"Root of all evil."
A pleasant female voice sing-songs the phrase at the other end of the phone. I pause for a second, to hold back a laugh, and then ask for Lewis Black.
The greeting shouldn't have thrown me; it's the name of Black's current Comedy Central show. On Root of All Evil which started its second season three weeks ago Black listens to fellow comedians try cases such as Beer v. Weed and Steroids v. Boob Jobs. Then, as judge and jury, he determines which is more evil. The social and political humorist challenges everything and everyone, from the president of the United States to the common American worker.
And he does so directly. Black yells. He admits that he yells at his TV, too. But no one need worry about him keeling over at one of his gigs. The yelling helps him get his stress out.
"The only thing I've got going [for me] is perfect blood pressure," he says, which is not something to be taken for granted when you're almost 60. In fact, he'll celebrate his birthday about a week after visiting Colorado Springs.
He jokes about getting older: "It's not fun. I wouldn't advise it." But, he adds, "I basically see it as, what I've become is two 30-year-olds who stand around and discuss my problems. It's a much easier way to deal with it."
He'll perform in Las Vegas the night of his birthday. His parents will be in the audience, although Black says, "They come really just to go to Vegas."
That's hard to believe. Black's proud parents have often shown up in his audience. He sometimes discusses them in his routines, and they even became a piece of his Emmy-nominated 2006 HBO special, Red, White and Screwed.
Their presence has never influenced his obscenity-laced stage persona, though.
"From the time I started working," Black says, "they just would sit out there. Until I got good at it, they were in a panic."
"Rocky Mountain High'
Black's come a long way since those first days, the earliest of which include living and working in Colorado Springs for a year. Black, who grew up in Maryland, ran a theater company that worked at Palmer High School, Fort Carson and a couple prisons.
He remembers arriving in Colorado Springs in 1972: ""Rocky Mountain High' came on the radio for the first time that we heard it. I said, "Oh no,' I said, "It's over now.' And I said, "Every asshole in America is going to be there, and we're the first group.'"
The irony isn't lost on him that he's coming back to the Springs as the author of a new book titled Me of Little Faith, which is described as "potentially offensive to anyone who takes religion too seriously."
But Black's thoughts on the matter are quite simple.
"As far as I'm concerned, if you really believe in what you believe in, and you're really so certain about it, then anything that I might say should have no effect on you whatsoever. None.
"I understand the necessity of taking moral stands, et cetera. But I don't understand the necessity of, you know, somehow if I don't believe in it, it diminishes you somehow. You feel ... the need to make sure that I believe in what you believe. Well, then ... how much do you believe in it?"
Guns and roses
Knowing Black has been recognized by The Brady Center for his commitment to ending gun violence, I tell him about the city's daily newspaper editors calling for local citizens to carry their guns everywhere they go, into coffee shops, grocery stores and so on.
There's a pause. And then the Black seen on TV and stage kicks in.
"I have no desire to take away anyone's guns," he says emphatically. "[But] if you start with the mindset that you're entering the day with the fact that somebody's going to attack you, chances are, you're asking for it. You know, I'm not being Oprah, but when you start with that mentality, you generate that mentality around you."
His voice rises.
"It's why you have police. ... When you have cops and they're all over the country telling you that certain things have to be changed to keep them out of danger, and you don't pay attention to what your police are saying ... It goes for everything," he says. "You didn't pay attention to what your generals said. You don't pay attention to you know what, let's forget it. What do we need government for? Just run around. And then wonder where your clean water is going to come from, asshole."
Honestly though, Black doesn't find it surprising that Colorado Springs has become the conservative bastion it is today.
"When I went there, it was cowboys, the Army and some hippies," he says. "And it was really a strange place then."
Strange things never end here, like disgraced New Life Church founder Ted Haggard moving back to town.
Perhaps even more strange? I silence Lewis Black with this little news tidbit.
"No," he says.
(Insert dead silence here.)
"Seriously? With his new gay husband? Wow. I don't know what phew."
Anything else Black would like to add?
"Yeah. Where am I supposed to hide after the show?"