Lewis Black: Off The Rails | Review of the US comic on his farewell tour
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Lewis Black: Off The Rails

Review of the US comic on his farewell tour

‘I’m done,’ says Lewis Black at the top of his show, and he means it. 

After 40 years seated on the curmudgeon throne with the grammatically awkward title of King Of Rant, time is taking its toll on the 75-year-old, and this show – only his third ever in London – will be his last visit in a professional capacity. He will permanently retire from touring in early August, just another 30 or so performances to go. 

He trembles a little in the hands these days if not in the mind, and tells us how his mother and father lived to 104 and 101 respectively without ever losing their wits, which is apparently less likely than winning the lottery. The trick is conserving energy, he says.

So with this tour functioning as something of a denouement, he’s in a more reflective mood than usual, and touches throughout the show on experiences from his childhood, the lives of his parents, and some of the things that give his own life meaning, like his passion for Shakespeare and Vonnegut. 

In these moments he’s calmer and softer, which very much runs counter to the Lewis Black brand. But if 40 years of dedicated ranting doesn’t buy you a little leeway, I don’t know what would. These personal matters are not the points that really hype up the audience, but this is where his writing is at its best: it’s much harder to slip into cliché when you’re talking about your personal experience.

His political material does less to distinguish itself, and has a hint of fan service to it, especially when he’s appealing to the anti-American sentiments of a British theatre. He calls Biden old and Trump orange, which is what the audience wants from him, but despite the splenetic force with which it’s delivered there’s nothing very challenging about this material, and he never touches on anything that might be genuinely divisive. 

Instead he spends a lot of time simply reporting disbelievingly on the antics of people like Ron DeSantis and Marjorie Taylor Greene, then bellowing 'son of a bitch!’ into the mic.

He acknowledges himself that the tricks of his trade perhaps don’t work as well as they used to, and he has a theory as to why. ‘We live in a state of satire,’ he says. Essentially, stuff like banning Shakespeare for its sex scenes, or DeSantis’s talk about ‘the benefits of slavery,’ is already too ridiculous to make fun of effectively. 

Repeatedly, Black throws his hands up in the air and shouts, ‘I can’t make that any funnier!’ It seems clear that, with its fundamental basis of reality leaking away, politics just holds less meaning for him now than it used to.

And if that’s the case, getting out of touring and going back to his first love of writing plays seems like the right move. 

One of his great gifts is the fact that he can be angry for an hour on stage every night and make you really believe it, but there’s more to the man than just yelling about politicians, and he seems ready to conserve that energy and give other sides of himself some room to breathe.

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Review date: 20 May 2024
Reviewed by: Tim Harding
Reviewed at: Leicester Square Theatre

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