Five minutes into Stark Raving Black, I started looking at my watch. Then I realized I do not own a watch and proceeded to start daydreaming about what my watch would look like if I did wear one, and whether or not it would suit me. Then Lewis Black yelled, and my attention snapped back to the screen. This situation repeated itself for the next 75 minutes of Black’s first concert film.
On The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Black is funny. His quick segment called “Back in Black” is the longest-running segment on the show because it points out humorous stories that may not have been covered by mainstream media. “Back in Black” works because it is short and concise; however, when multiple “Back in Black” segments are strung together back-to-back, as in Stark Raving Black, the humor wears thin and the time marches on ever so slowly.
There are definitely people in life that leave you thirsting for more — unfortunately, Black is not one of them. A few minutes of Black are certainly enough to satisfy. Beyond that, he is simply not that funny in the film. That may be one reason why it will only be in theaters Oct. 8 to Oct. 15 (after one week on the big screen, the film will be released as a DVD).
Stark Raving Black demonstrates Black’s ability to provoke his audience through a take-no-prisoners commentary on current events. The film’s footage was shot during two August 2009 shows at the Fillmore Theater in Detroit. The result is classic Black stand-up, which, for the uninitiated, consists of a lengthy, sarcastic rant — a la Sam Kinison — about some topic or irritant of interest to Black. The rant is followed by an ear-piercing obscenity and concludes with Black’s trademark shaking of his finger.
Although the yelling is sometimes appropriate, its reoccurrence at the end of every joke is redundant and tiring. Black also attempts to compensate for his lack of fresh material by shouting expletives at his audience, who seems to be laughing only out of fear. Black has been hailed for giving an outlet to his audience through his yelling so they do not have to. But listening to someone shout and shouting on your own are two very different activities, and truthfully, the former is rather frustrating.
Overall, Black’s comedy is observational, commenting on everything from the obviously vulnerable Bush administration to his personal support of alternative energy. Bits and pieces are funny, but there is a feeling that his prime days as a comedian have passed. By the time I had finished watching Stark Raving Black and decided that I would not be able to pull a watch off after all, only one joke remained memorable. The rest seemed to blend one into another in a mind-numbing stream of consciousness ramble reminiscent of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s recent 90-minute, nonsensical monologue at the United Nations. When Black finally stopped talking, I felt as if I had just ended a phone call with my 84-year-old grandmother who tends to chatter incoherently at a volume loud enough for all her hard-of-hearing neighbors at the senior living community to hear.
Black succeeds on The Daily Show because his segment is given a time limit and he has a subject on which to focus. His humor is appropriate there, as he can point out the stupidity of blatantly foolish subjects. But when given a microphone and a captive audience, he clings to his angry, aging white guy shtick that has become his routine.
Those who prefer Mitch Hedberg’s subtle hilarity or the quick wit of Jon Stewart will find Black tedious and grouchy. Instead of actually going to a movie theater and buying an overpriced ticket, you may want to wait to happen upon Stark Raving Black on Comedy Central on a lazy Sunday when you have nothing better to do. If you are one of those rarer breeds who prefer angry humor and rants about the environment, Black’s newest film is right up your alley. If you’re still unsure, watch the preview for the film on YouTube — it pretty much sums up the entire 80 minutes.