Lewis Niles Black (born August 30, 1948) is an American actor and stand-up comedian. His comedy routines often escalate into angry rants about history, politics, religion, or any other cultural trends. He hosted the Comedy Central series Lewis Black’s Root of All Evil and makes regular appearances on The Daily Show delivering his “Back in Black” commentary segment, which he has been doing since The Daily Show was hosted by Craig Kilborn.
When not on the road performing, Black resides in Manhattan, but also maintains a residence in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. He is also a spokesman for the Aruba Tourism Authority, appearing in television ads that first aired in late 2009 and 2010, as well as the voice of Anger in 2015’s Pixar film, Inside Out. He was voted 51st of the 100 greatest stand-up comedians of all time by Comedy Central in 2004; he was voted 5th in Comedy Central’s Stand Up Showdown in 2008 and 11th in 2010. Black has served as an “ambassador for voting rights” for the American Civil Liberties Union since 2013.
Black was born in Washington, D.C., the son of Jeannette Black (née Kaplan; born 1918), a teacher, and Samuel Black (1918–2019), an artist and mechanical engineer. He was raised in a middle-class Jewish family in the Burnt Mills neighborhood of Silver Spring, Maryland. His grandparents emigrated from the Russian Empire, including Chornyi Ostriv and Białystok, and his paternal grandfather was originally named Leib Blech, later changed to Louis Black. Black graduated from Springbrook High School in 1966.
Black recounts in his book Nothing’s Sacred that he scored highly on the math section of his SAT exam and later applied to Yale, Princeton, Brown, Amherst, Williams, and Georgetown. Every college he applied to except Georgetown rejected him, but by that point he had decided he did not want to go there, so he attended the University of Maryland, College Park for one year before transferring to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. There, he studied playwriting and was a brother of Pi Lambda Phi International fraternity and a member of Student Congress. After graduating in 1970, he returned to Washington, where he worked at the Appalachian Regional Commission, wrote plays, and performed stand-up comedy at the Brickskeller in Dupont Circle.
He earned an MFA degree at the Yale School of Drama in 1977, and was married for ten months when he was 26 years old.
Black’s career began in theater as a playwright; however, he has stated that he was always doing stand-up “on the side.” He served as the playwright-in-residence and associate artistic director of Steve Olsen’s West Bank Cafe Downstairs Theatre Bar in Hell’s Kitchen in New York City, where he collaborated with composer and lyricist Rusty Magee and artistic director Rand Foerster on hundreds of one-act plays from 1981 to 1989. Also with Rusty Magee, Black wrote the musical The Czar of Rock and Roll, which premiered at Houston’s Alley Theatre in 1990. Black’s stand-up comedy began as an opening act for the plays; 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.
Black lists his comedic influences as George Carlin, Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor, Lily Tomlin, Bob Newhart and Shelley Berman.
In 1998, Black starred in his first comedy special on the series Comedy Central Presents. He starred in two additional episodes of the series in 2000 and 2002. He starred in another special for the network in 2002, titled Taxed Beyond Belief. In 2004 and 2005, Black hosted the World Stupidity Awards ceremony at Montreal’s Just for Laughs comedy festival. In 2004, he had an HBO stand-up special titled Black on Broadway. Black hosted Comedy Central’s Last Laugh ’07, which aired on December 2, 2007 along with Dave Attell and D.L. Hughley.
In 2006, Black performed at the Warner Theatre in Washington, D.C. for an HBO special, Red, White, and Screwed. It aired in June and a DVD was released in October. When explaining his choice of venue, Black said that “some asshole” was paid to count the number of times the word “fuck” was said in his previous HBO special, Black On Broadway, and that the original location, the Kennedy Center, wanted him to cut back on its use. Black was told the number was 42, when actually it was approximately 78.
Black received a 2007 Grammy award for “Best Comedy Album” for his album The Carnegie Hall Performance. He hosted the Comedy Central television series The Root of All Evil in 2008. The show pitted two people or pop-culture topics against each other as a panel of comedians argued, in the style of a court trial, which is more evil, e.g., “Paris Hilton vs. Dick Cheney” and “Internet Porn vs. YouTube”. After hearing arguments from both sides, Black, acting as judge, made the final decision as to which is more evil. In 2008, Black hosted History of the Joke with Lewis Black, a 2-hour comedy-documentary on The History Channel.
