Web Exclusive: Interview with Michael Ian Black

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 television’s screen in the sketch comedy masterpiece The State; It has remained tucked away in her heart’s 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. It’s tough going, what with Showalter demanding they stop for cigarettes, Starbucks, and taking a dump every half hour. And then there’s the debilitating all-night poker playing. But the two alternative comedy heroes deserve a break. They’ve 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 he’s 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, It’s Michael Ian black calling.

NT: Oh, you’re the guy from those Sierra Mist commercials, right?

MIB: That’s right. That’s right. I understand I’m supposed to talk to you.

NT: Okay. I want to tell you I’ve 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.

NT: No!

MIB: Well yeah.

NT: Oh no. That’s 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: I’m 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: I’ve been up for a few hours now because I had to do some radio. But man. I’m fading. I’m fading, Ashley.

NT: Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.

MIB: Well, it’s 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: I’m 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 McSweeny’s column is called “I am a famous celebrity.” I’m wondering what’s up with the self promotion.

MIB: It’s all about branding these days. All about creating a marketable brand and then selling the shit out of it. That’s what I’m doing. I figure if I keep saying I’m a celebrity than eventually it will be true….So far it hasn’t worked.

NT: So you seem to have a character that you play on stage. This kind of narcissistic metrosexual that’s totally lacking in self awareness. I’m wondering how you developed this persona.

MIB: Jeez. Is it a persona? I’m a little concerned now about who I am. A self-aggrandizing metrosexual. Oh dear. Who has no self-awareness.

NT: It’s very funny…

MIB: It’s 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. They’re intended to be self-deprecating. Even the self-aggrandizing is supposed to be laced with self-deprecation. In that respect there’s tremendous self-awareness. One might even say self loathing. If one were inclined to say that.

NT: I’ve noticed that you take a lot of cracks on your family life. Do you think that’s 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 you’re doing to daddy?”

NT: What’s it like touring with Michael Showalter?

MIB: It’s great because he’s one of my best friends. But it’s horrible because he’s an eccentric freak.

NT: Can you say more about that?

MIB: It’s 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.


NT: It sounds awful.

MIB: I’m used to it. It is awful. But it’s my awful. It’s an awful I’ve 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, it’s now clear that I won.

NT: And he’s 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: I’m not qualified to guess at that.

MIB: We’re men in our 30s who aren’t 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 I’m wondering what you would think of as a special moment, so I don’t 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: You’re going to see her when you’re 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 it’s premiering in the U.S. October 26.

MIB: Nah, they moved it to March.

NT: Oh. That’s 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 don’t. Writing is so hard that I just try to just write whenever I’m able to, which isn’t often. It’s hard to just sit down and write. So, when that happens, that’s fantastic. But it doesn’t 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: I’m not really a procrastinator, but writing is hard. It’s something that doesn’t come naturally to many people, myself included, so you really just have to struggle with it.

NT: Do you think you’re more of a natural actor or comedian?

MIB: I don’t know what I am. I’m 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 didn’t 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, let’s 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. How’s that?

NT: Thanks.

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, it’s hard to know where to prioritize your friendship versus your job and sometimes that conflicted.


NT: Did you wind up having fall outs with anybody?

MIB: Not at all. We’re 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, we’re doing one.

NT: What?! Like everyone’s getting back together and doing more skits?

MIB: Yeah. We’re getting back together and doing a movie for Comedy Central.

NT: Oh my God. That’s the most exciting thing I’ve heard all month.

MIB: I know I’m freaking out about it.

NT: Will it just be a bunch of skits?

MIB: I don’t know. We haven’t written it yet. We’re going to start writing it this Saturday.

NT: That is such good news. I haven’t seen that announced anywhere. I am I going to be the first?

MIB: I’ve talked to a few people about it, so you do not have an exclusive. You’re among the first that I’ve told.

NT: The DVD is coming out, soon, according to David Wain.

MIB: Yeah, he’s wrong. It’s supposed to come out soon. Like next month. But they’re going to hold it now until we do the movie. They’ll release everything together.

NT: I guess that’s a good strategic plan. Is everybody in the movie? All 11?

MIB: It’s everybody…You’re 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 won’t do any old skits. Whether or not we refer to anything, I don’t know.

NT: Do you have a favorite skit?

