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Lewis Black recalls the tough days as a playwright

November 30, 2012|By Christopher Smith
  • Comedian Lewis Black was a struggling playwright in his younger years. Stand-up is 'a day at the beach' in comparison, he says.
Comedian Lewis Black was a struggling playwright in his younger years.… (Clay McBride )

Lewis Black is known today as a comedian but he toiled from the late 1960s to the late '80s as a playwright.

“Now, everybody says to me, 'Oh, stand-up, that’s hard,' said Black, 64. “But by comparison to being a playwright trying to get your stuff done -- this is a day at the beach!

“I compare writing plays to having a puzzle of a thousand pieces of blue sky and you had to put it together,” said Black, who is bringing his act to Southern California this weekend.

A conversation with Lewis Black

Black the playwright reached for the sky in about 40 plays. Most got staged in one place or another (of a 2004 production of “One Slight Hitch” at the Falcon Theatre in Burbank,  a Los Angeles Times critic found the play as feeling “bland and mechanical”), but he never broke through in a big way.

As a result, his recent weeklong, sold-out run at the Richard Rodgers Theatre on Broadway performing his comedy was bittersweet. “It was what I set out to do when I was young, but I could never make it.”

As he recalled the tolls taken on a young playwright, it turned into a fast-moving monologue, his recollections tinged less with sentiment and more with exhaustion as he evoked the obstacles along the way.

“You deal with a lot of people when you try and get your plays done,” he said.

“Like, the artistic director of the theater or the literary agent – who is essentially the drama critic of the theater – they all give you their two cents. And they essentially put you in the situation where, a young writer, you hope you might get an older director who can teach you something.

“[Instead] you got – or at least, I always seemed to get  --  a young director who is also there for the first time so now you gain no experience, just having to deal with that guy’s learning curve…

“… and you end up with someone in the cast who you think will be attractive – 'boy, she’s really pretty’ – and then you learn that lesson, the importance of the casting of the right person…

“… and then there’s someone who seems really creative, but they turn out to be totally psychotic, and turn on you in a second, so you learn that lesson really fast.

“More often than not, for me, it was just really crazy.”

A conversation with Lewis Black

Black, by this point, was ruefully shaking his head. But he finished his soliloquy with a final, respectful summary of what he thought it takes by elaborating on his description of his 1,000-piece blue sky puzzle.

 “Now the edges, those aren’t so hard, but as you work inward, the characters, the plot… good luck making all those pieces fit so the sky isn’t marred with cracks.

That’s playwriting.”

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