Michael Ian Black Is Very Famous
New one hour special debuts on Comedy Central August 5
Since emerging in the early 1990’s as one of the breakout stars of MTV’s sketch comedy show The State, Michael Ian Black has created a successful career for himself over the years as a multi-faceted renaissance man. After the demise of The State, Black would go on to form the short-lived sketch comedy show Viva Variety and starred in numerous films, most notably as part of the ensemble cast of 1997’s epic Wet Hot American Summer. Black has maintained a constant presence on television playing scene stealing characters and as a memorable run a pitchman for Sierra Mist.
In the past few years Black has written and published several books, both for children and adults, and is currently working on his next book which he will co-author with Megan Mcain, daughter of former presidential nominee Senator John Mcain. Black is currently hosting Snark Week on Comedy Central, (a parody of the Discovery Channel’s highly successful Shark Week) leading up the Saturday August 6 premiere of his new one hour special, Very Famous.
SanDiego.com had a chance to speak with Black from his home in Connecticut and discovered his process for working on new material and what fans can expect to see on his upcoming Black And White Tour which kicks off later this month.
Where are you at right now?
Michael Ian Black: I’m at home in the wild of Connecticut.
Being that you live in Connecticut, do you do a lot of stand-up when you’re at home during the week or is that something you have to drive into New York for?
MIB: No I don’t go up at all when I’m home. I don’t perform really at all when I’m here. I don’t even go into New York really to perform. I generally don’t really do stand-up unless I’m out on the road.
Do you remember the very first time you did stand-up?
MIB: It would be hard for me to date it exactly because I had sort of messed around with stand-up in the early and mid-nineties when in New York; they were calling it an alternative comedy scene. I had messed around a lot with that and Stella in its early incarnation, that was stand-up in a certain way, and then I finally sort of evolved into the stand-up that you’re talking about after I Love The 80’s started on VH1. I started getting calls from colleges to come and perform.
Would you say that was the impetus for you to start pursuing stand-up?
MIB: Yeah that was the first step, and then graduating from colleges to comedy clubs and starting to think of myself as somebody who does stand-up comedy. It was a long process of thinking of myself as a comedian.
From your experience, what are the defining characteristics between performing comedy solo and with a group?
MIB: Certainly as a stand-up you have a lot more freedom, which is great. You’re beholden to nobody on the stage except yourself. You’re unfettered. There’s a lot more freedom there’s a lot more maneuverability. There’s also a lot more risk, there’s nobody who can pick you up if you stumble, you have to do it yourself. It feels scarier which can be a good thing. The advantages of working with a group are you’ve got other people there to collaborate with, work with and bounce things off of. And that’s also really fun. They’re both fun they’re just kind of different.
You mentioned the word “scarier.” After years of performing both solo and in groups, do you still get that adrenaline rush or have you become a hardened performer where it’s become second nature?
MIB: No, it’s definitely not second nature, I definitely get nervous. It’s always, to use a cliché, a high wire act. You always feel like you’re walking that high wire. Every show’s different. There’s like a thousand things going through your head at once as you’re up on that stage as you’re reacting to the audience and reacting to yourself and trying to get the jokes out and thinking of new things as they happen. Sometimes there are technical things you’re thinking about; it’s a lot to keep in your head as you’re trying to appear as effortless as you possibly can on stage in front of 400 or 500 people. It’s hard to get complacent doing that I think. There’s definitely nights where I feel like I’m going through the motions but then when that happens, you feel like you’re fighting that and that sort of snaps you out of your complacency. I’m still maybe new enough at it that it continues to surprise me and throw me for a loop every night.
When you’re out on the road, do you find yourself doing a lot of improvisation and crowd work?
MIB: I will react to whatever’s going on, so if there’s something going on in the crowd that I feel that I need or want to address then I do. Sometimes that can be really fertile, sometimes not.
Can you recall your most recent fertile moment?
MIB: Well, there’s a moment that wasn’t as fertile but was definitely me reacting to the crowd was, I was talking about Obama and somebody basically compared him to Hitler. I kind of just lost my shit and just sort of went after the guy in a very confrontational, non-amusing just yelling kind of way. And that wasn’t that funny. It wasn’t that funny at all, but I definitely reacted. Had it gotten violent, I would’ve just started crying.
Do you get a lot of hecklers?
