It's hard to get the full effect of Lewis Black's gloriously bitter comedy if you're only listening to him -- watching the man work himself up into a lather with jowls shaking, beads of spittle flying from his lips, and his eyes bulging from his sockets as if his head is about to burst open from sheer pent-up rage adds immeasurably to the effect of his barbed, pungent wit. But at the same time, the intelligence and reason behind his wrath often projects better through repeated listening on CD than it does by watching the man threatening to erupt on-stage, and 2003's Rules of Enragement captures Black at the height of his powers both as a high-pressured comic and as a incisive political satirist. While Black's rants about winter in Minnesota, the evils of soymilk, and how the Irish brought alcohol and Catholicism together are reasonably standard stuff, they're also smart and exceptionally funny, and Black's unceasing barrage of bad karma gives even his most mainstream material a fierce edge. It's when he moves on to deeper matters -- America's failure to keep its water supply clean ("We buy bottles of water from Pepsi and Coke, because if ANYBODY knows water, it's Pepsi and Coke!"), political and corporate corruption ("If big oil gave anybody in this room 31 million bucks, you'd be THRILLED to be big oil's bitch"), and various varieties of post-September 11 malaise ("How do we bring democracy to Iraq? What do we do, give 'em our civics books? 'Read this, it's crackerjack material!'") -- that Black proves he can be every bit as funny while dipping his toes into provocative material that sadly few contemporary comics would have the courage to touch. While not the full-on flamethrower of David Cross' epochal Shut Up, You Fucking Baby!, Rules of Enragement is a similarly powerful bit of no-holds-barred standup comedy that proves the furious provocation of Lenny Bruce, Bill Hicks, and Richard Pryor is thankfully still alive in American humor. Or at least it's still alive until Black gives himself a stroke.
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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming