In the 2017 season, Grammy Award-winning comedian and actor Lewis Black gave a talk at Chautauqua as part of the morning lecture platform. His lecture was part of Week Six, “Comedy and the Human Condition,” in partnership with the National Comedy Center.
Black, dubbed “the king of the rant,” used his loud, profane and comedic style to navigate through political topics, his personal experience with comedy and how the genre can affect society. He said comedy is “insulation from the madness that we witness daily.”
At 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 1, in the Hall of Philosophy, Black returns to the Institution with Emmy Award-winning producer and writer Alan Zweibel to discuss their respective careers. The conversation is presented in partnership with the National Comedy Center, which opened its doors at 10 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 1.
“What we’ve done with this program is invite them into a conversation between the two of them,” said Chief of Staff Matt Ewalt, “exploring their career paths in comedy, reflecting on particular challenges relative to their own paths, but also reflecting on the vast (and) diverse paths that are possible for those both entering and making a career of comedy.”
Ewalt said he would not necessarily frame this event as a “lecture,” but rather a conversation between the two comedic legends. He said Black and Zweibel have known and worked with each other for a number of years, and he sees value in allowing the two to have a conversation.
“(This event), I think, knowing these two legends, isn’t something we can predict where it will go,” Ewalt said. “I think in this case, there is value that can come from a conversation between two people who know each other well and are (both) very quick on their feet, who have certainly shared stories (with each other) before.”
Black and Zweibel have both been involved with comedy for decades. At 12 years old, Black fell in love with theater, leading him to study drama at the University of North Carolina and Yale School of Drama, where he was introduced to stand-up comedy.
After college, he became the playwright-in-residence at the West Bank Cafe’s Downstairs Theatre Bar on West 42nd Street in Manhattan, overseeing the development of more than 1,000 plays. Since he emceed every show, this was his opportunity to develop his stand-up skills, which led him to pursue a full-time stand-up career in the late 1980s.
Black has gone on to produce Grammy Award-winning work, create segments for Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” and two HBO specials, and overall has enjoyed a long career in comedy.
Zweibel began his script writing career on “Saturday Night Live” in 1975. He worked with the program for five years, returning every so often throughout the 1980s. From there, he went on to win multiple Emmys and awards from the Writers Guild of America. Some of his works include: “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “The Late Show with David Letterman.”
Yet his career has not been contained to the television world. He has produced on- and off-Broadway hits, such as Fame Becomes Me, Happy and Pine Cone Moment. He is also the best-selling author of Bunny Bunny: Gilda Radner, A Sort of Romantic Comedy.
Currently, both Black and Zweibel are on the advisory board of the Comedy Center, the first museum that tells the story of comedy as an art form in America. The museum has more than 50 exhibitions displaying the work and creative processes from people like Charlie Chaplin to George Carlin.
“One of the things that has drawn (Black and Zweibel) together is a strong support for the National Comedy Center,” Ewalt said, “and the idea of an institution like the National Comedy Center holding up and showcasing comedy as the art form that it is.”
Ewalt said the addition of Black and Zweibel’s program is an example of how a partnership between the National Comedy Center and the Institution will be beneficial now and into the future. With individual lectures, like Laraine Newman’s, and a planned week of programming with the Comedy Center in the 2019 season, Ewalt said he believes the partnership will continue to grow.