(Tad Friend’s article appeared in the New Yorker, 6/5.)
In his living room high up in Hell’s Kitchen, the comedian Lewis Black sat on a sofa with three throw pillows tucked around him, as if he’d had a bad breakup and needed a hug and some Häagen-Dazs. He pointed wearily south, across his lush roof deck—“I got flowers, I don’t even know what the fuck they are”—to the building on West Forty-second Street in whose basement he got his start in New York, as a playwright, long ago.
Nowadays, at sixty-two, Black is the guy with the loosened tie who rants about current events on “The Daily Show.” But from 1982 to 1989, he was the co-artistic director of a tiny subterranean stage grandly named The West Bank Café Downstairs Theatre Bar. He put on early plays by Aaron Sorkin and Alan Ball, as well as his own surreal one-act comedies, which excoriated the dawning age of the yuppie. “The Deal,” for instance, “ended with a Buffett type and a Trump type squeezing each other’s balls and shouting, ‘It’s a deal!’ ” Black also warmed up the crowd before the show. “I’d say, let’s see …” He searched the ceiling. “If anybody knew anybody at any paper who might be interested in writing about us, I would blow him, because I’d been working in the American theatre for fifteen years now, so what was another blow job? Stuff like that.”