With four movies, a best-selling book ("Nothing's Sacred," Simon Spotlight, 2006) and regular appearances on Comedy Central's "Daily Show," Lewis Black is the quintessential angry man. And very funny. George Carlin has said that Black is the one comedian he'd pay to see.
He's also written a great deal of comedy and plays about business, seemingly from the nonbusinessman's point of view. Now acting as CEO of an eight-person company that manages his career, Black was asked by Working Wounded about his thoughts on being a boss, remembering his days as a broke comedian and dealing with Lewis Black-type angry people at work.
Working Wounded: What would you do if you had a magic wand about work?
Lewis Black: I would tell people, don't listen to what other people say. If more Americans actually set out to do what they want to do -- they would end up doing what they want to do. A lot of people say they don't know what they want to do. I don't believe that.
WW: You've written a lot of plays and many have business themes, yet you don't seem like a business guy.
LB: I was never good at business, so it's my way of sticking it to them. And now I'm the CEO with seven people on the payroll. Half the time I'm yelling at the guy running the business saying I don't know what I'm doing.
WW: What is the best part of being the CEO?
LB:I'm in the position where I can take money and distribute it to people. Nobody seems to be distributing it. The government isn't.
WW: You have great compassion -- how do you maintain it?
LB:I was broke for so long. I'm eternally grateful for this. It's a total gift. What are you kidding me? I lived for 25 years without health insurance. You constantly remember that.
WW: What is the key to being an effective leader?
LB:I'm a lousy CEO in a lot of ways. You need to be a facilitator. That's the problem with leaders -- they don't facilitate. If someone is doing their job you don't sit on their neck. I talk to my people all the time. Is everything OK? What do you need? Are you all right?
WW: Why are so many people angry at work?
LB:Americans don't really know how to govern or manage themselves. So the people who are running things are the last people on earth who should be running stuff.
WW: Your onstage character is very frustrated and angry. Did you start yelling right from the start or did your persona develop over time?
LB:A friend of mine told me, "I'm not angry and I'm yelling, and you're angry and you're not yelling. You'd better start yelling." He said, "When you go onstage, I want you to start yelling." And I did. I was angry, but I was sittin' on it, which is really creepy. I wasn't expressing my anger, and there's nothing worse than someone who's suppressing something.
WW: What advice would you give to the person who works next to a "Lewis Black" type angry guy?
LB:Coping with me? I would move my cubicle.
WW: Anything else?
LB:You have to bring gifts. Really nice things. CDs, no flowers, candy might work. Tickets. Anything to distract me.