WHEN JULIA WHITEHEAD, executive director of the Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library, approached comedian Lewis Black at a book-signing event and asked if he was a Vonnegut fan, she had no way of knowing that a few short years later, he would be head of its board of directors. “He gave me contact information for his assistant and said to stay in touch,” she says. “I wasn’t sure how seriously to take that because people sometimes act interested in our organization, but they’re just being polite.”
As it turns out, Black, whose acerbic persona earned national attention on The Daily Show and in streaming specials, not only was a longtime Vonnegut fan, but also was heavily influenced by him. “His work had a profound effect on the way I saw the world,” Black says. “It validated it. And although much of what he says may be very profound, he’s easy to read and laugh-out-loud funny. I think his works can seduce someone into becoming a reader for life.”
For Black, the appeal was Vonnegut’s simple honesty. “He faced the horrors of war and found in the heart of it absurdity, so we could laugh at it,” he says. “That kind of vision reaches all generations, I think.”
Unfortunately, Black, who counts celeb friends Mark Linn-Baker (Perfect Strangers) and Tony Shalhoub (Monk) as fellow Vonnegut fans, never had a close encounter with the author. The comedian once had the opportunity to meet Vonnegut, but the friend who was supposed to set up the rendezvous was unreliable. “Even so, I like to believe it could have happened,” Black says.
A parade of potential charities lobbies for any celebrity’s time, but Black says his decision to help the Indianapolis-based organization was personal. “I wanted to be a part of keeping his work alive,” he says. “I wanted to help keep his candle lit.”
How that will manifest is yet to be seen. When asked how he would like the KVML to evolve over the next few years, Black responds, “Ask me in a few months, but I think it has been doing an incredible job of evolving without my two cents.”
And for now?
“I hope the world beats a path to its doorway,” Black says. “Or at least sends in a little cash.”