From Time Out New York
Time Out New York / Issue 688 : Dec 4–10, 2008
Michael Ian Black
He likes things to be easy.
Illustration: Rob Kelly
Michael Ian Black is back on the road with Stella, the sketch-comedy trio he formed in 1995 with David Wain and Michael Showalter, and he’s not at all worried about it. “We know how to do it in a way that provides not a lot of stress,” says the 37-year-old. “We do it economically and so that we’re not driving 14 hours a day. So it’s pretty chill—aside from all the BJs.” Black, best known as a VH1 talking head and for his earlier comedy group the State, spoke to us by phone from an Atlanta book conference, at which he was pimping My Custom Van, his recently published book of humorous essays.
Time Out New York: The back cover of My Custom Van carries the following blurb from Sarah Silverman: “Fun to read while you’re pooping.” Do you agree?
Michael Ian Black: Yes, and I subsequently heard from many readers who do utilize that option. Now, that’s an option for any book, but I think mine lends itself to it specifically because the essays are scientifically designed to last about the length of a good bowel movement.
TONY: The mental image of someone reading your book that way is a bit unsavory.
Michael Ian Black: Yeah, but then you think of the mental image of someone like Sarah Silverman reading it while pooping and you go, Oh, that’s not so bad. I guess it depends on your view—from what angle you’re looking at her. In my head, I’m looking at her through the doorway. If I’m looking at her from the point of view of the toilet? Maybe not as good.
TONY: Speaking of pooping, is it true that you recently started referring to Anderson Cooper as Anderson Pooper?
Michael Ian Black: I felt pretty good about that. Although it was hard to feel real good about it, because thousands of people in his life must call him Anderson Pooper. I mean, it’s maybe the least original thought I’ve ever had. And yet, because I had never heard it before, I found it very satisfying.
TONY: It is technically possible that you’re the first to call him that, though.
Michael Ian Black: Yeah, but I’d be willing to wager that that theory would be disproven simply by asking him. But I would feel silly asking the question—not because it would be weird to ask him if anyone had ever called him that before, but because it seems so obvious to me that people must have. I’m sure there are people in his life whose nickname for him is Pooper or Poops or Poopsie-Daisy.
TONY: In January, you’ll publish Chicken Cheeks, an illustrated children’s book about cute animal butts. Ever envision yourself doing that when you were younger?
Michael Ian Black: It’s not a question that came up a lot at dinner parties and such. You’re not necessarily pounding down beers with your friends and fantasizing about writing children’s books. But had anybody asked, I probably would have said, “Sure, I could see myself doing that. It seems easy.” That’s generally my criteria for whether or not I’m interested or capable of doing something—by its level of easiness.
TONY: What’s level one and what’s level ten on that scale?
Michael Ian Black: Well, level one would probably be the book that’s coming out. It’s a compendium of animal butts; it really doesn’t get much simpler than that. Level ten in the children’s-book world is probably Harry Potter, where you actually have to construct sentences and paragraphs.
TONY: You live in Connecticut. Is that a funny state?
Michael Ian Black: I would say Connecticut probably ranks among the top five least funny states. But that’s good. I grew up in New Jersey, so just by point of contrast, it’s a relief to me. Anyway, I’m not looking to be funny in the geographic sense. I’m looking to be funny in a universal sense. I feel like Jeff Foxworthy has the market cornered on geographic hilarity. You can’t out-Foxworthy Foxworthy, so I’m not even gonna try.
TONY: What goes through your head when you order a Stella?
Michael Ian Black: Well, I don’t drink beer particularly. Were I to order a Stella I would probably do it fairly unself-consciously, like in the way I do when I go to a hotel and there’s a black person behind the desk. I say, “Last name Black,” and don’t really think about it. And you know, it’s not like I go into different states and I’m like, “Hey, I was in a sketch group that was called the State!” When you take a piss, are you like, “Hey, my name’s John!”?
Michael Ian Black: See, it’s the same thing. It was a stupid question.