Before MTV was a parade of pregnant teens, it used to have some quality programming. The State, a sketch comedy show that would launch careers and spawn other hilarious television shows and movies is one example of that. The group was formed by drama and film students from NYU, including Michael Ian Black, who would drop out when MTV’s deal came along.
You might not know him by name, but you’d more than likely recognize Michael Ian Black by face. He was on that one show you started to like, then, out of nowhere, he was just gone. Despite his laundry list of short-lived shows, Black has remained a valuable member of the comedy community, releasing the stand-up albums I’m a Wonderful Man in 2007 and Very Famous in 2011. Black is also an author. In 2009, he released a collection of essays titled My Custom Van. In 2012, he penned his memoir, You’re Not Doing It Right, as well as a handful of acclaimed children’s books.
Black now co-hosts Duck Quacks Don’t Echo, a show that investigates unusual facts, which premiered earlier this year on NatGeoTV. He can also be heard on the Topics podcast with longtime collaborator and fellow member of The State, Michael Showalter. Black was gracious enough to talk to Metro Times — about fitness, Twitter, and fake jazz musicians. He performs at the Magic Bag June 12.
Metro Times: This is your first tour in a few years; is it in preparation for a new special?
Michael Ian Black: Not specifically. I’m not necessarily aiming to do a new special right away. I just wanted to get back on the road. I haven’t done it in a while, and I just thought it would be fun and healthy for me.
MT: How do you prepare for a tour?
Black: Well … obviously, I have to get myself in good aerobic shape. So that means hours and hours and hours of badminton. It means rock climbing, and I complete, I don’t know, a few triathlons before I hit the road.
MT: Rock climbers have strange terms for things.
Black: Yeah, I know all those terms.
MT: Instead of saying, “That’s cool,” they’ll say, “That’s choss.” Where does that come from?
Black: It’s a combination of things. “Chalk,” because climbers need chalk and, “oss,” which comes from gloss because it’s putting a happy shine on something. So, when you say something is choss, you’re saying it’s like happy chalk.
MT: That makes sense. Is there an opener for the tour?
Black: There are different openers for different cities. I’m not sure who it is in Detroit.
MT: Do you ever get an opener who doesn’t mesh well with your comedy?
Black: Umm, every once in a while, but most of the time, I think promoters and agents know me well enough to have a sense of what’s going to work and what’s not.
MT: On Very Famous, you say that you like doing stand-up “just OK.” Has that changed?
Black: It depends. Sometimes, I like it a lot, and sometimes it’s just OK. You can get burned out on it, and I was getting a little burned out on it. So that’s why I haven’t been doing it for a while, but absence does make the heart grow fonder. So I’m excited to reignite my love of it. It’s gonna blow your mind.
MT: I hope so. How do you write for stand-up?
Black: I sit down and I write. Then I try to memorize what I’ve written and then I try it out. There’s no big mystery to my process.
MT: You starred in You’re Whole. Is there a plan to make more?
Black: We did a bunch of them for Adult Swim, and I think it’s kind of run its course. It’s an infomercial that I created for a life system for viewers, and it’s real dumb.
MT: Was the 4 a.m. time slot intentional?
Black: Yeah. Adult Swim, I think, wanted to throw weird things on at odd times, and we were one of those things.
MT: Did you watch a lot of infomercials as research?
Black: No … no. I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about it. I think it would have ruined some of the stupidity if I thought too much about it and, you know, I’m nothing if not stupid.
MT: On the Topics podcast, when do you choose the topic of discussion?
Black: As we’re hitting record is generally when we do it.
MT: That doesn’t give you much time for research.
Black: Zero research. Zero forethought. Zero planning of any kind.
MT: You did an episode on jazz and, I’ll be honest, I spent a good hour Googling your fictionalized Moonshine O’Shea. I was completely fooled.
Black: It sounded plausible. I’m seeing what happens when you Google “Moonshine O’Shea.” The two top hits are “’Moonshine O’Shea” and “’Moonshine O’Shea jazz.” Let’s see, there’s six results for “Moonshine O’Shea.”
MT: A large portion of your fan base is twentysomethings. To what do you attribute that?
Black: I wish I could take the credit for it, but I think it’s my rugged good looks.
MT: You’re popular with the ladies …
Black: Yeah, of course. You know, I like to think of myself as comedy’s Bon Jovi. The chicks like me for my looks, the dudes for my riffs. I’m going to tweet that right now … Oh, but I wrote “Bon Joni” … Ugh, I hate myself. I’ve got to retweet it. Now I’m looking at it to make sure I spelled everything correctly. God damn it. I totally fucked that up. Alright, that’s been tweeted.
MT: What does it take for you to block someone on Twitter?
Black: You have to be egregious. You have to gay bash or be racist or just be not clever, but you have to be egregiously unclever. I don’t block many people.
MT: You make it public when you do.
Black: Yeah, because it’s entertaining to me.
MT: Are you working on any books?
Black: I am writing a new book, yeah, but I’m not talking about it because it’s in terrible shape. It’s just not good. It’s terrible. So I’m trying to make it good. First, I’m trying to finish the first draft. Then, I’ll try to make it good. I have the equivalent of whiskey dick for writing, which is I can get drunk on my own words, but I have nothing to say at the moment.
MT: Your essay “Taco Party” is still my favorite.
Black: It’s a classic. What can I say? I wrote a goddamn classic.
Michael Ian Black performs at 8 p.m. on Thursday, June 12, at the Magic Bag; 22920 Woodward Ave., Ferndale; 248-544-3030; $20; 18 and up.
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