Self-deprecating Lewis Black has range and vulnerability

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      At the Centre in Vancouver for Performing Arts on Friday, May 8. No remaining performances

      Lewis Black knows expectations ruin everything. How often in life do things live up to their hype? So his opening comments to the enthusiastic crowd at the Centre on the first night of his Dual Citizenship Tour stopover in Vancouver were an appeal to lower expectations by about 20 percent.

      While that kind of talk doesn’t exactly instill confidence in a headlining act, it worked on this night. The audience sat back and allowed a more relaxed, and surprisingly self-deprecating, Black to patiently build toward exasperation.

      The evening got off to a strong start with opening act Kathleen Madigan, one of the funniest comics working today. She just got back from Iraq and Afghanistan but says she shouldn’t be applauded because she tried to get out of it, asking instead to go somewhere a little safer. “Don’t we have troops in San Diego? Just because they’re not fighting doesn’t mean they’re not sad.” It was a shame she was limited to only 20 minutes, but the people had paid for the guy they see on TV.

      Black is most famous for his spots on The Daily Show With Jon Stewart, where his pent-up anger regularly erupts over politics and pop culture. He’s a bitter Everyman who’s had it up to here with, well, just about everything.

      What made this tour his best one yet was a combination of factors. His enraged shtick is inherently funny, but it can wear thin over the course of a 90-minute show. On this night, Black exhibited more dynamic range than he has in years past. He spoke reasonably before exploding over some injustice or other, such as the weather in Winnipeg or turning 60. And his subject matter was turned inward, showing us a more vulnerable side than we’d seen before, which made him much more likable. Instead of just seeing the cranky old guy, we knew a bit more about why he is the way he is.

      He started in on a story about sharing the stage with Vince Gill that seemed headed toward a lambasting of the rich cowpoke. But new-country music and its practitioners are too easy a target. To his credit, Black avoided the obvious, making himself the butt of the extended bit. He gave us a play-by-play of his insecurities as he waited off-stage before having to follow the superstar at a huge benefit in Georgia. With every passing minute, Gill endeared himself more and more to the throng, which only served to eat away at Black’s confidence. “Then he told us about his father,” recalled Black. “His dead father. How am I gonna trump that? I looked at my watch. I’m not going to have time to fly home and kill mine.”

      We also learned that the new sexagenarian doesn’t want to die. When he was a kid, he recalled, “people dropped dead of 60 like flies.” While he admittedly doesn’t like everything on this plane, “it beats the fuck outta the unknown,” he said. “And it’s dark and spooky.”

      It’s not that he wants to stick around to see what becomes of Barack Obama’s message of hope. “I’m 60,” he said. “Fuck hope. Hope has passed me by.”