The words “Go fuck yourself!” are used as a punchline multiple times on In God We Rust, but it hardly gets old; Lewis Black has mastered its nuance. There’s a special, subdued “Go fuck yourself!” reserved for a confusing review of his show in the Wendover Times. There’s a powerful “Go fuck yourself!” targeted at whoever dropped Valentine’s Day—the most depressing holiday for single people—smack dab in the middle of the already-most depressing month of the year. His “Go fuck yourself!”s about the Tea Party and Michelle Bachmann are aged with the bile of a 30-plus year career, spanning nine comedy albums, seven DVDs and three books (plus whatever the movie Unaccompanied Minors was).
Rage is the ballerina dance of Black’s comedy, and on In God We Rust, it seethes mostly below the surface, bubbling up in those well-placed “Go fuck yourself!”s. Unfortunately the same fails to hold true much of anywhere else. Given how deliberate and measured Black builds his arguments and emotional palette, it’s surprising when it’s not followed by a big moment of catharsis, or even a sentiment at the end of the special that ties the disparate threads together. Though it doesn’t come full circle, In God We Rust remains rife with pure Black observations on finding the absurdity in despair.
Take, for example, his thoughts on a terrorist in the news who armed his dick with explosives and hopped on a plane to Detroit. Why Detroit? Because the ticket was cheaper. This fact in and of itself could easily provide Black with fodder for another hour of comedy all together, but that would be an easy target. Instead, Black sets off for Democrats and Republicans, two groups he surmises are to blame equally for terrorist attacks. It took them eight and a half years, he says, to get a list of known terrorist suspects to our nation’s airports after 9/11. “How long is eight and a half years?” he asks. “Imagine if your son or daughter came home after college, then didn’t leave for eight and a half years.” Then, to further demonstrate the incompetence of our government, he posits that he could have put those names on a bunch of duckie boats, sent them out to sea randomly on the Hudson River, and in eight and a half years one would have probably made its way to an airport somewhere.
The strength in that joke is just how far Black will go to make his point. It’s not enough for him to call our government lazy; he constructs a whimsical and ridiculous scenario to further demonstrate just how lazy it is. Point being, when he gets going, there are few things in the comedy world as sound and entertaining as a Black rant.
One of the problems haunting In God We Rust, though, is that Black uses this power on seemingly inconsequential targets—inconsequential in that they’re not tied to something larger than the joke itself. He spends a great deal of time talking about his phone, first the iPhone and the genital-less weirdos who work at the Apple store, then moving on to his Droid and the genital-full weirdos who work at the Verizon store. It’s an articulate and detailed distillation of 21st-century frustration, but it continues far longer than necessary and ends more with a whimper than a bang. Meanwhile, other weighty topics are given the short shrift. Black mentions abortion during another part of his set, follows with a pause and notes that every time he says that word, he can hear everyone’s “anus snap shut.” This sort of setup implies we’ll be here for a while, but a few lines later the topic is abandoned for a story about how he once hung out with Ringo Starr and winked at Paul McCartney.
Black’s rhythm is slightly off on Rust. He speaks very slowly and allows plenty of room for audience reaction, and the space between jokes makes the sudden shifts in topic all the more jarring. There are a few points in his set, like the abortion/Ringo Starr segue, that particularly stand out, but Black is mostly in his groove. With about 10 minutes to go in his set, Black senses he’s reached the home stretch and digs deep into the Tea Party (as well as Farmville). He actually pulls off the impressive feat of finding them downright admirable; if they can convince a bunch of poor, trailer-living folks to protest taxing the rich, he says, “That’s leadership.” He also sees a great deal of himself in the Tea Party. They’re angry, in particular, and as he says in one of the most salient lines of the special, “If anybody knows anger, it’s fuckin’ moi.” And when Black’s right, he’s oh so right.