Stand-up comedian and “Daily Show” contributor Lewis Black DRA ’77 performed before a packed Woolsey Auditorium crowd on Friday, receiving an enthusiastic response in the feature event of this year’s Winter Arts Festival.
Black touched on topics as varied as Iraq, illegal immigration, New Haven and growing up Jewish during his 75-minute routine. Many students said they found the comedian entertaining and thought he was an improvement over last year’s acts, but some said Black’s act was at times inappropriate.
The Yale Student Activities Committee sold around 2,000 tickets to the show, though the exact number of tickets has not yet been tallied, Yale College Council Treasurer Dave Roosth ’09 said. YSAC sold 1,700 tickets online before the show, he said, and another 300-400 at the door.
“I was very happy with how things went,” Roosth said. “I was very surprised that there were absolutely zero surprises … It seemed like the crowd liked the opening act, who we really didn’t know much about.”
Black was preceded on stage by comedian John Bowman, who told jokes about Abraham Lincoln, the National Collegiate Athletics Association and other topics for about 35 minutes. Bowman’s impersonation of President George W. Bush ’68 walking across the White House lawn — which portrayed the president delivering a Nazi salute — drew huge laughs.
Ticket sales generated between $20,000 and $24,000, which will help offset the $42,500 Black charges for a performance, as well as the cost of paying for fire marshals and the Yale Police Department to supervise the event, Roosth said.
This year’s turnout surpassed the 1,800 students who attended last year’s Fall Show, which featured comedian Ed Helms and “Saturday Night Live” contributor Horatio Sanz. Some members of last year’s audience got up and left the show early because they found Sanz’s performance lackluster.
Alex Civetta ’09 said he enjoyed the show, especially when Black scolded audience members for being offended at some of his racy jokes. Civetta said this year’s performers were an improvement over Helms and Sanz.
“I thought [Black] did a really good job, and I was very impressed,” Civetta said. “I liked when he explained how non-[politically correct] humor is funny. People can take the PC thing too far sometimes.”
Black talked for several minutes — to cheers from the audience — about not taking jokes too seriously, saying that people “are allowed to laugh at something that is wrong.” During the show, he made jokes about Jews, dead babies and a dwarf who was swallowed by a hippopotamus.
“The crowd was great, except for the occasional cry-baby,” Black said after the show. “It’s great to be back in New Haven. I don’t have to work — it’s perfect.”
But Laura Rapin ’09 said that while she found most of Black’s routine funny, she thought several of his jokes crossed the line. In particular, she pointed to a comment Black made in which he mocked rich businessmen in Texas who created an artificial hunting preserve, thus “[turning] a petting zoo into Auschwitz.”
“I understand his point with a lot of this was that often a joke has to be inappropriate or risqué to be funny, but I think that one maybe went too far,” Rapin said. “I guess he has credibility on this because he is Jewish, but I can understand some people being offended by that.”
The Winter Arts Festival, which is sponsored by YSAC, also included a variety show on Saturday, a YCouture fashion show and a screening of several short student films on Sunday.