Life is hard for comedians.
They used to take political news and make it funny by adding jokes. Lewis Black, a comedian who is bringing his show to the Rapid City Civic Center on September 13, says the biggest problem is that now more than ever, the truth is often funnier than the jokes.
In another twist, some things that have no humor in them happen to comedians.
Black lost his father in 2019. He is 70 years old and his father was 101 when he died. It is anything but surprising when someone of advanced age passes away. But there is nothing easy about it.
"I was shocked because I thought I had let go," Black said. "I visited a lot and said goodbye a number of times. I don't think you are ever ready."
I know exactly what he means. I was 41 years old when my father got sick and died. He was 76. He never slowed down until the illness that finally claimed his life began to affect him about a month before he died. In fact, the second symptom he showed of his disease revealed itself when he was working at the janitorial job he started for himself when he was in his teens. Within days, he lost the use of his legs. He soon lost the use of one of his arms. When he died, he could barely move one arm. Obviously, it was a blessing that he didn't suffer long. It certainly didn't feel like a blessing at the time.
I worked with my dad from when I was eight or nine years old. I wiped ashtrays and dumped trash cans in local businesses to earn an allowance. Dad wasn't a big talker. In fact, he was almost always the quietest person in the room. Maybe that's why I still value the times when I could get him to open up and tell me what he thought.
I really didn't think losing my dad when I was a grown man with a family of his own would be such a big deal.
Author E.A. Bucchianeri once wrote, “When all is said and done, grief is the price we pay for love.”
Black said it a little more efficiently when I spoke to him this week, "Grieving sucks."
More immediately after his father's death, Black was more eloquent, "He was everything a man should be. Loving. Considerate. Humble. Kind. Giving. A Mentor. A man of fierce integrity. An Artist with a vision. His smile was like sunshine and it sadly has gone out. I am blessed he was my father."
Black took this summer off and dealt with his loss.
"It is bad because my brother passed away, so it is just me now," he said. "I am the end of the line. My family tree ends with me."
Black said losing his father caused him to feel anxious and depressed. Having the summer off helped him deal with his grief and care for his 100-year-old mother.
I went the other direction in 2012 when my dad died. I was back at work hours after the funeral. Working kept me from having to face it. Honestly, that has been a great thing about working in newspapers for a quarter of a century. They make a great distraction from personal problems. There is always something that needs to be done.
Black said that is why he took the summer off. He processed his loss and dealt with the grief. When you don't acknowledge the grief, it comes back years later and hits just as hard as it did before.
In Fahrenheit 451, author Ray Bradbury paints a dystopian future where culture is erased by means of extreme censorship. Granger was a character who was fighting against cultural eradication. In one conversation, Granger said, "Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you're there."
Being a columnist has given my children - and their children - a 25-year window (so far) into who I am. They can read columns I have written and learn my sarcastic sense of humor, discover what makes me angry, and even watch how I grew as a person from the 23-year-old editor who knew everything to a much more moderated version of that young spitfire who learned something from every person who disagreed with him. I'm not saying I don't still spit a little fire, I just hope that I have a clearer understanding of who and what I am writing about than I did when I was 23 and barely knew myself.
Likewise, Black's work will be replayed for generations after he is gone. Recently, he got involved in a program that will be a great legacy. George Carlin's daughter Kelly brought him into a group that is developing the National Comedy Center in Lucille Ball's hometown of Jamestown, NY.
Carlin's memorabilia will be on display there, as will collections from many famous comedians and now the advisory board includes some of the biggest names in comedy or their children. Black described it as an evolving Library of Congress for comedy.
"People don't realize how great this place is," Black said.
Black's bloodline may end with him, but his work will live on in the people he entertained and informed. The National Center for Comedy honored Black and his father with a small monument in their garden.
Poet Thomas Campbell once wrote, "To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die.”
Whether it is in pop culture, like Black, or in the impact we have on people we live and work with, we can all leave a legacy that lives long after we are gone.
Kent Bush is the editor of the Rapid City Journal.
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