Michael Ian Black may just be the perfect new millennium celebrity, famous for everything and nothing at once. A staggeringly prolific entertainer and a near ubiquitous presence on television, Black nimbly zips from project to project like a kid with ADD. He's been a network series regular (NBC's Ed), a pitchman for Sierra Mist and Pets.Com, and a guest voice on many cartoon shows, as well as a feared competitor on Bravo's Celebrity Poker Showdown. He also has a toe in publishing, as a contributor to McSweeny's and as the editor-at-large of the newly reborn Cracked magazine. Perhaps he's best recognized as the leading wiseass on VH1's near endless talking head nostalgia fests, such as I Love the '80s, were he makes acerbic mincemeat out of pop-culture history. But no matter what he does as a solo act, he will always be a founding member of the State, the influential early '90s comedy troupe that never officially broke up, and whose many members continue in evolving permutations that work together constantly. The latest extension of that funny family is a stand-up comedy tour, alongside his good friend and frequent partner, comedian Michael Showalter.
Metro Times: Do you feel blessed to have worked with your friends so often?
Michael Ian Black: There's really nothing better. The same people I was hanging out with as a freshman in college are the same people I continue to work with today. It's fantastic.
MT: So I've never seen you do stand-up before, what's it like?
MIB: You wouldn't even consider it stand-up except my scrotum is out the whole time. Otherwise, it's just me doing the Greek tragedy Medea.
MT: So it's erect comedy?
MIB: No you never see my wiener; I just have my sac out.
MT: I hear you're big in the black community.
MIB: I'm sorry, I can hear you but you're muffled. Do you have a scarf over your mouth?
MT: So what's the act about?
MIB: It's the closest to me being me that anyone will have seen. I'm talking about my life, observational stuff.
MT: So it's not pop culture-oriented?
MIB: It's not like I'm making fun of the Rubik's Cube ... again. It's just whatever is interesting to me right now.
MT: Just how many times can you talk about Joanie loves Chachi on VH1?
MIB: Apparently many times.
MT: Are you the star of those shows?
MIB: There are a few of us that got well-known from it. People tend to point to me a lot when they talk about it, but I think it was really good for Hal Sparks, Mo Rocca and Rachael Harris. It was good for a few of us.
MT: Hal is doing Celebrity Duets, are you tempted to do a reality show?
MIB: When The Surreal Life comes knocking, I might not be home that day.
MT: Are you going to get sick of Showalter by the end of this tour?
MIB: I'm so sick of him already. I don't think I can get any more sick of him. It seems I'm already at my low point of wanting to hang out with Showalter, so the fact that we'll be in a car together for 14 hours a day, I don't see it getting it any worse.
MT: When you guys perform who's on top?
MIB: (Laughs) We're kind of co-headlining.
MT: How much stand-up have you done?
MIB: Not very much, I've performed for audiences, but not in this format. This is a new venture for both of us.
MT: You know you are doing this completely backward; usually you do comedy to get on television.
MIB: That's by design, I did that on purpose. I always wanted to do stand-up, but I didn't want to pay my dues, I didn't want to be that guy showing up at 2 a.m. at an open mic night getting heckled by three drunks.
MT: Any challenges you haven't tried?
MIB: Well I just wrote and directed my first movie that's coming out in the spring and I'm developing two new TV shows.
MT: You're a media empire unto yourself.
MIB: And I wrote a children's book.
MT: Was that to show your kids that dad's not totally insane?
MIB: Yeah, when you have kids ultimately you want to do something for them. You can only fuck so many corpses in front of your kids before they say, "Dad, enough!" That has been so much of my comedy in the past this is geared more for the younger set.
But enough about Black, how about the guy he’s sharing the stage with?
Showalter is the kind of artist who’s hard to know but easy to love. Specializing in a silly, absurdist style of comedy in the famed sketch group the State and its three-man byproduct Stella, Showalter excels at creating weird but pleasantly naive characters. He gained a cult following as the dopey, love-struck camp counselor Coop in his unfairly unsung feature comedy, Wet Hot American Summer (2001), and last year he wrote, directed and stared in the sweetly endearing romantic-comedy spoof The Baxter. These days he’s venturing into the unknown — performing stand-up comedy and playing to a room full of drunks.
