The Law School Auditorium erupted with laughter when Lewis Black DRA ’77 began talking in his characteristically colorful language, saying if anyone found his words offensive they should leave immediately — because it was only going to get worse.
On Monday afternoon, Black, a comedian who has been featured on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” came to campus to speak to an audience of roughly 70 people. During the lecture, Black discussed how his experience as a student at the Yale School of Drama led him to a successful career as a comedian.
“I went to the School of Drama the way that people of my generation went to fight in the Vietnam War,” Black said. “I thought I was going to have the greatest artistic experience of my life.”
Black told the audience he spent the “three most horrific years” of his life at Yale. He met extraordinary peers who would become the world’s best actors and comedians, he said, but the teachers were “the most reprehensible group” he had ever seen. He said one of his peers had a speech impediment and his teacher recommended that he go to Yale Health to get his jaw broken and reset to help with his problem.
He often got in trouble for making his negative feelings known to the faculty, Black said. But at Yale, he said, he learned to be a stand-up comedian and once attempted to emcee at Toad’s Place. He added that at the time he had minimal experience and ran into difficulty keeping his audience’s attention.
“I talked mainly about my sex life back then — that was my go-to material,” Black said. “I was talking way too fast and nobody was listening — the room was in utter chaos.”
Black said he found it difficult to discover his voice as a comic and initially his act was to turn anger into humor.
Black said he thinks “society is getting funnier” and that Americans are definitely more self-aware than they used to be. Although comedians still make uninteresting jokes such as, “The cat made a poopy in the barn,” great comedians are becoming more visible, especially on TV.
“Humor works as insulation,” Black said. “The ability to step back definitely helps in life.”
Audience members interviewed said they were enthusiastic about Black’s shameless sincerity and bluntness.
“I started showing his performances to my son when he was 12,” Maria Freda said. “The material was so inappropriate but was so genuinely funny.”
Black’s talk was followed by a short performance by the Yale Band, which was sitting at the back of the auditorium throughout the event.