Web Exclusive: Interview with Michael Ian Black (2007)
Even crack journalists like New Times own Ashley Harrell harbor secret crushes. Her decade-long infatuation with Michael Ian Black started back in the ´90s when he first crossed her televisions screen in the sketch comedy masterpiece The State; It has remained tucked away in her hearts locket well into adulthood. So when word got out that MIB is heading to BPB, we sent her on a mission: Interview and flirt shamelessly with this stand-up dude, and document the whole blush-inducing ordeal in a Q&A for you loyal NT readers.
Michael Ian Black comedian, writer, actor, and Sierra Mist spokeshottie is touring the country doing stand-up with fellow The State cast member, Michael Showalter. Its tough going, what with Showalter demanding they stop for cigarettes, Starbucks, and taking a dump every half hour. And then theres the debilitating all-night poker playing. But the two alternative comedy heroes deserve a break. Theyve both released new stand-up albums and Black recently co-wrote the movie Run, Fatboy, Run, a comedy directed by David Schwimmer premiering in March. Showalter and Black are soon reuniting with the other nine cast members of The State to make a movie for Comedy Central, which Black admits hes freaking out about. He also discloses his love of Taco Bell, his secret dreams of becoming an ice cream entrepreneur, and his fondness for tympani.
NT: New Times, this is Ashley.
MIB: Hi Ashley, Its Michael Ian black calling.
NT: Oh, youre the guy from those Sierra Mist commercials, right?
MIB: Thats right. Thats right. I understand Im supposed to talk to you.
NT: Okay. I want to tell you Ive been a huge fan of yours since seventh grade.
MIB: So you were making a little joke about Sierra Mist.
NT:Yeah, yeah, was it funny?
MIB: Well, no, because I thought you were serious.
MIB: Well yeah.
NT: Oh no. Thats horrible. This is getting off to a terrible start.
MIB: Well, so many people say to that me. And then I say, yes I am.
NT: So how are you feeling today?
MIB: Im a little sleepy. Well I was out last night playing poker with my friend Michael Showalter.
NT: You do a lot of that, huh?
MIB: Yeah. I do. (sighs). I really do.
NT: So this is the perfect time for an interview?
MIB: Ive been up for a few hours now because I had to do some radio. But man. Im fading. Im fading, Ashley.
NT: Oh, Im sorry to hear that.
MIB: Well, its not your fault.
NT: Well, can you step it up?
MIB: (Laughs). I will try.
NT: Okay. I appreciate that. Where are you right now?
MIB: Im in San Francisco. You know that town right? Earthquakes.
NT: Pretty buildings.
MIB: Lots of pretty buildings all waiting to collapse.
NT: So I got your new album in the mail, I am a Wonderful Man. Then I noticed that your McSweenys column is called I am a famous celebrity. Im wondering whats up with the self promotion.
MIB: Its all about branding these days. All about creating a marketable brand and then selling the shit out of it. Thats what Im doing. I figure if I keep saying Im a celebrity than eventually it will be true .So far it hasnt worked.
NT: So you seem to have a character that you play on stage. This kind of narcissistic metrosexual thats totally lacking in self awareness. Im wondering how you developed this persona.
MIB: Jeez. Is it a persona? Im a little concerned now about who I am. A self-aggrandizing metrosexual. Oh dear. Who has no self-awareness.
NT: Its very funny
MIB: Its meant to be more self deprecating than anything else. I say for example, I have the body of a 12 year old girl. That my nickname was faggot. These kind of things. Theyre intended to be self-deprecating. Even the self-aggrandizing is supposed to be laced with self-deprecation. In that respect theres tremendous self-awareness. One might even say self loathing. If one were inclined to say that.
NT: Ive noticed that you take a lot of cracks on your family life. Do you think thats psychologically damaging to them?
MIB: Only because I play it at very loud volumes in the house. I play tracks on the CD at very loud volume in the house and I have my kids listen to that and I say, do you hear that? Do you hear that? Do you hear what youre doing to daddy?
NT: Whats it like touring with Michael Showalter?
MIB: Its great because hes one of my best friends. But its horrible because hes an eccentric freak.
NT: Can you say more about that?
MIB: Its a lot of stopping every 25 to 30 minutes for whatever his particular needs are at that moment. Be they Starbucks. Be they cigarettes. Be they, taking a dump. Be they, whatever they may be. Maybe he left his cell phone at the place where he took the dump, kinda thing.[page]
NT: It sounds awful.
MIB: Im used to it. It is awful. But its my awful. Its an awful Ive chosen for myself.
NT: Is there any competition between the two of you?
MIB: Not at all. I think any competition that there may have been in the past, its now clear that I won.
NT: And hes aware of this?
MIB: Oh yeah.
NT: Do you guys stay together, like in the same hotel room?
MIB: Um, what you think, if you had to guess?
NT: Im not qualified to guess at that.
MIB: Were men in our 30s who arent dirt poor. So yes, we do.
NT: Have there been any special moments between the two of you?