Comedy Central’s “Stand-Up Month” in 2008 featured specials originally presented on HBO by Black, along with programs featuring Dane Cook and Chris Rock. That year, as part of Comedy Central’s “Stand-Up Month”, Black’s routine finished at #5 on “Stand-Up Showdown 2008”, a viewer-based countdown of the top Comedy Central Presents routine. In 2009, Black filmed two shows at the Fillmore Theater in Detroit, Michigan. These were the basis for the concert film Stark Raving Black, which appeared in theaters for a limited time in October, and was released on video the next year. At the end of 2009, Black returned to the History Channel to host Surviving the Holidays with Lewis Black, in which he discussed the year-end pressures of Thanksgiving, Channukah, Christmas, and New Year’s.
In 2011, Black filmed two shows at the State Theatre in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The shows were used for Black’s comedy special “In God We Rust”. The special premiered on Epix HD. An extended and uncensored version of the special was released on DVD and Blu-ray on September 11, 2011.
In August 2013, Black recorded his ninth stand-up special Old Yeller: Live at the Borgata. Deadline reported that Black and the company that was releasing the stand-up special, Image Entertainment, would later air it in the form of pay-per-view and VOD, making it the first comedy special to air simultaneously on all cable, satellite and telco platforms.
in October of 2020, Black released his fourteenth stand-up special Thanks For Risking Your Life live at the Four Winds New Buffalo casino. The special was filmed at the start of the COVID-19 shutdown and reflects that in material.
Film and television career
Black appeared in episode 25 “Aria” (1991) of Law and Order as porn director Franklin Frome, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit episode “Obscene” (2004) as a shock jock, and in The Big Bang Theory episode “The Jiminy Conjecture” (2009) as Professor Crawley, an entomologist. He also released his autobiography, Nothing’s Sacred, in 2005. Since November 9, 2005, Black 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.
In the film Accepted, a film about high school graduates who create a college when they fail to get accepted into any, he played Dean Ben Lewis of the school “South Harmon Institute of Technology”. He also appeared in the 2006 films Man of the Year and Unaccompanied Minors. Black hosted Comedy Central’s Last Laugh ’06, which aired on December 10, 2006.
Black was also the voice of “Manobrain” during the third season of the Cartoon Network series Duck Dodgers. He was the inventor of a diet pill which was stolen while he was in college. He blamed the theft on his college friend Dr. I. Q. Hi, not realizing that the actual thief was Duck Dodgers. The theft set Manobrain on the path of evil.
Black provided the voice of the Deadly Duplicator in four episodes of the Adult Swim show Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law and in the video game based on the show.
Black provided the voice of oxpecker Ted in the My Gym Partner’s a Monkey episode, “Hornbill and Ted’s Bogus Journey”. The character is portrayed in the same fashion as his comedy shows, though without profanity. In addition, the bird’s clothes, looks, and mannerisms resemble his. He also voiced Mr. E/Ricky Owens in Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated and for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles played a middle-aged man named Vic who is kidnapped by the Krang and mutated into a spider-like monster called “Spider-Bytez” by Michelangelo. He also voiced Anger in the Pixar film Inside Out. He also guest starred as the voice of Santa Claus in the SpongeBob SquarePants episode, “Goons on the Moon.”
On June 18, 2007, he sat in with Southern rock/Jam band Gov’t Mule at the 6th annual Bonnaroo music festival, where he had performed earlier that weekend, for what was to be a quick joke. A member of the audience threw a bottle at Black, which struck him. Black was upset and he encouraged the audience to boo the heckler before leaving the stage in disgust, while shouting obscenities at the heckler. This act was seen in an episode of Lewis Black’s Root of All Evil titled “YouTube vs. Porn”.
On June 29, 2007, Black gave a benefit show at Springbrook High School, his alma mater, in the school’s auditorium for 1,100 alumni, faculty, and students. He performed in his usual style, stopping at points to remark how good it felt to use that language on that particular stage. At the end of the show he was given a Springbrook football jersey, and cursed at one teacher for giving him a B and causing him not to graduate first in his class.
In mid-December 2007, Black went with Robin Williams, Kid Rock, Lance Armstrong and Rachel Smith, Miss USA 2007, on a United Service Organizations trip to support the troops in Iraq and Kuwait. The last show was on 22 December at the U.S Naval Station in Rota, Spain. In 2008, Black went on tour to promote his book Me of Little Faith. Black did a stand-up tour called “Let Them Eat Cake”, with material from that tour being featured on his comedy album Anticipation. Beginning in January 2010, Black embarked on a new tour called “In God We Rust”.
