Yes, here it is: the first of what will most likely be many bad reviews of my book. Read it in its unabridged glory:
From Forbes.com (Forbes???)
David K. Randall 07.18.08, 6:00 AM ET
My Custom Van…And 50 Other Mind-Blowing Essays That Will Blow Your Mind All Over Your Face by Michael Ian Black ($24, Simon Spotlight Entertainment, 2008).
Michael Ian Black's new collection of short essays, My Custom Van… suffers a bit from the curse of high expectations. To those who didn't grow up in the '90s, Black is best known as a professional Proustian on VH1's I Love the… series, in which he provides sarcastic, dry commentary about bygone pop culture ephemera.
But to fans of the influential yet short-lived MTV sketch comedy show The State, Black's best work was crafting and performing short works of absurdist theater. He followed that up by playing the character Johnny BlueJeans in the sketch comedy show Viva Variety, and has since appeared in the movie Wet Hot American Summer, the Comedy Central series Stella and a bunch of Sierra Mist commercials.
The pace of those sketch comedy days lives on in My Custom Van, with the longest piece coming in at eight pages. One can feel the thought process produced by working in a variety show throughout the book. Many essays--"What I Would Be Thinking if I Were Billy Joel Driving to a Holiday Party Where I Knew There Was Going to Be a Piano," "A Series of Letters to a Squirrel," "Announcing the Imminent Arrival of the Handlebar Mustache Certain People Said I'd Never Be Able to Grow"--have funnier titles than their following paragraphs. It's as if Black knew he had a good concept and was unwilling to throw it out when its execution didn't match its promise.
That's not to say that there aren't hilarious moments. "When I Finally Get Around to Building My Robot, This Is What It Will Be Like," in which Black, obviously, writes about his ideal robot, is solid because his sense of absurdity isn't bogged down by the too-obvious sex jokes strewn through much of the collection. "Let's put it this way: there's no downside to giving my robot the ability to create highly realistic birdcalls. In fact, it might even be educational," he writes. The essay "Taco Party," a description of a party featuring lots and lots of tacos, also works because Black interjects pangs of realism into the absurdity. "You want to swim? You can f----- swim all you want. Guess what the pool is filled with? Did you f----- guess guacamole? Wrong, f-----. It's filled with water because YOU CAN'T F----- SWIM IN GUACAMOLE!!!!"
It's a laugh-out-loud paragraph but also one that reads like it belongs in a sketch. Black never fully shakes the sense that he's still writing for a show. When he does venture into essays that divert from that form, it's easy to confuse the solipsistic jokes in essays like "Some DJ Names I've Been Considering" with unfunny pieces in McSweeney's (which Black also contributes to.)
Lately, Black has attempted to garner attention for his book by invoking a pseudo-rivalry with David Sedaris. If that works to boost book sales, then good for him. But the best possible outcome of the publication of My Custom Van… is Black getting enough acclaim to convince MTV to release a DVD of his former work on The State. My Custom Van … contains some comedic gems, but its uneven nature makes a reader look for Black's better work