Lewis Black is a stand-up comedian. His shtick is foam-flecked fits of rage and profanity. Amazon.com advertised one of his DVDs by promising that "there's eye-crossing, teeth-gnashing, raspy-voiced yelling and liberal use of the F-word." In his show at Washington's Warner Theatre, Black complained the Kennedy Center refused their facilities on the grounds that he dropped F-bombs 42 times in his first hour-long HBO special.
With a record like that, it should be no surprise that he's a star on Comedy Central, that venomous Viacom property that markets mockery of everything polite, charitable and (especially) holy. Black is the star of a brand-new Comedy Central show, named "The Root of All Evil." Comedians act like prosecutors, with Black as judge, trying to determine which of two allegedly evil forces is worse. The battle for the debut episode: Oprah Winfrey vs. the Catholic Church.
This is the same hate-spewing channel that mocked the Pope on "South Park" and skewered Catholicism on the holiday special "Merry F---ing Christmas." Now, on the cusp of the Easter celebration, it's Catholic-hunting season again.
Attacking religion is a constant staple of Black's act. His 2005 autobiography was titled "Nothing Sacred," with a cover photo of him splayed across a statue of the Virgin Mary with a blazing halo around his head. He has another book coming out titled "Me of Little Faith." ABC's "20/20" marveled at his angry jokes last year, like this: "The New Testament God is really kind of a great guy. He is, especially when you compare him to the Old Testament God -- who is a prick."
Black clearly delighted in starting his new show by trashing traditional religion. He began the premiere by talking about Jane Goodall, who lived in the African wild with chimpanzees: "I put on trial all the things that make me understand why Jane Goodall spends her life hanging out with monkeys instead of people."
There was no nuance of delicacy in his anti-religious bigotry. "The Catholic Church was founded by Jesus," he said with a sneer, putting text on the screen under Jesus that read "Our Founder and CEO." Black continued: "He made St. Peter the right hand of God, leaving both of God's hands free to bitch-slap heathens and sinners." A big hand then crushes some Indians. He continued: "When not blocking social progress, the new pope cruises Vatican City and gives offensive lectures about other religions," upsetting Muslims, Jews and Wiccans.
The comedian-prosecutor dropping invective on Catholics was Greg Giraldo, who confessed up front: "As a product of 12 years of Catholic school, I will argue that the Catholic Church is the root of all evil. I will do so while feeling guilty and scared, and that guilt and fear, your honor, is exactly why the Catholic Church is the root of all evil. Well, that and a few other things, mostly the boy (molesting), but also the guilt and fear."
Giraldo claimed the church "infantilizes its believers. It's creepy to call someone Father when he's not my father, especially when I'm sitting on his thumb." But Black also mocked Catholics from the opposite direction, joking the church lacks devout believers, that Oprah fans vs. Catholics was "a battle between devout worshippers and the Catholic Church."
Giraldo mocked Pope Benedict's clothing: "The Pope to me is a hypocrite, in his Prada loafers and his ball gown. How can he condemn homosexuality when he dresses like he's on his way to Nickel Cosmo Night at the Veiny-Shafts Tavern?"
Of course, Giraldo had to drag out the Spanish Inquisition, making jokes about how the Church invented waterboarding for the current administration and tortured thousands with tools named the "head crusher," the "breast ripper" and the "Judas cradle."
Comedy Central also touted a phone poll where viewers could vote for which side they thought was closer to "the root of all evil." The audience at home picked the Catholic Church by a margin of 54 to 46 percent. I hope the phone pollsters at Alltel Wireless never want another Catholic customer.