Lewis Black’s The Prophet, released this week by Comedy Central, certainly has some funny material; unfortunately it would have been a hell of a lot funnier 20 years ago when it was recorded. What you have here is comedy as history. The album was recorded late in 1990 as the irate comic toured the country delivering his patented political tirade on the current state of the union, current in 1990.
I have nothing against Black’s politics. Indeed, I find myself agreeing with almost everything he has to say. The problem is that he is saying it about Dan Quayle. He is saying it about George Bush. He is saying it about Ronald Reagan. Agree with him or not, it’s old news. Political comedy loses something as it recedes into the past. Jokes about the Exxon Valdez disaster make more sense when everyone knows what the Exxon Valdez disaster was. I suspect that that might not always be the case with all of Black’s current audience, and even those who do know are more likely to be more interested in the BP oil spill. Political humor needs to be current; I can’t imagine anyone showing reruns of The Daily Show in 2030.
Certainly there are other things on the album. There is a rant about excessive Christmas celebration. There is some equal opportunity mockery of bar mitzvahs and Jewish food choices. There’s a short bit about banning smoking. It’s good stuff, but it doesn’t make up for the dated political material.
Black is a funny man. His comedy albums have won a number of awards. There were Grammys for Stark Raving Black and The Carnegie Hall Performance. Who knows? Twenty years ago The Prophet might well have won a Grammy of its own.