Michael Showalter: So tell me what is your paper?
Metro Times: We’re sort of like The Village Voice of Detroit, only not that haughty.
MS: You’re not that commie. You’re not as pinko as The Village Voice.
MT: Oh, we’re pretty pinko. (loud noises) Where are you, a construction site?
MS: Welcome to New York. Welcome to my life. In seven out of 10 calls from New York there are alarms going off. Horrific. It’s basically like Beirut. It’s come to that.
MT: Being from Detroit, I know all about horrible urban environments.
MS: Yeah. I saw that Michael Meyers movie.
MT: That’s Halloween, which is sort of like Detroit everyday.
MS: No, I’m talking about Austin Powers. No, wait Michael Moore.
MT: That’s the guy.
MS: You guys eat rabbits and shit right? (Referring to scenes from Moore’s Roger & Me)
MT: Sometimes just carrion.
MS: You guys are like breeding rabbits and eating them for dinner and stuff like that?
MT: Wild roadkill off the streets.
MS: Does Kid Rock eat rabbit?
MT: He’s wealthy, he can afford squirrel.
MS: What about Uncle Tony or whatever Kid’s DJ’s name is?
MT: I can’t keep up with his entourage.
MS: Now he’s married to Pam Anderson.
MT: When are you going to get famous enough for some quality action like that?
MS: Do you consider Pamela Anderson quality?
MT: No, not really, let’s be honest.
MS: Yo, man, I’m in New York Fucking City dude, it’s Hot Babe Central. The ugly girls are hot in New York.
MT: Good point. So when you and Michael Ian Black tour, who’s on top?
MS: It depends on our moods, but usually I’m on top and he’s on the bottom. If I’m being honest, usually we do it sideways or in a wheelbarrow.
MT: So this is just straight-up stand-up?
MS: I’m doing Eddie Murphy’s Raw material and Michael Black is doing an old Mort Sahl monologue.
MT: Are you inclined to heckle him?
MS: From backstage?
MS: I’m going on first, so by the time Mike is doing his set I’m already back at the hotel. I have a limousine waiting for me outside.
MT: Why mess around with that nonsense?
MS: I go right to the party. Actually I go back to the hotel, watch SportsCenter, and then I go to the party.
MT: I’ve only seen you in sketches and films. So what’s your stand-up like?
MS: It’s like Dane Cook but different in every way. I like to define myself by what I’m not.
MT: Is it kind of surreal?
MS: It’s fairly conventional stand-up comedy in form but it’s always from my perspective, which I’d like to think is unique. Then there’s some multimedia. I have photographic evidence of Smurf genitalia, so that takes up about 45 percent of my act.
MT: Like a Power Point presentation?
MS: Exactly. I’m also going to start incorporating tap into my act. I’m going old-school.
MT: Does Stella still exist?
MS: Yeah, with Stella and with the State too, we’ve never officially broken up. We’re always leaving the door open for future stuff. I would suspect that Stella in particular would tour again in the not-too-distant future.
MT: Are all the State cast in the new Reno 911 movie?
MS: To the best of my knowledge, yes. We’re all in different scenes.
MT: Is it nice to have such a big comedy family, like having a support staff?
MS: We’ve very much come up together, so the sensibilities are really connected.
MT: I apologize for my Baxter review; it was sort of mixed.
MS: Oh, did you write a mixed Baxter review?
MT: Yes. But I said that Michelle Williams was "luminous."
MS: She was luminous.
MT: I just reread it and I think I was a little harsh. In retrospect, I think I liked it better than I said at the time.
MS: That’s always the case with everything I’ve done.
MT: It grows on you — fungally.
MS: The theme with me has always been — and it’s true in my personal life as well — I make a bad first impression.
MT: Takes a while?
MS: But eventually people say, "Hey, he’s a quality guy." I sort of feel the same about most of the work I’ve done — that it leaves a bad first impression — but the more you get to know it, it’s better than the thing that made a great impression.
Michael Showalter and Michael Ian Black will perform on Saturday, Oct. 14, at the Blind Pig, 208 S. First St., Ann Arbor; 734-996-8555.Corey Hall is a freelance writer. Send comments to [email protected]