Lewis Black is having problems with his TV reception. Although heís a seven-year veteran of Comedy Centralís The Daily Show, a Yale School of Drama graduate whoís written more than 40 plays, and an instructor at the prestigious Williamstown Theatre Festival every year, it seems he canít get his own projects off the ground. Within the past year, heís had two separate sit-coms rejected after network executives at Fox and CBS appeared to have sealed the deal.
"All of a sudden, after years now, theyíre a little worried that Ďhe hasnít been in a sit-com,í " Black, whoíll be at the Comedy Connection next Saturday, says over the phone from a Chicago hotel. "Thatís the kind of mentality that makes America great. That kind of taking a risk."
Itís not that thereís been any lack of TV ideas, from Black himself and from writers who admire the ballistic on-stage personality heís developed for his stand-up persona and for his "Back in Black" segments on The Daily Show. But something always seems to bollox the projects, and heís getting sick of it. "Iím in a constant state of negotiation on a bunch of things, and thereís always a bunch of other things that people say, ĎCan we put your name on the project?í And I go, ĎSure.í All of these projects are out there, and none of them seems to come to fruition. But it allows me to go to a bunch of fake meetings and have real lunches."
It doesnít seem to help even when other writers pitch ideas to the networks with him in mind. In one potential pilot, his character was given to French Stewart after the network balked at Black in a lead role. And that giant milk carton who yells at kids on basketball courts and sings with the elderly in nursing homes in the milk commercials? Well, letís just say Blackís original version was a bit edgier. He nursed one pilot for CBS into maturity with a team of writers, only to be dropped from the project twice as executives tinkered with the lead role. "They literally say, ĎLewís the only one in the running, but weíre going to look at other people,í " he explains, with a frustrated laugh. "They look at Steve Guttenberg. Iím like, you know, please."
Black will get a respite of sorts from network-executive madness this summer. Heíll return to Williamstown to teach for a week and host a cabaret show at the end of July. A theater tour with Dave Attell is in the works for this fall. And this winter in LA, heíll see the first production of his new play One Slight Hitch.
In the meantime, he still has a prime spot on one of the funniest shows on television, and he wonít be abandoning the stand-up stage anytime soon. He considers himself fortunate to have other endeavors to sustain him through his television quagmire. "Iím lucky. I donít really lick my wounds anymore because Iíve got an audience. When the Fox thing fell through or when this other thing fell through, I was flying somewhere to work in front of 1500 people, so it doesnít get any better than that."
Lewis Black appears at the Comedy Connection at Faneuil Hall next Saturday, July 19, at 7 and 11:15 p.m.; call (617)248-9700.