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Words of Wisdom from Comedian Black at UCSD: Beware of Idiots

Money doesn’t define success, he said, urging 1,200 Thurgood Marshall College graduates to seek their own path to happiness.

Story by Ken Stone and photos by Chris Stone

In his first ever commencement address, comedian Lewis Black urged UCSD graduates Saturday to relish and cultivate a sense of humor, which he called “your life preserver in what could definitely be a veil of tears.”

Humor, he told 1,200 graduates of Thurgood Marshall College, “will keep you sane in the midst of the madness you’ll encounter … every day of your life.”

Black was introduced by Provost Allan Havis, a friend and classmate of Black 35 years ago at Yale—where the comic earned a master’s degree in fine arts.

“Seriously, you’re the first school to have asked me” to speak at graduation, said Black, 64, clearly touched despite his jokes about it. “It is an honor that I will not forget.”

Black told Patch that UCSD first asked him to speak at least four years ago, but he had work conflicts.

Known for his finger-shaking profane riffs on politics and social issues as a stand-up comic and guest on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Black noted his background in theater.

He never swore during his 13-minute talk—which was supposed to be five minutes—but his humor was as raw as ever.

“You are now entering a world filled to the brim with idiots,” he said with his trademark anger. “Since there are so many idiots out there, you may actually start to think you’re crazy. You are not. They are idiots.”

Amid repeated laughter from the estimated 11,000 friends and family members, Black warned: “Whatever you do, don’t tell the idiot that they are an idiot. There may come a day when you may need that idiot.

“Idiots may be idiots, but they do have a memory.”

Black touched on many topics at the RIMAC Field ceremonies—including taxes, Social Security and “rules that are stupid are made to be broken.”

But he made a point of calling the college experience “the best years of your life.”

It will never be this good again, he said, stressing never.

“If these weren’t the best years of your life, then start over,” he said, stressing start.

He said everyone has a funny story to tell from their collegiate years—“except [Facebook founder] Mark Zuckerberg  He apparently spent his college career designing a program to locate friends who didn’t want to be found.”

Early in the 8 a.m. ceremony, Grant M. Burger-White, an ethnic studies major, gave a passionate speech that brought tears to some people.

Black said afterward that he went through five or six drafts of the speech, which he deemed too serious at one point during writing at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

He told Patch he sent it to fellow comedian Kathleen Madigan for her review, suggesting it needed to be lightened up.

Black’s main point: “Pursue whatever it is that you want to do with your life. It’s the only secret to happiness that I know of—except for maybe true love and maybe the amazing health insurance plan that our congressmen have.”

He repeatedly said money didn’t define success and added: “Remember, when you make the world a better place for everyone, you’ve [made it] a better place for yourself.

“A lot of people don’t agree with that. They,” he said with a pause, “are idiots.”

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