From Angry Young Man to Grand Visionary: Lewis Black

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Saturday night, The American Visionary Art Museum honors comedian Lewis Black as the next AVAM “Grand Visionary”–a title previously awarded Desmond Tutu, former head of the NAACP Julian Bond and his wife, Pamela Horowitz, and singer-songwriter Donovan, among others. Award ceremony coincides with AVAM’s fifteenth anniversary gala, benefitting the organization’s terrific exhibitions and educational programs. A post-gala parade follows, with Lewis Black doubling as Grand Visionary/grand marshal.

Fishbowl talked to the comic about his surprise reaction to the heavy-duty title, and asked AVAM founder Rebecca Hoffberger outright, “So, why Lewis Black?”

“Many might say Black has a potty mouth. They would be right. But it is wholly attached to a Mother-Theresa-like, fierce passion for justice and care for others. Is it any coincidence that Lewis Black breathed the same Silver Spring air as fellow Silver Spring Maryland visionary, Rachel Carson, when she wrote, Silent Spring? I think not. Both underscore the escalating factors of greed that trash our environment. Rachel would have been smitten with Lewis Black, for in his own creative way, he continues the good fight. Only he makes us incontinent in the process! Plentiful good reason we are honoring him!” explained Ms. Hoffberger. 

Fishbowl: Is this award a surprise or merely destiny? What does it mean to you? Will you tell people you’re a Grand Visionary at parties or in line at Starbuck’s?

Lewis Black: I find it unbelievable that my name would be mentioned in a sentence with the name of Desmond Tutu, let alone that somehow we would actually be honored with the same award. It was more than a surprise, it was a shock. As shocked as I am, I do feel honored. It’s nice to know that people pay attention to your work, but to be recognized for it, is more than I ever expected. It leaves me a bit stunned. I do plan to make something in the line of a wizard’s hat with flashing lights that spell out Grand Visionary so that people will realize it, and I won’t have to bring it up in conversations.

FB: What did growing up in this part of the country do for your comedy, if anything?

LB: I am not sure how being born and raised in Silver Spring helped my comedy, but I do know that being raised in the suburbs of Maryland truly prepared me for space travel. 

FB: What are your impressions of the Visionary Art Museum, which of course embraces outsider art? Are you an “angry” outsider artist, in a sense?

LB: I have never been to the museum but have been online to get a glimpse and a sense of it. I will tour it when I get there and am looking forward to it. It’s extremely unique in concept. Stand-up comedy, in many ways, is a self-taught art. I don’t really consider myself an angry outsider artist at this point, as a comic needs an audience for laughs, so they are always reaching out for them. When I was younger, I probably was a very angry outsider artist which is why it took my career so long to get going.

FB: What do you like most about coming back to Baltimore?

LB: I truly like returning to Baltimore because I get to see my folks. And friends. And the ever changing, always the same, Baltimore. And the seafood. What’s most annoying is I can’t stay longer, as I am in the midst of rewriting a play. 

Black’s play, One Slight Hitch, will be performed at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in Massachusetts.



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