I spoke with Michael Ian Black while writing for the New York Daily News, and Black wasn’t quite sure he’d be able to sell those readers on why they should see him perform.
He’d just released his first stand-up CD, "I am a Wonderful Man," on Comedy Central Records and was heading out on a fall tour Oct. 7 with longtime friend and collaborator Michael Showalter. But Black, after a rapid-fire exchange to determine that it is, in fact, me calling him at his Connecticut home, acknowledged that he was not sure he was ready for the Daily News readers.
"I feel like my sensibility and the Daily News readers’ sensibilities don’t mesh," he said. "They may not know who I am, or if they do know who I am, not care for me much…If they come to the show, they’ll get a pat on the head, a hug, maybe a dollar. But I’m not sure they really care about me."
Most New York City comedy bloggers love you and Showalter and David Wain, though.
"We represent in some ways the best of New York, which is to say, we’re well, I’m only speaking in comparison to L.A., we’ve failed. We haven’t achieved mainstream success in anything we’ve ever done, and in New York, that’s sort of considered a badge of honor. You can hold you head high that you’ve failed in every single thing that you’ve done. You can’t do that in L.A. But here it’s a badge of honor…honestly, though, all I want to do is sell out."
Doesn’t Comedy Central Records count?
"You think records sell?"
Maybe you just need to Dane Cook it up?
"I can’t. I like Dane Cook, but I can’t do what he does, which is be successful. When you open your album screaming ‘White power, yay!" that’s not a sign of success."
He then brings it back to us.
"Cops read the Daily News. Not my demo. Although you’ll see some cool cops."
I mention running into a couple of cops while reporting a story today about filming the new George Clooney and Brad Pitt film in Brooklyn. He says he could never be like them because they’re successful. I suggest he could be a sidekick in one of their movies.
"At best, I could be Casey Affleck. In my dream world I’m Casey Affleck."
So that’s why you have to go on tour, then, to find your people?
"I’ve got to find my people somewhere. But I don’t know that there’s enough of them to be considered a people. We’re like the lowland gorillas. Endangered bordering on extinct. My fans are essentially disenfranchised young people, which is what I was. Now I’m disenfranchised and middle-aged."
You’re not that disenfranchised, are you, now?
"Well, I am talking to you from my mansion in Connecticut. OK, it’s not a mansion, but it’s a very nice home, which I purchased with my easy money — all that easy Sierra Mist money."
What made you decide to pursue stand-up?
"It is a craft that I have long admired and always feared. The reason I decided to do stand-up is the same reason I decided to go skydiving. It was so terrifying that it had to be good for me. When i jumped out of a plane, much like the first time i did stand-up, both occasions I threw up all over myself…But with skydiving, you do it once and go, OK, I did that. With stand-up, you do it once and you keep wanting to do it."
"It’s one of the higher artforms. And I know most people will disagree with me on that…if you’re a comedian and you go onstage in front of an audience, and perform for an hour to an hour and a half, where they know your job is to make them laugh, that’s a mighty difficult task, and when it’s done well, I think it’s a mighty high artform."
What did you learn from your first stand-up tour with Showalter?
"I learned he needs to smoke every 45 miles. If you’re driving. you can count on stopping every 45 miles either for a cigarette or coffee. Not for me. That’s all for him."
He couldn’t smoke out the window?
"I forbade him from doing it. It’s such a pain in the ass to stop every hour."
Unless you planned your tour so each city was an hour apart.
"Yeah, we couldn’t do that…well, Tiffany started with a mall tour…Maybe we could go from Waffle House to Waffle House. But then again, that’s not our demo."
What about what you learned about doing stand-up?
"I learned a lot about how to attack material in terms of a night-to-night basis, how to alter things, how to listen to the audience, you learn something new every night. You have to remember, I’ve only been doing stand-up for a couple of years. So I’m very very new to stand-up so I’m very much on the upside of my learning curve — which is probably not the best time to be putting out an album…But I like it. I’m proud of it. I think it’s a good snapshot of what I’m doing, which will be of the utmost interest to my immediate."
