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Contributed by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor
for Radio Free Entertainment

July 29, 2006

When Bartleby Gaines (Justin Long), a street-smart but unmotivated high school graduate, fails to get accepted by a single college, he concocts an elaborate scheme with the help of his best friend (Jonah Hill) to create a fictitious university called the South Harmon Institute of Technology. But problems arise when their ruse is too convincing, and a fully-functioning website capable of taking applications leads to a flood of similarly-rejected collegiate prospects showing up on their doorstep. Bartleby is suddenly faced with the responsibility of educating an entire student body, all while dealing with his parents' expectations and pining for the girl of his dreams (Blake Lively).

Accepted is a fun and entertaining comedy, and if all institutes of higher learning were like South Harmon, with their unstructured classes and first-rate party facilities, college really would live up to the old cliche of being "the best years of your life."

In this interview, comedian Lewis Black, who plays a former educator who masquerades as the dean of South Harmon, talks about working on the movie and translating his rage-filled stand-up routine for the big screen.

The Interview

MEDIA: How much of what you did in this movie was actually in the script?

LEWIS: It's tough to say, because there's the fine line between what they wrote, what I was doing on the set...We were rewriting. I wouldn't even call it rewriting, because I was doing it. [Producer Tom Shadyac] was there and [director Steve Pink] was there, and I would do something and then they would take some of that, put it back together with something else I did and something from the script. And then, after we'd do a scene and there was a break, I would rewrite what I thought they wanted for the speech and hand it to them, and then they'd rewrite it back and me and that was the way we kind of arrived.

Were you the "cool guy" amongst the college-aged kids on set?

Oh, boy. They seem to like me. They do. And I think the reason it works is because I'm emotionally stunted. I have not changed, really, much of my personal philosophy--and this might be sad--since I was 22. When I came out of school, I looked at the world that way. I have not changed the way that I look at the world, so I think in a lot of ways, I'm looking at it the way they look at it. And I express frustration, anger, and rage, which I think kids...You know, that's a big part, growing up as a kid, is overcoming that, and I was lucky enough to find a career where I could build on it...Without them, I'd have no career. My generation didn't find me. Their generation found me. And it wasn't like I wasn't wandering around looking to be found.

You're known for expressing a lot of anger and rage in your stand-up. How is it different playing that on the big screen?

I mean, a lot of what it had to do with was trust. I had to trust Steven and Tom...Because my tendency is from the 5,000 commercial auditions that I went to, where they'd go, "Well, you know why you're here." And then I'd do what I'd do and they'd go, "Well, that's too angry." So I would have to really trust these guys. And they really kind of guided me along, so I became more comfortable. They let me be pretty big and I was afraid that it might not work. But I've done four movies in a row, because apparently all the actors have died. So as a result, I've been able to kind of learn it as I've gone along.

Do you buy that sometimes life experience can be better than a regimented college, or is that just foolish hippie talk on my part?

No, that's not foolish talk. There's no such thing. No, foolish hippy talk is what you hear when you go to Bonnaroo or Coachella, where they're all drifting around in a mushroom haze--not that I'm against it. I don't think it's that crazy. An actor and a comic who opens for me, John Bowman, really was like in high school and was losing his grip, and if he didn't have that teacher who basically spent the time looking for where to direct him...And that's part of it too, which is why I think that, in part, life experience is kind of important, because it helps you guide the student to where they should be, and I don't think it's that crazy. The thing is that in a lot of ways, this very commercial movie is a subversive movie. It's certainly not going to change anything, but this kind of message hasn't been out there in a long time.

The students in Accepted get to create their own classes. What made-up course would you like to take?

My class would be "Just Give Me Three Hours To Read In Total Silence." It would.

And what course would you like to teach?

If I taught, I know what I would teach. I'd teach (I have for years) stand-up comedy. I did it up at Williamstown for like 10 years and I did it for another theater for a long time. It's teaching the experience of stand-up, because I think it does that thing that Oprah likes to talk about--empowerment. It does empower the individual. It's the closest thing you can come to that course that that f*cker was getting away with where he had people coming in and they'd run over hot coals. Somehow their lives changed. But it's the same sort of thing, especially for an actor or somebody in theater. It's the only thing that teaches acting, writing, and directing simultaneously. And it's an easy course to teach, because inevitably the way it works is they teach each other. Once they get rolling, I just do guidance.

To what degree do you aspire to doing other roles, or to what degree are you comfortable with the "Lewis Black role"?

I'd be nuts [to change]. It'd be like Lassie saying he doesn't really like being Lassie. "You know, I'd really like to be Rin-Tin-Tin." I mean, there are shades of difference. I think there are certain things that I can do. The more that that acting door got open this year, the more I kind of realized there's a lot of stuff I can do. I did a pilot for Comedy Central called The Red State Diaries in which I don't yell. I had one, maybe, meltdown. But basically, I don't yell a lot. And it tested well, but Comedy Central said, "Well, he doesn't yell enough." And yes, when I showed it to people, it was still funny. So I know that I'm capable of communicating without screaming.

Did your experience making Accepted provide any inspiration for stand-up material?

No. And that's the problem with movies. You can't really go on stage and bitch about, "Well, I had a trailer. And then I had to wait around so I had to watch a couple movies. And then they brought me dinner." There's nothing you can f*cking do. What it did do, I think, was have a real big effect on my performance as a comic. I felt very comfortable on stage for quite a long time and I get more comfortable, but it shocked me, when I did the HBO special, how much more comfortable I felt. And I got through the second night and I'd flown back from a movie set the night before, I'd been working 10 straight days, I thought, "This is going to be f*cked." I had gone up and done shows that night and I thought I'd drop dead, and then a third of the way through the second show, I went, "I feel way too comfortable." And I think it had an effect on my comfort level. As much as it's taking time to do this, kind of undermines writing time, it allows me to feel free to write on stage, which is the way I work anyway.

How much effort does it take to get riled up on stage like you do?

It's not tough, because something happens every day that just sets you on edge. My energy this morning came from being in an airport and standing in that line in Vegas and looking around. You'd have thought they were handing free sh*t out.

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