THE BLOG
11/12/2014 10:58 am ET Updated Jan 12, 2015

Take Viagra If You Can Afford It: The Necessary Comedy of Lewis Black

Lewis Black, who performed last night in Fort Collins, didn't talk about Viagra. He did talk about another drug prescribed to help him quit smoking, for which he had to pay out of pocket. He was doing a very on target rant about insurance companies not caring about us very much. And he inspired me to remember that I wanted to talk about Viagra, which now has to be paid out of pocket by a number of insurances.

This is very expensive sex and it penalizes a group of people not likely to complain about this out loud in the open. Before breast cancer became a topic covered with pink ribbons, it had its sides of shame, not altogether erased by any means. So Mr. Black inspired me to remember my own Viagra gripe as well as the deprivation of such a drug really being prejudiced against men who are not going to be happy about talking about the lack of erections out loud.

This man is angry but not only, of course not only because then it wouldn't be funny. He doesn't only talk about health insurance but he also meanders into a dreamy sequence about the beauties of Tahiti, and he seems clearly to have an appetite for many aspects of living. What he does that seems special to me is that he gives a wake-up call, that he avoids the exceptionalism of making fun of just one group, and then we walk out -- or we can walk out -- perplexed, bothered, and ready to keep processing.

Comedy, humor in general, can be a way of turning things upside down, shifting our angle of vision away from distraction. And it says things out loud that many of us are either already thinking or have bubbling close to consciousness. So his smoking rant made me think of sex and Viagra, a plus because one association can be broadened to open the playing field to new or submerged ideas. And his stuff is not that obvious that all of us would have thought of it already.

Black, last night, encouraged us to travel outside the United States, lest we stay here forever and think our ways are the only ones, or even that they make sense. He spoke about Copenhagen being ranked the happiest city in the world (he added he knew we figured it was Fort Collins) and used this to move on to socialism, which he said is for most of us a word way worse than "motherfucker." Sharing, paying for things, getting the government to help with mental illness as a key example last night, led into his talking about among other things, bailing out a city like Detroit which carried America during some tough times. He said stuff about sharing, out loud -- a key principle of socialism, by which he did not mean Cuba, Russia or China (he said so).

A word about ranting, even about ranting and raving as well. It can seem the indulgence or compulsion of an angry motherfucker or a crazy person, or it can be a way of helping us cope with reality without becoming insane. I noticed years ago when working with some kids in a treatment center, that when at my wits end, I had wound up on a kind of rant about my frustration that ended with the surprise that the young scared and provocative patient was actually following and caring about the meaning. It had become, without my obvious intention, a means of engagement. And it let out steam at the same time. It was a win-win situation.

One of my annoyances with many comedians, is that even when they are political, I feel like the issues are so about them and about the performance that once we leave the audience or turn the television off, we feel we have done our part in whatever the matter at hand is. I don't feel given a gift of thoughtfulness, a tickling of gray matter that might lead to greater participation and less passivity on the part of the viewer. Comedy seems to become more radical when it leaves the viewer feeling more active, even activated in the experience. It becomes a coping mechanism, but more, because it doesn't leave things with humor as a consolation and acceptance only.

Humor is so necessary, it seems, as a form of play, putting things in perspective and waking up to what might have been suppressed or forgotten. And the comedian is the jester who has taken on the rights and the burden of becoming less afraid of the jabs of the politically correct judges. Black is judged, but he has risen in esteem, especially in some circles (Try the Washington Press Corp) so that he can jab, and get the socially correct applause of a Dick Cheney (ouch!), but to me as important, the potential waking up of people like we were last night.

What a relief for me to see a packed audience in Fort Collins, Colorado, of people not on the extreme right, and not even wanting to gloat against the right -- despite Black's comment, "People, if you belong to the Tea Party, God loves you but I'm going to have to treat you as a fictional character." And when he asks us how stupid can we be, as a nation, as an audience as well, I know I'll get back to thinking about just that, because those are my passions -- the why of all the paralysis.

I know some people that wouldn't see Black because of his language, his profanity that is. But in keeping with getting some perspective, the more significant profanity seems to lie in the way we are being treated, the bullying of us so we can't think or think out loud, and how we lose contact with our own interests and our own interest in empathizing with others.