In 2000, Black and fellow comedian Jim Norton were arrested for their involvement with “The Naked Teen Voyeur Bus”, a specially designed bus with acrylic glass walls containing numerous 18- and 19-year-old topless women. This bus was driven around Manhattan while reports about it were broadcast on the Opie and Anthony radio show. The radio station management did not inform the O&A show that the bus’s route was also the route that President Clinton was using that day. Twenty-eight hours after their arrest, Black and Norton were released. Black appeared on The Daily Show the following night where he stated he was exercising his constitutional rights. He then joked that the location of this particular right was unclear, but that it was “between ‘all men are created equal’ and ‘don’t shit where you eat.'”
|1986||Hannah and Her Sisters||Paul|
|1990||Jacob’s Ladder||Jacob’s Doctor|
|1991||The Hard Way||Banker|
|1993||The Night We Never Met||Marty Holder|
|1993||Joey Breaker||Pete Grimm|
|2000||Sidesplitters: The Burt & Dick Story||Burt||Short film|
|2002||American Dummy||Club Owner||Short film|
|2003||The Gynecologists||Cookie LaMotte||Short film|
|2006||Man of the Year||Eddie Langston|
|2006||Falling for Grace||Rob York|
|2006||Unaccompanied Minors||Oliver Porter|
|2007||Farce of the Penguins||Jimmy|
|2008||History of the Joke||Narrator||Documentary|
|2008||No Free Lunch||Lewis||Short film|
|2008||What Blows Up Must Come Down!||Furry Murray||Short film|
|2009||Ollie & the Baked Halibut||Baked Halibut||Short film|
|2013||Comedy Warriors: Healing through Humor||Himself|
|2015||Introducing Parker Dowd||Drew||Short film|
|2015||Inside Out||Anger (voice)|
|2015||Riley’s First Date?||Anger||Short film; voice|
|2015||Stereotypically You||Charlie’s Therapist|
|2016||Rock Dog||Linnux (voice)|
|2016||Better Off Single||Therapist|
|2019||The Last Laugh||Max Becker|
|1990–1991||The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd||Bernie||5 episodes|
|1991||Law & Order||Director Franklin Frome||Season 2, Episode 3: “Aria”|
|1996–present||The Daily Show||Commentator||“Back in Black” segment|
|1997||Homicide: Life on the Street||Laslo “Punchy” Deleon||Episode: “Deception”|
|1997||Mad About You||The Pizza Slice||Season 6, Episode 7: “Le Sex Show”|
|2003||The Brak Show||Brain Slug / Zorak||2 episodes|
|2004||Law & Order: Special Victims Unit||BJ Cameron||Episode: “Obscene”|
|2005||Duck Dodgers||Manobrain (voice)||Episode: “A Lame Duck Mind”|
|2005||The Happy Elf||Norbert (voice)||TV movie|
|2005–2007||Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law||The Deadly Duplicator, Elliott (voices)||four episodes|
|2006||Lewis Black: Red, White & Screwed||Himself||HBO comedy special|
|2007||My Gym Partner’s a Monkey||Ted (voice)||Episode 36: “Hornbill and Ted’s Bogus Journey”|
|2008||Lewis Black’s Root of All Evil||Himself|
|2009||The Big Bang Theory||Dr. Crawley||Season 3, Episode 2: “The Jiminy Conjecture”|
|2010||Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated||Mr. E/Ricky Owens (voice)|
|2011||Robotomy||Gore-Ax (voice)||Episode: “Mean Green”|
|2011||The Penguins of Madagascar||Dale (voice)||Episode: “Arch-Enemy/The Big S.T.A.N.K.”|
|2012–2014||Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles||Spider Bytez / Vic (voice)||two episodes|
|2016||Crisis in Six Scenes||Al||2 episodes|
|2017||Be Cool, Scooby-Doo!||Mayor Stoughton (voice)||Episode: “World of Witchcraft”|
|2017||The President Show||Trump’s Psyche||Episode: “Joe Cirincione”|
|2018||SpongeBob SquarePants||Santa Claus (voice)||Episode: “Goons on the Moon”, guest voice|
|2019||The Epic Tales of Captain Underpants||Ragely J. Snarlingtooth (voice)||Episode: “The Angry Abnormal Atrocities of the Astute Animal Agressors”|
|2021||Devil May Care (TV series)||Atheist Steve (voice)||Episode: “The Atheist”|
|2008||Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law||The Deadly Duplicator|
|2015||Disney Infinity 3.0||Anger|