Though best known perhaps for his appearances on Vh1 talking head nostalgia programs, Michael Ian Black is probably most beloved for his sketch comedy work on “The State” and for the sitcom “Stella” with fellow State members David Wain and Michael Showalter. In recent years, Black also has embarked on a stand-up career which brought the release of his first CD “I am a Wonderful Man” earlier this year. I talked to Black about his stand-up in contrast to his years as a performer at the alternative show “Eating It”, the upcoming movie he scripted entitled “Run Fatboy Run” and the ubiquity of cell phone cameras at shows and why he hates them.
Note: I talked to Black around the release of his CD but just got to transcribing it now. So if there’s any weird timeline issues, that’s why.
I saw you at “Eating It” a lot back in its early days at Rebar and at Luna Lounge and it’s interesting how your stand-up is now compared to then. It’s a bit more traditional now. And I was wondering if you could trace that for me.
Well, when I was doing Luna and before that Rebar, I was really experimenting with different forms of what comedy could be. I was just sort of playing with ideas. I was not really developed as a solo comedian – I had never done it before and was just playing around.
And so, it was all experimental. Over time, I wanted to – I’d always admired stand-up comedians and wanted to understand how to do what they do. It was just interesting to me. So over the past couple of years I just started doing traditional stand-up. Because I admire the craft so much. I admire people who can just get up on the stage and make people laugh. I wasn’t so interested in being Andy Kaufman-esque anymore or esoteric or weird. I wanted to just be able to get on the stage and not have people know who I am and be able to make them laugh. I thought that was an admirable goal.
It’s totally an admirable goal. But I think part of your stand-up now is informed by that experience. There’s some conceptual stuff…
I guess it does. I don’t really think of it that way. It’s just the kind of comedy I write. So I don’t think of “this is one thing and this is another” so much as I’m just trying to write jokes.
I know I’m probably getting a little esoteric here. Part of what I do is analyzing comedy. So I get that response – it’s a good one. Jokes are a bit like magic. They come out of the ether and they just work.
For me, I’m not an accomplished enough a comedian that I know how to do that. That I know how to write a joke and it works. Or doesn’t work. For me, so much is trial and error. And something I think is funny and bring to stage just gets crickets. Or vice versa. Something I don’t have a lot of faith in plays very well.
Was there anything on the CD that you kind of discovered?
A few things that you hear on that album weren’t written and just kind of came out of my mouth. Or jokes that I just hadn’t performed before or literally had just written that day.
That’s pretty ballsy to do.
Well it is and it isn’t. I knew I had an act. And I felt like if things don’t work, I’ll just cut them out. (laughs) That’s the nice thing about audio editing.
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