MIB: There’s a lot of them I’m partial to. I like Taco Man, of the ones I was involved in. Porcupine Race Track. I like the one, I’m not in it, it’s called Cutlery Barn.

NT: Spaghetti fried bumblebees?

MIB: That’s the one.

NT: I like that one, too. It’s a really bizarre one. Do you have a favorite other cast member?

MIB: Yeah, I like Kevin. Kevin Allison. He’s so totally gayed up.

NT: I haven’t 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 he’s sort of getting back into it.

NT: Do you have a least favorite cast member?

MIB: I’m not partial to Ken Marino. I just don’t like his sensibility, as a person.

NT: So he’s kind of a dickhead?

MIB: Kind of a dickhead. That’s 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. He’s good.

NT: I haven’t seen that.

MIB: I haven’t either.

NT: What do you think about the comedy scene right now?

MIB: Overall I’d say the comedy scene very good right now. There’s a lot of talented people doing a lot of good work in all different mediums. It’s a great time to be a comedian. People are supporting comedy. They’re 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 it’s immediate. You’re out there on a stage. You do a stage for an hour or so and then you’re done for the day. When you don’t have a good work ethic, that’s a very good job.

NT: Now comes the personal part of the interview.

MIB: Are you going to hit on me?

NT: Probably. What’s something about you that nobody knows?

MIB: If I told you than people would know. You’ve really put me in a quandary here.

NT: Okay. And I’m 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: What’s so good about it?

MIB: It’s, um, overall deliciousness, I would say.

NT: What are your secret dreams?

MIB: Secret dreams. I’d like to be an ice cream entrepreneur. I’d 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 don’t remember.

NT: What about in high school? Were you cool or were you a loser?


MIB: Was I cool? No. I was sort of, you know, middle of the pack. Thinks he’s misunderstood but really isn’t, 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 don’t know that other people agreed.

NT: Were you shy?

MIB: I wasn’t shy, but I definitely was not outgoing.

NT: If you could kill one person, who would it be?

MIB: Kill? (Long pause). I can’t think of anybody I would want to kill. That’s a horrible thing to say.

NT: If you could be a musical instrument, what would you be?

MIB: I’d be tympani.

NT: Why?

MIB: I just think tympani are cool. Is the singular of tympani tympano? Or is tympani always tympani?

NT: I just don’t know the answer to that.

MIB: You don’t know what tympani is do you?

NT: I know…I’ve heard of it. I know it’s part of the orchestra.

MIB: Alright, but there’s a lot of instruments in the orchestra, Ashley.

NT: Who’s doing this interview?

MIB: Fine, but don’t flaunt your own ignorance. I mean…

NT: Alright, I’m going to bring this to a close before you embarrass me more.

MIB: You’re embarrassing yourself. I haven’t done anything. You’re a journalist. You know, your job is to know words.

NT: Alright this is getting very cruel. I’ve already told you that you’re my hero and now you’re just breaking me down. I’m gonna go cry.

MIB: No. no. I just, I just. You know, you gotta prepare for the interview. You’ve gotta be prepared for whatever I say. If I say tympani, boom, you gotta know what that is.

NT: Alright, well, it’s been really nice talking to you.


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: Here’s the problem with the Seminole Hard Rock. They don’t have no limit…it’s a ridiculous system. So poker in South Florida, as far as I know, is not very good.

NT: Well, that’s true, but you’re an addict, right? You have to play, regardless.

MIB: Months will go by when I don’t play. I’ve got a family and everything. I can’t be playing poker.

NT: Do you miss it when you’re not playing?

MIB: Not particularly. When I start playing again, I want to play all the time. When I stop I don’t 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 you’re up till 3 a.m. like I was last night. That kind of thing…On [an Internet] tournament site, I just looked and I’m one of the top 10. I’m actually number one.

NT: You’re proud of that aren’t you?

MIB: Well, I don’t even know what it means. I actually don’t know what that means. But I’m number one. I’ve never been number one in anything.

NT: You’ve been number one in my book for a long time.

MIB: Thanks Ash…Now how old are you?

NT: I’m 26.

MIB: You’re young. You’re young.

NT: It’s 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, that’s kind of what I’m counting on.

MIB: Let’s do that. Let’s do that at some point.

NT: Definitely. So I’m coming to your show. I’ll come say hello. Get some rest, and I’ll see you in a few weeks.

MIB; Alright, Ashley.

NT: Take care.

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