MIB: Like what do you mean by special moments?
NT: I guess Im wondering what you would think of as a special moment, so I dont necessarily want to define it.
MIB: I told him his haircut was nice.
NT: Did you mean it?
MIB: I did. He got a nice haircut. He needs that kind of stroking, though. You need to tell him his haircut looks nice.
NT: Have you ever been down to South Florida?
MIB: My mom lives in Plantation.
NT: Youre going to see her when youre down here, I take it?
MIB: Not if I can help it. Yes, I will.
NT: Are you aware that there are a lot of Jewish people and how are you going to handle that?
MIB: In South Florida, there are Jewish people? I had no idea.
NT: How did you choose the last name Ian Black?
MIB: Well my middle name is Ian. Were it my last name, it would be hyphenated. It would be Ian-hyphen-Black. My last name is Black. It used to be Schwartz.
NT: Right. Which you changed because you were ashamed of being Jewish.
MIB: Exactly right.
NT: So you co-wrote a movie with Simon Pegg, Run Fat boy Run, and its premiering in the U.S. October 26.
MIB: Nah, they moved it to March.
NT: Oh. Thats what you get for trusting Wikipedia. Well, can you tell our readers a little bit about the movie and the writing of it?
MIB: Fat guy runs a marathon. Hilarity ensues.
NT: Do you have any writing rituals? Where and when do you do your best writing?
MIB: No. No. I really dont. Writing is so hard that I just try to just write whenever Im able to, which isnt often. Its hard to just sit down and write. So, when that happens, thats fantastic. But it doesnt happen enough.
NT: So you have to wait for it to happen to you?
MIB: No, you sort of have to force it.
NT: Are you a procrastinator?
MB: Im not really a procrastinator, but writing is hard. Its something that doesnt come naturally to many people, myself included, so you really just have to struggle with it.
NT: Do you think youre more of a natural actor or comedian?
MIB: I dont know what I am. Im just sort of a dude. Just sort of a really cool dude.
NT: Was it hard to work with someone with a last name like Schwimmer? (Run Fat Boy Run was directed by David Schwimmer).
MIB: Well I didnt really work with him. He just went off and directed; I stopped by and said hi. That was the extent of our working together.
NT: Did you feel he bastardized your screenplay at all?
MIB: No, he actually did a great job with it.
NT: What kind of responses are you expecting from audiences in the U.S.?
MIB: Laughter. Applause. Cash money.
NT: Okay, lets talk about the best sketch comedy show of all time The State. What was it like to be part of the state?
MIB: It was pretty good. Hows that?
MIB: We were all friends. The State and our friendships evolved simultaneously. It was fantastic. We were all terrific friends. We went to college together and then we found ourselves with our own television show and there was a lot of terrificness about that. It was also very difficult because in a professional environment, its hard to know where to prioritize your friendship versus your job and sometimes that conflicted.[page]
NT: Did you wind up having fall outs with anybody?
MIB: Not at all. Were all still great friends. In a weird way, the fact that The State just sort of imploded because of low ratings on CBS was good in terms of our friendship. We never got to the point where we hated each other. We just ended up just hating our entire careers.
NT: Will there ever be a revival?
MIB: Yeah. In fact, were doing one.
NT: What?! Like everyones getting back together and doing more skits?
MIB: Yeah. Were getting back together and doing a movie for Comedy Central.
NT: Oh my God. Thats the most exciting thing Ive heard all month.
MIB: I know Im freaking out about it.
NT: Will it just be a bunch of skits?
MIB: I dont know. We havent written it yet. Were going to start writing it this Saturday.
NT: That is such good news. I havent seen that announced anywhere. I am I going to be the first?
MIB: Ive talked to a few people about it, so you do not have an exclusive. Youre among the first that Ive told.
NT: The DVD is coming out, soon, according to David Wain.
MIB: Yeah, hes wrong. Its supposed to come out soon. Like next month. But theyre going to hold it now until we do the movie. Theyll release everything together.
NT: I guess thats a good strategic plan. Is everybody in the movie? All 11?
MIB: Its everybody Youre having a little cum over this.
NT: I am. You have no idea. Is it going to be all new stuff? Or references to older skits?
MIB: I know we wont do any old skits. Whether or not we refer to anything, I dont know.
NT: Do you have a favorite skit?
MIB: Theres a lot of them Im partial to. I like Taco Man, of the ones I was involved in. Porcupine Race Track. I like the one, Im not in it, its called Cutlery Barn.
NT: Spaghetti fried bumblebees?
MIB: Thats the one.
NT: I like that one, too. Its a really bizarre one. Do you have a favorite other cast member?
MIB: Yeah, I like Kevin. Kevin Allison. Hes so totally gayed up.
NT: I havent seen much of him lately.
MIB: He kinda dropped out of show biz for a while. He was writing and he was, mostly writing. Now hes sort of getting back into it.
NT: Do you have a least favorite cast member?
MIB: Im not partial to Ken Marino. I just dont like his sensibility, as a person.
