – devouring hours of interview footage and documentaries on all of the artists and personalities associated with Motown. He also read Berry’s autobiography, To Be Love.

“There are so many insights into how he felt about the music, the people, and the events in the world going on at the time, the assassinations, the war. You get to peer into his emotional space.”

An even deeper dive came when he got to meet Berry, who turned 88 in November, during rehearsals, Mosley said.

“I got to interview him, which is my background, so I loved it!” he recalled. “I got to ask him what he was thinking and feeling, his motivation during scenes I was portraying. As unnerving as it is to play someone who is living, who can come to show and say, ‘Hey that’s not me!’, it’s also so helpful to be able to hear and see first-hand how things affected him. You can see it in his eyes that he goes right back to the place, those moments in the ’60s or ’70s, and he’s able to recount all the details.”

Mosley is loving his time on stage embodying the man who in many ways changed the face of pop music, the impresario of both song and social change who founded Motown on just $800 in family money.

“People are familiar with the songs. Even if they weren’t born during the time. They all know them. But the musical also tells how everything came to be. You get to see how Mr. Gordy grew from a child into adulthood as a young man trying to come to grips with taking on his vision of Motown when African-Americans didn’t have an executive place in making music. You see how he fought his way through the political mire and found a label that became a flagship for music in general, not just black or white.”

You can just groove on the oldies, iconic songs such as “My Girl”, “What’s Going On?”, and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” that still resonate a half-century later. But it’s the greater message of love – the same one that inspired Mosley to become a preacher – that permeates even beyond the music, Mosley said.

“We’re living in a time that is so divisive in many ways. Things just keep getting more aggressively tense in our society. Shows like this, where we come together, we find out that there is more that unifies us than divides us. That’s what they call the Motown legacy: that something so small as music can make you feel something as expansive as love. That’s the message we want to spread.”

(Motown the Musical performs at 7:30 pm Tuesday and Wednesday at the Granada Theatre. Tickets cost $89 to $99. Call 899-2222 or visit

Counting Red Fire Engines: 5Q’s with Justin Fox

Former Montecito resident Justin Fox left his own group Tripdavon to take over lead singing duties in Dishwalla from founder J.R. Richard when the Santa Barbara band – famous for the 1995 mega-hit “Counting Blue Cars” – resurfaced a decade ago. He was out hiking in the Thomas Fire burn areas in the hills above Carpinteria a few hours before we talked last weekend. But Fox is no ordinary looky-loo – he lives in Carpinteria and the band is playing the first show in the “Alcazar Rises Benefit” series to aid victims at the newly renamed theater (formerly the Plaza Playhouse) downtown in the seaside town on Saturday night, January 6.

Q. Going back to 2006, it must have been daunting for you to step into J.R.’s role.

A. Yeah, the very first time they asked me to play with them, it was because they had some shows lined up while he was taking a leave of absence to do some solo work. We jammed for a while, and then they asked if I could do the gigs. The first one turned out to be for 30,000 people at a festival with just three bands. I had two weeks to learn 90 minutes of music. So, I just did my homework and we did the gig. We kept playing and now 11 years have gone by.

It took you almost a decade to finally make a new album together. Why?

It was intentional to take a break, not just put one out with the new guy. We wanted to spend some time, become a band together, develop a sound that was all us. When we finally did record, it captured that energy we’ve got going on from the stage.

You made the album in Joshua Tree at Eric Burdon’s place. How’d that happen?

He’s a family friend. I toured with him for 10 years as an opening act, as his tour manager, in his band singing back-up and doing percussion. I told him we didn’t want to make the album in some sterile recording studio but rather like my old studio, which was in a house right next to Vons. We’d spent more time playing hacky-sack and passing a football in the backyard than in the studio. He’d just moved to Ojai, and he had a big open house in Joshua Tree he let us use. So, we packed up furniture, recording equipment, inflatable mattresses, and all the food and booze we needed and built the studio overnight. We lived there like the Biodome for two weeks. It was a beautiful experience. October is perfect time there, with a warm wind billowing into darkness with the doors and windows open. We were just jamming, experimenting in this funky place in the desert, creating art, getting weird with it. That’s why the record is really organic, a big, trashy rock record that we made in the room together. It’s imprecise and that’s exactly what we wanted.

You had a home-based recording studio in Montecito for a decade. But now you’re rocking for recovery at your local joint next weekend. So, Carp must feel like home now.

Yeah, I feel very close to the community ever since I moved here right before my daughter was born. (Bassist) Rodney (Browning Cravens) lives on Linden and I call him the Mayor of Carp because he knows everybody. There’s always a connection no matter who I talk to. This place is amazing. It’s like our little secret, or it used to be. Once you get here, you don’t want anybody else to know about it. But now, walking down to the coffee shop, I see Conan O’Brien or Ashton Kutcher. Ellen DeGeneres just bought a place on the beach. But it still feels like you’ve been transported back to a 1950s beach community.

We played a benefit at the Earl Warren Showgrounds when I first joined the band for the Gap Fire. Let’s hope this is the last one for decades.

The Alcazar is a local landmark, albeit a bit smaller than the Santa Barbara Bowl, where you guys got to open for Tears for Fears this fall. How was that?

Whenever a local boy makes good gets to stand up at the Bowl and sing on a beautiful night, that’s the top. I don’t care how many shows we’ve done wherever, how big or important. When you’ve got your toes hanging off that stage, it’s the pinnacle of your career. It was just magical.

 (Dishwalla plays 8 pm Saturday, January 6, at the Alcazar Theatre. Tickets cost $40. Call 684-6380 or visit


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