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A full-vent event

Lewis Black didn't get his start standing onstage with a microphone. In fact, the comedian never planned to be on stages like in the Fargo Theatre, where he performs Saturday night.

Lewis Black
Lewis Black turned to comedy after spending years as a playwright. He cites actors like Mark Linn-Baker (better known as Cousin Larry from "Perfect Strangers") for helping him develop his own stage presence. Special to The Forum

Lewis Black didn't get his start standing onstage with a microphone. In fact, the comedian never planned to be on stages like in the Fargo Theatre, where he performs Saturday night.

In the 1970s and '80s, instead of writing jokes, he was writing plays.

But don't think Black's stage and screen persona - the outraged man shouting down profound displays of stupidity - is all an act.

During a 10-minute phone conversation, Black displayed the same incredulous rage he releases on stage.

So what had his goat? The absent-mindedness of BP executives and the Obama administration for its haphazard approach to the oil spill? The headache-inducing din of vuvuzela horns at the World Cup?

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Nope. The bug in his ear was the AT&T phone in his hand, the one that cut out twice during conversation.

Black's rage is off the hook, and he doesn't care about burning any bridges with the company that could one day sponsor a nationwide tour like the one he's on.

"Until AT&T starts paying attention, I won't be dealing with them as a sponsor," he quips. "They're unbelievable. They are selling cell phone towers for your home. You pay for it so your cell phone will work in your house. Isn't that nice? It's called a land line is what it's called. Those (expletive) idiots!"

The 61-year-old comic says his stage presence is "probably me when I was 14, but 20 percent of me now. It's me if I just snapped."

During his spots opposite Jon Stewart on "The Daily Show," in the segments called "Back in Black," he looks like he's not only snapped, but also unhinged. With his collar unbuttoned and his tie coming undone, a flustered Black takes aim at society's ills, which are often the government bureaucracies, inspired by the years just after college when he worked for the federal government.

"I worked for the Appalachian Regional Commission, which was - here are some words you never hear - it was an 'anti-poverty commission,' " he says, his voice dripping with his gruff, punctuated, sarcastic tone. "There was a time, and I know this will come as a shock to many of your readers, that America actually cared about pockets of poverty in the country and tried to come up with some programs that might actually establish employment so people could actually work."

Black says he spends about two hours a day reading newspapers or watching real news shows, looking for things that get his blood boiling.

"I'm drawn to it because I'm funny when I'm angry," he says. "I go, 'Boy, that's something I can yell about.' "

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Getting all worked up may be great for delivering a punch line, but is it good for his health?

"I have great blood pressure, actually," he says. "That's the weird part. I believe everything else may be rotting."

And it's the things that are falling apart, like the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, that get his attention. Not even a national disaster is above a joke.

"Everything makes for comedy," he says. "It's the only way to get away from it long enough to try and figure out how to deal with it."

That said, there is one touchy subject he hasn't touched.

"It's tough to come up with a great abortion joke because both sides are so psychotic," he says. "It's not worth the energy."

Not when there are bigger fish to fry, like those responsible for polluting the Gulf of Mexico.

Oh, and a certain phone company.

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"I might as well have a rock that says AT&T," he says. "They are worthless. Absolutely worthless."

If you go

  • What: Lewis Black
  • When: Saturday. Doors open at 7 p.m.; show starts at 8 p.m.
  • Where: Fargo Theatre, 314 Broadway
  • Tickets: $45. (800) 514-3849

Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533

For 20 years John Lamb has covered art, entertainment and lifestyle stories in the area for The Forum.
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