Lewis Black has seen St. Louis before and knows its biggest problem: It's not sprawl or crime -- it's mold. "I like [St. Louis], except you got a mold count," he complains. "Somebody's gotta get a grip on that one. No other city tells you what their mold count is. Makes one wonder what you people got going on down in your basements, doesn't it?"
If anger is a gift, as Rage Against the Machine sang almost a decade ago, then Black is like a kid on the first night of Chanukah. When his unassuming countenance erupts into that wild-eyed stare, Black seems like an average Joe who's been pushed so far that he'll use any excuse to unleash a bitter tirade. On his "Back in Black" segments on The Daily Show, he screams, barks and gestures wildly, as though every stupid event of the past week was an insult against him personally. It's the force of his rage that's the trademark of his comedy, so it's something of a surprise to hear how soft-spoken he is off-camera.
"I think they're somewhat surprised," Black says of people who meet him for the first time. "That stand-up persona's a part of me that's been blown up. It's probably what I was like when I was fifteen." Over the phone, he's quiet and even-keeled. Even when launching into one of his vitriolic observations about, say, the Democratic presidential hopefuls ("If you combine them into one person, you might have a candidate"), his voice barely rises above a whisper, which just emphasizes the fact that he's the smartest "loud" comedian working today.
There's always been more to Black than meets the eye. A Yale-educated playwright and actor, he's had more than 40 dramas produced, played a supporting role in Woody Allen's Hannah and Her Sisters and had guest spots on such sitcoms as Murphy Brown and Mad About You before The Daily Show came calling. Although Black, unlike other, more visible correspondents, is only on The Daily Show once a week, he's happy about not overstaying his welcome. "Less is more," he says. "People still have an interest in me -- I could get rid of that quickly enough."
Still, Black's acerbic humor has an insatiable cult following, which may be why Comedy Central released his latest album, Rules of Engagement, on their new record label and chose him to co-headline the first-ever Comedy Central Live tour with Insomniac host and notorious lush Dave Attell. (Asked if they go drinking together, Black ruefully admits, "It's either added twenty years to my life or taken away ten.") In fact, Black's following is so strong that he was recently asked to run for vice president on a ticket with Daily Show host Jon Stewart. "I'd do it with Jon," he says. "You have to stay awake during Congress, but... [I'd be] a single vice president. Talk about a pussy hound!"