Lewis Black to Loop Fans Into Live, On-Stage Rants Online

Acerbic comic Lewis Black, in a bid to drive up paying fan-club memberships, will invite viewers watching his live performances over the Internet to submit topics and questions — about which he promises to then unleash a torrent of invective.

The online audience participation will kick off with “Lewis Black: The Rant Is Due” live from City Winery in Napa, Calif., July 11 and 12, and will be featured with other upcoming shows. The live video stream will be available to members of the official Lewis Black Fan Club ($20 per year), while a $10 “weekend pass” also will provide entree to the live stream.

For the bulk of the one-hour performances, the irascible and profane 65-year-old comedian will accept topic suggestions on stage from in-theater audience members as well as from viewers watching over the Internet. Questions will be moderated by comedian-actor Kathleen Madigan.

“It’s true improv. As the show grows, our ability to connect with audiences away from the theater will expand more,” said Benjamin Brewer, exec producer at Stark Raving Black Prods., the comic’s production company.

This weekend’s live streams of “The Rant Is Due” will be the first available to fan-club members, who also receive special access to ticket sales and merchandise discounts. Previously, Black’s live comedy specials have been made available in pay-per-view format through pay-TV distributors. With Internet streaming, “We wanted to move to a new model that’s more current,” Brewer said.

The Lewis Black Fan Club — soft-launched about a year ago through FanAsylum and officially known as the Frustrated Union of Cynical Kindreds Universal, or “F.U.C.K.U.” — has around 1,500 members right now. “One reason to go out with ‘The Rant’ online is to say ‘thank you’ to people who have jumped on board (as members),” Brewer said.

To deliver the interactive live-video event, Stark Raving Black selected MobileRider’s FanConnect platform, which uses Akamai Technologies’ content delivery network service. Fans will be able to send improv suggestions directly to Black’s tablet — while he’s fuming on stage — through MobileRider’s HTML5-based app and Twitter.

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