Sunday, April 26, 2015

At a Loss for Words

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Lewis Black, The Rant is Due Tour
Fox Theater, Detroit
April 25, 2015

The index finger writhing like a snake. The blub blub blub sound of lips sliding back and forth on a head shaking in fury or frustration. The sudden vocal change from quiet narration to deranged sandpaper shouting. The word "fuck" peppering sentences like buckshot.

All were present at Lewis Black's show at the Fox Theater in Detroit—performed just a few steps away from another theater where Dave Chapelle was giving Lew a run for his money with a simultaneously scheduled show at the Fillmore. And the competition for limited leisure budgets showed, with the rear third of Fox main floor seating going unfilled. (David Sedaris was also in town, a few blocks over.)

As always, Lewis's friend, traveling companion, warmup act, and Michigan native John Bowman was funny and profane, and then the thundering opening riff of the Black Keys' "Lonely Boy" assaulted audience eardrums as the main act walked out on stage.

It was a bad sign when the opening jokes were general paint-by-numbers rants about shitty weather. Things improved a bit after that, but then the second half of Black's 90-minute performance began to fizzle into a mildly amusing ode to Tahiti followed by a quiet and disturbingly unfunny non-rant about current politics. It's not that Black was lecturing the audience; he just wasn't turning the material into anything close to its potential. Current politics: government is accomplishing nothing. Yeah, Lew, we knew that. Now how about going off on the specific lunatics holding the country hostage? You know, ranting? The amount of idiocy our "leaders" provide daily could be gold in the hands of a sarcasm-and-bombast master like Black, but he went nowhere with it.

The show closed with some audience-submitted questions read from an iPad and then given spontaneous and mostly unfunny answers. Why do hipsters like Pabst Blue Ribbon? I don't know, because it tastes like crap!

By now, the only thing working in Black's comedy was the index finger writhing like a snake, the blub blub blub sound of lips sliding back and forth on a head shaking in fury or frustration, the sudden vocal change from quiet narration to deranged sandpaper shouting, and the word "fuck" peppering sentences like buckshot. (And sometimes that last didn't even work, as at one point Black just tripped and stumbled over non-sentences that went nowhere before uttering "Well, what can you say?" As punch lines go, that was certainly unique.)

Those still got laughs from the part of the audience that wasn't already leaving to get to its cars before the show let out. But two buildings over, Dave Chapelle was probably relying on jokes instead of body movement and voice inflection for his comedy. By the end of the night, we sort of wished we could've been over there instead.

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