NT: So hes kind of a dickhead?
MIB: Kind of a dickhead. Thats not really true by the way.
NT: Do you have any favorite comedians outside the group?
MIB: I like that fat kid on Two and a Half Men. Hes good.
NT: I havent seen that.
MIB: I havent either.
NT: What do you think about the comedy scene right now?
MIB: Overall Id say the comedy scene very good right now. Theres a lot of talented people doing a lot of good work in all different mediums. Its a great time to be a comedian. People are supporting comedy. Theyre coming to see it. They enjoy it.
NT: Do you prefer stand up or sketch comedy or what?
MIB: Well I like all of it, but standup is fun because its immediate. Youre out there on a stage. You do a stage for an hour or so and then youre done for the day. When you dont have a good work ethic, thats a very good job.
NT: Now comes the personal part of the interview.
MIB: Are you going to hit on me?
NT: Probably. Whats something about you that nobody knows?
MIB: If I told you than people would know. Youve really put me in a quandary here.
NT: Okay. And Im not letting you out.
MIB: Okay. Dollar for dollar, my favorite restaurant is Taco Bell. I get the number 3. Three taco supremes and a soft drink. Sometimes I will get a fourth taco.
NT: Whats so good about it?
MIB: Its, um, overall deliciousness, I would say.
NT: What are your secret dreams?
MIB: Secret dreams. Id like to be an ice cream entrepreneur. Id like to invent new ice creams.
NT: Do you have any ideas?
MIB: Um. Yeah. Like a green tea with uh, with fortune cookies and chocolate chips mixed in.
NT: That sounds delicious.
MIB: Yeah, thanks.
NT: What were you like as a young man?
MIB: How young?
NT: Five to ten.
MIB: Five to ten. Five to ten? I dont remember.
NT: What about in high school? Were you cool or were you a loser?[page]
MIB: Was I cool? No. I was sort of, you know, middle of the pack. Thinks hes misunderstood but really isnt, kind of teenager. I think they all understood perfectly well.
NT: Did you think you were funny back then?
MIB: I thought I was funny. I dont know that other people agreed.
NT: Were you shy?
MIB: I wasnt shy, but I definitely was not outgoing.
NT: If you could kill one person, who would it be?
MIB: Kill? (Long pause). I cant think of anybody I would want to kill. Thats a horrible thing to say.
NT: If you could be a musical instrument, what would you be?
MIB: Id be tympani.
MIB: I just think tympani are cool. Is the singular of tympani tympano? Or is tympani always tympani?
NT: I just dont know the answer to that.
MIB: You dont know what tympani is do you?
NT: I know Ive heard of it. I know its part of the orchestra.
MIB: Alright, but theres a lot of instruments in the orchestra, Ashley.
NT: Whos doing this interview?
MIB: Fine, but dont flaunt your own ignorance. I mean
NT: Alright, Im going to bring this to a close before you embarrass me more.
MIB: Youre embarrassing yourself. I havent done anything. Youre a journalist. You know, your job is to know words.
NT: Alright this is getting very cruel. Ive already told you that youre my hero and now youre just breaking me down. Im gonna go cry.
MIB: No. no. I just, I just. You know, you gotta prepare for the interview. Youve gotta be prepared for whatever I say. If I say tympani, boom, you gotta know what that is.
NT: Alright, well, its been really nice talking to you.(Laughter)
NT: Um, hey do you want to play some poker down here?
MIB: It depends, is there good poker in South Florida?
NT: Oh yeah, Seminole Hard Rock. Anna Nicole died there, you know.
MIB: Heres the problem with the Seminole Hard Rock. They dont have no limit its a ridiculous system. So poker in South Florida, as far as I know, is not very good.
NT: Well, thats true, but youre an addict, right? You have to play, regardless.
MIB: Months will go by when I dont play. Ive got a family and everything. I cant be playing poker.
NT: Do you miss it when youre not playing?
MIB: Not particularly. When I start playing again, I want to play all the time. When I stop I dont even think about it.
NT: When you play too much does it get boring?
MIB: No, it just gets disgusting. It just gets a little bit nasty. Like youre up till 3 a.m. like I was last night. That kind of thing On [an Internet] tournament site, I just looked and Im one of the top 10. Im actually number one.
NT: Youre proud of that arent you?
MIB: Well, I dont even know what it means. I actually dont know what that means. But Im number one. Ive never been number one in anything.
NT: Youve been number one in my book for a long time.
MIB: Thanks Ash Now how old are you?
NT: Im 26.
MIB: Youre young. Youre young.
NT: Its true.
MIB: Although, if I get divorced. Typically, a second marriage, the women is 10 to 12 years younger than the man. So that would work out fine for us.
NT: Yeah, thats kind of what Im counting on.
MIB: Lets do that. Lets do that at some point.
NT: Definitely. So Im coming to your show. Ill come say hello. Get some rest, and Ill see you in a few weeks.
MIB; Alright, Ashley.
NT: Take care.
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