Michael Ian Black on the joys of commercial failure
By Travis Hoewischer
7 Comments Photo courtesy Schacter Entertainment
Michael Ian Black is funnier in a day of tweeting than most people will be all year:
"Confirmed again today that I like boobs."
“Finally heard the Mel Gibson tape. I hate to say it, but I don’t think he and his girlfriend are going to make it.”
“If the choice is between seeing morbidly obese people walking around or people with yoga mats, I’ll take the fatties.”
“No matter how many cardigan sweaters I wear, it seems like Prince is still a sexier motherf***er than me.”
“In Canada. Hoping to get diagnosed with a very expensive disease while I’m here.”
Yeah, and that’s just a Wednesday. Then again, it’s the kind of output knowledgeable fans would expect from Black, the comedy equivalent of the veteran utility infielder.
You need someone to make up for the numerous unfunny schmucks on I Love the ’80s? You need someone to play a gay demon? An oversexed pudding salesman? A dude named Johnny Bluejeans? Bring in Black. The dude’s funny in any situation.
He and his cohorts from the mid-’90s MTV cult sketch show The State have since planted themselves, at least temporarily, in several critical niches, with alums of the show comprising most of the Reno 911! cast, playing key bit roles in mainstream comedies, as well as their brilliant summer camp spoof, Wet Hot American Summer.
Black carries himself in that rare Carlin-like manner, where he is equal parts silly and endearing, biting and smearing. Case in point: on his blog, he had words for those who had accused him of “selling out” for accepting advertisement deals on his Twitter feed. His response? Pure pro.
I’m sorry if it pisses anybody off, but if you are upset, I know what will make you feel better: a delicious Klondike bar washed down with an icy cold Sierra Mist.
That’s what the Brits call “taking a piss.”
Black, who will appear at the Columbus Funny Bone August 20th and 21st, took time away from his vacation to wax further on Twitter, his place in the comedy world, and let (614) pitch him the ultimate project that will bring him mainstream success.
Are you surprised when people accuse comics of “selling out?”
I find it kind of maddening. I think a lot of artists these days - I use that word sparingly - have the same frustration, which is that the arts have become commodified because of the Internet. You can get anything you want for free, which as a consumer, I’m thrilled about. But, as someone who is trying to create content for a living and support themselves, it can be a challenge. Twitter, in particular, is providing a platform for people to speak - which is great - but they are the sole benefactor. It’s not like they’re a non-profit group trying to save the planet - they’re a company trying to make money, just like everybody else. It’s frustrating for me when people get up in arms when an artist tries to get compensation for what they do.
I think people feel the same way about the media. Yeah, news on the Internet is “free,” but someone should be compensated for generating it.
It’s just a weird time in terms of how we think about the intersection between art and commerce. Maybe it’s preposterous to be able to think you can make a living doing this. I mean, ultimately, what I’m doing is making dick jokes. (laughs)
And some fine dick jokes they are. I enjoy that you bill them on your blog as a “steady stream” of dick jokes. Packs more of a punch that way.
(Laughs) A steady stream of, hopefully, medium-quality dick jokes. It’s interesting, because since I’ve started accepting ads, which I believe there are three, I feel a bigger obligation to be entertaining. I actually feel like they’re getting more for their money in a weird way, because I’m thinking about being funny rather than just posting what comes to my head. I guess I still do that, I’m just more judicious about it now.
Well certainly. Somebody backs it now, you kinda have to deliver, give it your all.
I don’t know if I would say I give it my all (laughs) - I certainly give it something.
Back to the dick jokes. Is there a Holy Grail or go-to that you’re most proud of?
Nope. They are all my children - I care not at all about any of them.
How did you decide to go out on your own as Michael Ian Black, rather than working on stage, or on camera with ensembles?
I am doing it because it’s a challenge, and because I have always admired standup comedians; I’ve always admired the craft of it. But, I’ve never had the time to devote to it. Now seemed like as good a time as any to see if I could do it in a way that made me proud.
How have the shows been so far? Any rough nights?
The crowds have been great. I don’t really have any of the comedian horror stories because I’ve been fortunate, in that I don’t have to show up at an open mic night at a Mexican place at 2 a.m. and make three people laugh.
Yeah, but that would be awesome if you did. It would be fun to go down to the Mexican joint and slay those three people.
Oh no. It would be fun in the telling of the story. Not fun to do. That would be horrible. (laughs) See, that’s the thing, I never wanted to pay my dues, go through the horrors and rigors - I’ve got horrors and rigors of my own.
So, your advice to any young comedian would be to make sure to get a popular show on MTV?
That would be my first piece of advice, yes.
Is it weird to look around and see everyone from The State, essentially your college buddies, on different TV networks and in movies?
Yeah, but the thing is, when you’re in this industry, you end up knowing everyone. We are all proud of what we do, but the novelty of seeing your friends on different shows has worn off - to the extent that now, my only real thought is: How come that f***ing guy got a job and I didn’t?
Ha! Now, your first thought is sabotage?
It’s only about sabotage. Sabotage and schadenfreude.
Well, you do know those guys better than any; you should be able to throw some dirt on them.
I know, but the problem is, any dirt on actors or comedians only helps them. There’s nothing bad you can say about them … except pedophilia.
Yeah, that’s still pretty taboo.
Yeah, nobody would believe me if I accused 10 other people - who all happen to be in my old sketch group. Unless I was also implicating myself.
Were there comedians who influenced you?
The ones I was aware of, and thought were great, were Woody Allen, George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy … I thought Sam Kinison was really funny.
Any projects you would still like to do? You’ve done such a variety already.
What I would like … is for something I do to be successful. That would be terrific. (laughs) If I could do something that was accepted by the mainstream, that would be fantastic. Barring thaaattt? I’m content doing what I’m doing. I’ve got a nice job floating around, doing different things. I’m not locked into anything. There’s a lot of advantage to being a commercial failure.
Here’s your chance: pitch me the mainstream project that will put you over the top.
I wish I had it. I wish I were capable of coming up with those sorts of ideas.
What if you pitch The Cosby Show back to NBC, with the entire original cast, only with you as Bill Cosby?
I like that! Can we use their scripts? I think that’s a pretty good idea. But again, that’s a good idea to you and me - I don’t think America is ready to accept me as Bill Cosby … with Phylicia Rashad as my wife.
Michael Ian Black Performs @ The Columbus Funny Bone
145 Easton Town Center
August 20th - 21st
8 p.m. and 10:15 p.m. nightly