By Farinya Funsett
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, April 28, 2005
The introduction to Lewis Black's debut book "Nothing's Sacred" reads, "After years of working as a comic, I know how to talk funny. But can I write funny? So that the words leap off the page in such a way that the reader is filled with glee? You don't know 'til you try, and there are legions of critics ready to tell you that you aren't funny in the least."
You can rest easy, Lewis. This critic isn't going to tell you that.
For the readers out there who have not yet been introduced to the genius that is Lewis Black, here's a primer: He's a sharp-tongued, sharp-witted playwright-turned-standup comedian. He is a frequent contributor to "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart," where he uses his "Back in Black" segment to deliver angry rants about ... well, just about everything. Whether it's politics or pop culture, Black's critical observations serve as biting - yet hilarious - social commentaries.
If readers pick up "Nothing's Sacred" in hopes of finding page after page of Black's "Daily Show"-style rants, they will be disappointed. While the book definitely has a handful of full-on rants, it also devotes a fair amount of time to exploring the comic's softer, gentler side (comparatively speaking, of course).
The book is divided into 55 mini essays, the majority of which are only a page or two long. These short and sweet servings of Black's mind make the book easy to pick up and put down at will - you don't need to read it all in one sitting. The fast-moving book can be enjoyed a few minutes or pages at a time, as most of the stories can stand on their own. The rants are interspersed with concise sections of autobiography, which in the bigger picture, are important as they let the reader better understand where Lewis (and his deep-seeded mistrust of authority) is coming from. While the book isn't divided into sections beyond the individual essay-rant titles, it probably should be. A better sense of organization would help readers figure out what it is exactly that they're reading.
The first third (or so) of the book is mostly devoted to Black's family and childhood. He lovingly crafts portraits in such aptly titled essays as "My Mother" or "My Father" and discusses what it was like growing up in the Washington, D.C., area in the 1950s. Strangely, these moments of nostalgia are interrupted by completely unrelated rants with titles like "Gay Marriage" or "Viral Infections." Again, here's where a little bit of organization would have vastly improved the flow.
The book moves on in (mostly) chronological order with Black telling stories about his adventures as a University of North Carolina undergraduate and his rocky years of graduate study at the Yale School of Drama. The most interesting stories, though, come out of Black's experiences in the "real world."
My favorite essay in the book is "A Real Job," in which Black recounts his days as a government employee in a Nixon-era antipoverty agency. It isn't my favorite just because the story is a good one, but because at 10 pages in length it is one of the most fully developed essays in the book. Sometimes while reading Black's other pieces I found myself wishing that he would have pushed his topic just a little bit further, probed a little bit deeper and reflected a little more thoughtfully. "A Real Job" shows that he can do just that if he wants to. In the body of this essay, Black moves from his personal experience to the political climate (of the past and the present) to his developing ideology and an examination of the necktie's place in the office environment.
While the organization of "Nothing's Sacred" could use some work, Black's writing is crisp and entertaining. His stories will make you laugh, and his rants will make you think twice about the world we live in.