How much did all of your contributions to VH1’s "I love the 80s" help train you in the art of writing stand-up?
"Zero…you would think I would be able to translate those skills to stand-up…I’m not smart enough. I don’t have those eureka moments where I say, ‘If I just demonstrated those same skills that i so ably showed on ‘I Love the 80s’ and showed them onstage…"
What happened with the Comedy Central pilot, "Michael Ian Black Doesn’t Understand?"
"They decided two days ago that they did not need that pilot on their schedule for the upcoming year."
Can you sell the pilot elsewhere?
"I guess theoretically, yeah. But I’m moving on. I’m going to develop something else for them. They’re a great company. They really are. I really like everybody over there."
I guess they wanted Mind of the Mencia more, though.
"He’s doing something right. I can’t tell you what it is, but he’s doing it."
Most comedians say being married and having kids automatically gives you more material. Do you believe that?
"I’m just…(sigh)…I don’t know…The truth is, I’m really just not like Ray Romano, where my life informs my stand-up. I don’t have the ability to look at the foibles of my life and see the humor in it. I look at the foibles of my own life and wish I was dead. So it’s different…I just try to write about what’s interesting to me in the moment."
And what might that be these days?
"Panty lines. I’m sort of interested in panty lines and why women are so obsessed with panty lines. I guess the thought is, ‘I hope he doesn’t think I’m wearing underwear.’ That’s a funny line."
Do you try to write every day or do you jot down things when they come to you?
"Every day I say to myself, I’m going to devote an hour to writing jokes, and then I don’t…I’m hoping to write jokes when I’m touring…I’m so busy doing other things that I haven’t had the time, and when I say other things, I mean, of course, online Boggle. Writing jokes is really hard, and I don’t have the energy to do it — not when there’s Boggle to be played."
Do you carry around a recorder or a pad, though?
"I really have to sit down and just start writing and then I’ll go back and see if there’s anything that can be construed as somewhat funny that I can go back and make into something larger."
Both Wain and Showalter now do Internet videos. Do you feel that’s something you want to do, need to do?
"It’s definitely not something I feel the need to do. Would I do it? Yeah, if I have the right idea for it. I’m so lazy, the thought of devoting a lot of time to developing and making Internet videos really bums me out. If I lived in the city, perhaps I’d feel more jazzed up about it, but I live out in the wilds of Connecticut."
What about your other writing? Weren’t you writing for Cracked magazine during its brief stint?
"I was editor at large. I destroyed that just like I destroyed everything else I’ve been a part of…I’m actually writing a book, it’s called ‘Michael Ian Black is a Celebrity Very Famous.’ That’ll come out next summer."
Is that based on your McSweeney’s essays?
"Yes, well, I liked how that sounded, it is a funny title, a la ‘I’m a Wonderful Man,’ self-aggrandizing, that type of thing."
That can still win people over, though.
"If there’s enough self-loathing behind it, then yes, it feels funny. Craig Kilborn probably couldn’t get away with it. but I probably could."
What is Kilborn up to, anyhow?
"I don’t know. I haven’t spoken to him in weeks."
Related: His new CD
Related: His fall tour with Michael Showalter
Oct 7., The Gothic Theatre, Englewood CO
Oct 9., Neumos, Seattle WA
Oct 10., Aladdin Theater, Portland OR
Oct 12., The Fillmore, San Francisco CA
Oct 13., Ivar Theatre, Hollywood CA
Oct 14., The Courtyard House of Blues, Las Vegas NV
Oct 15., House of Blues, San Diego CA
Oct 24., Roxy Theatre, Atlanta GA
Oct 26., The Social, Orlando FL
Nov 29., Somerville Theatre, Somerville MA
Nov 30., The Fillmore at Theatre of Living Arts, Philadelphia PA
They’re also at The Fillmore (Irving Plaza) in NYC on Dec. 1.