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Prodigal Man

Lewis Black draws dark comedy from religion past and present for second book of observations.

Me of Little Faith,” comedian Lewis Black’s sequel to his 2005 book, “Nothing’s Sacred,” focuses on just one topic, religion, throughout. Black’s first book mined autobiography for laughs, covering a wide range of experiences from his life. “Faith” does the inverse, using religion as the prism through which Black tells various funny stories and shares observations.

Mind you, Black’s writing, even more so in this book, is designed to jump off the page, a written equivalent of the unique screaming rants he uses in his stand-up performances.

As many Jews are, especially Jewish comedians, Black is hardest on his own religious brethren before throwing stones at anyone else. A highlight of the book comes early on as Black professes bafflement at the rules of Orthodox Judaism. “Here’s the deal breaker as far as I’m concerned. You can’t put cheese in your roast beef sandwich. For God’s sake, I thought Atkins had a lot of rules. … It seems to me that if people follow all the rules to be an Orthodox Jew, they should get to go to heaven without question, even if they are pricks. Because if you can follow all those rules, chances are you are going to be a prick.”

The chapters of “Me of Little Faith” are short and sweet, some just two or three pages. One chapter that is another highlight of the book, “The Rapture,” is particularly effective in its brevity. In it, Black muses on whether Jesus could really get noticed in the Second Coming through all the distractions of modern life, online and off. “He might even have to get the attention he is looking for by immediately going into rehab. He could say that returning was a real shock to his system and so he started self-medicating on various painkillers and cheap red wine.”

Black has plenty of life experience to draw from for a few more serious thoughts on religion, particularly a time in the 1970s when one of his friends went off to follow a guru and Black later visited him at the guru’s farm community in Tennessee. “What we saw was less about divinity than it was about hundreds of people pumping the purest energy of attention toward Stephen [Gaskill] and hence a white light pops out of his head. … As sad as I was to say good-bye to Cliff … I was overjoyed to be returning to the material world. Without my even suggesting it, as soon as we left the Farm, Jeff stopped at the first restaurant we saw. It was one of the best burgers I have ever eaten.”

The latter stretches of “Me of Little Faith” take on recent history and topical stories concerning religion, including his takes on Mormonism, the Amish, sightings of Jesus images in inanimate objects, and a retrospective about evangelists upright and crooked. For one, “When Jewish organizations characterized [Billy Graham’s] quotes as anti-Semitic, Graham defended himself by saying he may have been sucking up to Nixon. Oh, brother. Why would someone who knew God On High feel the need to personally suck up to a guy like Nixon?”

“Me of Little Faith” does careen from one thought to another in less linear fashion than “Nothing’s Sacred,” but it still passes the test for books by comedians -- delivering something more than a re-hash of a stand-up act or being just a show-biz memoir. At times, it even delivers a little profundity amid the laughs as well. It also makes you eager to see what Black will tackle for number three.




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