MIB: Yeah I do. Generally when people think of hecklers they think of people yelling at you and saying things like, ‘You suck!’ and ‘Get off the stage!’ and all that. I rarely have people yelling anything mean to me but they do disrupt the show often by just yelling my resume out at me, which is a weird thing to experience. You’re doing your show and someone yells out, ‘Stella!’ I know I was in Stella, I know that. You’re not giving me any information that I don’t already have, and you’re not really contributing to the show.
That’s not even an obscure reference.
MIB: Well sometimes they can be obscure. A lot of times, they are obscure and they can be things that nobody else in the crowd knows about except for me and that person. It’s just not helping anything and I’ve yet to figure out the reaction that they’re looking for. I don’t know what the proper response to that is.
What has been your standard response?
MIB: It really just depends on what’s going on. Sometimes I will point out that I know. Thank you and I know. Whatever information you think you’re giving me I already have, so thank you. And then please just shut the fuck up.
Do you sell merchandise after your shows?
MIB: I don’t really sell anything. I should, but I don’t. The thought of going out there and selling things just seems so depressing to me. I probably should be out there selling shit. It just seems like such a bummer. Someone coming up and saying, ‘Do you have change for a twenty?’ And me going, ‘Yeah, let me see, I don’t know.’
How long did it take you to work on the material that’s on Very Famous? And where did you work on it?
MIB: I was touring. I was all over the country, just doing shows and trying to make it as good as I can make it.
Do you have any plans to watch you special when it airs on Saturday?
MIB: I haven’t even thought about it, honestly. I probably won’t watch it. I don’t like to watch myself on T.V.
Does your wife watch you when you’re on television?
MIB: Not much. I don’t tell her a lot of the times when I’m on because I don’t want her watching. I’m too insecure.
That’s strange, you seem so confident.
MIB: Oh, I just speak well. I speak loudly and clearly and you’re mistaking that for confidence.
I follow you on Twitter (@michaelianblack) and really love what you’ve done with the medium, and noticed that earlier today you posted a tweet about your to-do-list. What’s on your list?
MIB: It was write new book, edit old book, think of pitch, work on this movie that I’m working on and write stand-up.
So there was no sign of the interviews you had scheduled today.
MIB: Well, that was already in my head. I knew that was going to happen. I didn’t feel the need to put it on my to-do-list. I have a bunch of things I need to do before the end of the year, and that’s the five.
Can you shed any light on this new book, or is that still the gestation process?
MIB: I have two books coming out, one’s coming out in February I think, called You’re Not Doing It Right, that’s what edit old book is. And the new book is a book that I’m writing with Megan McCain which is going to be a humorous political book.
How did you get hooked up with Megan McCain?
MIB: I tweeted her and said, ‘Do you want to write a book?’ and she said, ‘Alright.’
Twitter has become a great platform for you?
MIB: For me, Twitter has been a real boon.
Do you have animals at home?
MIB: I do; I have a dog and a cat.
Do they get along?
MIB: They get along fine. They mostly ignore each other.
Do you have any cute photos of them hanging out together?
MIB: No, I don’t think we have any pictures of them together. It’s a lot like my relationship with my wife.
Do you find yourself writing a lot of material you’re out in public living your life?
MIB: Not really, I have to be really conscious of it. I don’t do it nearly enough. I wish I did it more. There are times when I’m not thinking of stand-up at all when I’m working on other things, and so probably many moments of hilarity escape into the ether because I did not register them as moments of hilarity.
When you head out on the road later this month are you going to be working on new stuff or can audiences expect to hear choice cuts from Very Famous and I Am A Wonderful Man?
MIB: I’m going to be working on new stuff. The goal is to have another hour of new comedy fairly soon. Hopefully they’re seeing a lot of new stuff. How much, I don’t know. That will really depend on how much I’m able to write between now and then. And so far, if today is to be believed: zero.
What is your favorite snack?
MIB: The only snack that’s actually in my rider is Rold Gold Pretzel Sticks. But nobody ever gets them for me; nobody pays attention to the rider. It’ll be pretzels from some random pretzel making company in whatever random pretzel form they choose to take. That’s not what I want. I want Rold Gold Pretzel Sticks.
Why do you have references to Satan in the liner notes of both your albums?
MIB: I’m just nuts about evil. I’ll take evil over good any day of the week.
Does Michael Ian Black have a message for the children?
Michael Ian Black: Just do whatever your parents ask you to do, do it with a smile on your face and a song in your heart, and then drop out of school.
Michael Ian Black’s one hour special, Very Famous premieres on Comedy Central August 6 at 11 p.m.