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The Daily Tar Heel

Black Encourages, Warns UNC Students

Comedian Lewis Black, a UNC alumnus, spoke to almost 30 students, detailing his years at UNC and career in show business.

Returning to his alma mater for his first professional performance at the University, Black spoke to nearly 30 students in the Center for Dramatic Art prior to the show. He recounted his years at UNC and ranted about the demanding nature of show business.

Black said theater is a difficult profession to break into but said aspiring actors and writers should not be discouraged by the hardships they will encounter. Instead, they must push toward discovering and following their passion, he said.

Graduating in 1970 with a degree in drama specializing in playwriting, Black spent the next year in a fellowship seeking recognition as a legitimate writer by the Department of Dramatic Art, which awarded him his fellowship. Black said it was during that trying time he realized that the theater -- be it in the role of actor, director or playwright -- is demanding and intense.

"Theater is too abusive; the way in which it treats people tears them apart," Black said.

Despite Black's grim message, he urged the students at the small discussion group not to be discouraged and never to lose sight of their goals.

Black recalled the time directly after his undergraduate study at UNC when he and a group of colleagues drove off to Colorado, bought a theater and simply performed.

Black was quick to note that it was not the idyllic life of an adventurous actor. In order to make ends meet and try to gain government funding, his group performed at a prison and military base -- sometimes working for food stamps. During his years there, he learned much about the arts and himself.

"If you ever really want a unique experience, take something that you have written and perform it in a maximum-security prison," Black said.

"But I was happy. When it all began, I did not care if I was getting paid because I was doing it for me, but when I saw what was going on -- the abuse that it was putting people through -- the ballgame was over."

Black's transition to comedy came after more than 15 years of writing plays and never being able to understand why something was viewed as good or bad, he said.

But Black said his sort of midlife career switch is not uncommon and that most of the people he knows in show business are not doing what they started out doing because of the abusive nature.

But he encouraged students not to lose sight of their goals. He said many of the greatest lessons he has learned about theater -- and about life -- have come through trials instead of success.

"I never felt more successful than I did when I was renting a small apartment in New York City, and (my friends and I) were producing small one-act plays," Black said.

"Real success in your life is doing what you want to do. If you are doing what it is that you want to do, then that is all the reward that you ever need."

The Arts & Entertainment Editor can be reached at

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