The Daily Tar Heel
Printing news. Raising hell. Since 1893.
Friday, Sept. 29, 2023 Newsletters Latest print issue

We keep you informed.

Help us keep going. Donate Today.
The Daily Tar Heel

Black's Biting Humor, Cynicism Date Back to Frat Life

Most of Black's performances occurred in his everyday interactions with good friends. Black was a member of Pi Lambda Phi, a fraternity that during the late '60s had a reputation for its progressive activism and affinity for spontaneous revelry. "When that many nuts get together, something is bound to happen," read the Pi Lambda Phi page in the 1968 Yackety Yack. One of Black's close fraternity brothers and friends, Jim McAllister, class of 1971, remembers Black's antics.

"He is what I would call totally unglued," McAllister said. "(Black acted) only at the fraternity, and there constantly -- he was the show."

McAllister also said Black's humor was not without humility. "He didn't have a pretentious bone in his body," he said. "(Black was) a good guy and very unassuming."

The fraternity could always depend on Black to add humor to even the most ordinary of situations, McAllister said. "He could tell jokes or make sarcastic witticisms about anything from our professors to the women we were dating," he said. "He always looked at things from a 180 degree side and looked for humor in everything."

Black kept his fraternity brothers entertained by imitating President Richard Nixon like no other and even by putting a satirical spin on the Jewish traditions that were common ground for himself and other members of Pi Lambda Phi, McAllister said.

"When Lewis would get on one of his tirades about Jewish traditions, he would find a way to make it ridiculously funny," McAllister said.

McAllister remembers what he called "Carolina basketball smoke-fests," in which he, Lewis and other members of the fraternity watched UNC men's basketball games in the house. He said that as he and his brothers filled the room with cigarette smoke, Black did his part to fill it with laughter.

"We'd all be sitting in the big room, watching the Carolina basketball game ... and the room would just be filled with smoke," McAllister said. "Lewis would come in and say 'Why don't you freaking idiots go outside, start your cars and put your lips around your exhaust pipes? It's cheaper.'"

But the frat house wasn't Black's only comedic venue. John Haber, a 1970 alumnus who was president of the Carolina Union for two years, said Black was involved with Feast. Feast was a communal theater project sponsored by the Carolina Union, separate from the Department of Dramatic Art and completely run by students. Haber said Feast allowed Black and his contemporaries to work more independently and make the most of their talent.

"I think (Black's work with Feast) must have stimulated his playwriting interest, which was what he went to Yale for," Haber said. Black attended Yale after receiving an undergraduate degree from UNC.

Black was also the first recipient of an outstanding achievement award given by the New York Carolina Club in 1999 for distinctive contribution to the arts. Haber, who is on the board of the national branch of the General Alumni Association, was involved in the award selection process. He said Black's time at UNC had a large influence on his career path to becoming a stand-up comedian.

"The seeds were definitely planted ... and when we gave him the outstanding achievement award for the arts up here, he gave a hilarious talk about some of his memories of being at Carolina," Haber said.

Clearly, Black's promising future was evident to those around him.

"From the time I met him, his goal in life was to be a comedian," McAllister said. "He earned what he's got ... a lot of little clubs for a lot of years, just to break his way in."

The Arts & Entertainment Editor can be reached at

To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.