The State Interview: The Sound of Young America
The cast of The State
Kerri Kenney-Silver, Thomas Lennon and Ken Marino talk about the history of the sketch comedy group The State.
Kerri Kenney-Silver, Thomas Lennon and Ken Marino talk about the history of the sketch comedy group The State.
Comedian Michael Ian Black is perhaps best known for his work on 'The State,' the early '90s MTV sketch comedy show that also launched the careers of director David Wain ('Role Models'), comedian Ken Marino ('Party Down'), and Michael Showalter ('Stella'). Fans of that show are rejoicing, because 'The State' just came out on DVD -- good timing considering Black this month debuted a new comedy show 'Michael and Michael Have Issues' (Comedy Central, Wednesdays at 10:30 p.m.), which also stars Showalter. The new series is a 'show-within-a-show' concept that mixes funny sketches with an ongoing plot starring the two Michaels as competitive comedy writers. When not busy being on TV, Black is an avid twitterer and Facebook member, and also stars in the 'Klondike Man Cave' Web series. Not surprisingly, he's also opinionated on his gadgets, though, thankfully, we can't exactly take all of his answers seriously -- as you'll see in our latest Switched Questionnaire.
1) What gadgets do you always bring with you to the studio for down-time?
Laptop computer, vibrating chair, Japanese robot bear that eats people.
2) What cell phone do you have right now and what do you love/hate about it?
When I get a cell phone, I instruct the (hapless) salesperson to give me the cell phone with the least amount of features that does the fewest number of things and is the easiest to use. I am not somebody who spends any amount of time texting or taking pictures or listening to music with my phone. I have servants for that stuff.
3) Who's the last person you sent a text message to and what was it about?
My assistant Stephie doesn't seem to understand how much I hate text messages so she constantly texts me information, which is sometimes helpful, but when I have to reply, I get totally annoyed. Last one that I replied to was a reminder to do something. I replied, "k."
4) Where do you go every time you get online?
New York Times, Huffington Post, Twitter, and Daily Galaxy, where I get up-to-the-minute news about events in the universe that occurred billions of years ago.
5) What annoys you most about your iPod, cell phone, or laptop?
Their ubiquitousness. It's just too much stuff trying too hard to entertain me. It's like the electronic Robin Williams.
6) Name one thing you wish your iPod/cellphone/laptop could do that it doesn't do now?
7) What upcoming gadget can you not wait to get your hands on?
I can't think of one; I just bought a Wii two years after they came out. I consciously resist new gadgetry because all the new stuff just makes me feel like a sucker for wanting it. Does a good meal count as a gadget?
8) You're stranded on a desert island: What gadget do you bring?
Laptop, provided I can have solar-powered Wi-Fi.
10) What's the longest time you've ever spent playing a video game in one sitting and what game was it?
When I was a kid, I used to play a video game called "Miner 2049er" for ten or twelve hours at a time on my Atari 5600. Pretty awesome.
11) Mac or PC?
How can you even ask that question?
12) What's the most embarrassing or untrue thing anyone has ever said about you online?
I wish people would say more embarrassing, untrue things. Nobody really talks about me that much online. I would like to be rumored to have a drug problem or dead.
13) Do you have an HDTV? If so, what kind and how big is it? What's your favorite show to watch in HD?
I do have an HDTV. A Panasonic 40-something inch. Nothing too huge. And, in fact, my wife bitched me out for getting one as big as I got. It was a big problem in my house for a couple weeks, but I stood my ground and she eventually got used to it. I will watch pretty much anything in HDTV, particularly sports. But it's gotten to the point where I have a hard time watching it if it's not in high-def.
14) iPhone, Palm Pre, or BlackBerry?
15) What's the most embarrassing place your cell phone has gone off?
In my asshole?
Our own Jessi Klein, star of tonight's "Matchmaker" episode on "Michael and Michael," wrote an article about us for "The Daily Beast." In real life, there's nothing beasty about Jessi, other than her morning attitude when she hasn't had her coffee!!!!!!!!!!!! (The exclamation points were meant to indicate that I was saying that joke in a very specific way in my head which involved me speaking in a very thick New York accent. I realize that exclamation points don't convey that at all, which is why this parenthetical became necessary, but I I also thought all those extra exclamation marks would make the sentence read funnier whether or not you were reading it with a thick New York accent in your own head)
Jessi is a terrific writer who, along with Kumail Nanjiani, probably single-handedly elevated our show from barely watchable to merely watchable. I am also a fan of her acting, which involves a lot of facial tics and horrendous insecurity masquerading as witty self-deprecation. I enjoy this so much because I am equally guilty of it, and thus recognize myself in it. Although she is much cuter about it.
Anyway, if you'd like to read the article: click here.
Last week Terry Gross interviewed comedian Michael Ian Black on NPR’s “Fresh Air.” In the show, Black talks about how he lost his father at the age of twelve, and he opens up on the role comedy plays in his emotional life:
“I think comedy for many, many people is a coping mechanism. And as a kid I was incredibly prone to just bursts of emotion and tears and hypersensitivity. And I realized that I couldn’t live my life like that. And I sort of started sublimating that to a point where — now it’s hard for me to express emotion. And comedy is an outlet for that.”
Admitting to how you sublimate your real feelings and how that damages your ability to express yourself – is no easy feat.
It’s not comfortable or admirable.
It doesn’t showcase the stoic stereotype of masculinity with any charm or glory.
But it’s real. And it’s honest.
And emotionally intelligent. Like right-on-the-mark intelligent.
Gross: “That’s really funny because you were saying that you were kind of hypersensitive. And your comic persona is kind of the opposite?”
Gross: “Is it fun to play that person who you play on TV?”
Black: “Well, it can be. I mean, I think the word snarky has often been applied to me – in a way that makes me feel very uncomfortable, because I don’t think of myself as snarky, even though I guess I probably come off that way. Because I still see myself as this hypersensitive kid – who, everything touches. I feel like… I feel too much.”
When feeling your emotions feels like it’s too much, the logical thing to do is turn down the volume, or sublimate.
But the sorry side is that tampering with the controls will have negative consequences later in life. Consequences that impact your emotional health, your communication, and your closest relationships.
Painful feelings can really hurt — you are feeling them after all.
But they are there for a reason. They are there to keep you connected to the world. They are they so you can express them and follow them back to any dysfunctional beliefs they may have come from. They are there for you to grieve as you need to grieve.
The pain isn’t bad.
It’s painful. It hurts. It takes water from your eyes without asking.
But it isn’t bad.
From Mindful Construct
This is from the acclaimed writer/NPR favorite Sarah Vowell, who enlisted me to enter a poker tournament for charity. What she failed to tell me is that I am responsible for raising money. Then she sent out the following email, which I am reprinting without her permission, to let everybody know in no uncertain terms that her failure to tell me about the money-raising part is her fault, not mine:
Remember that 826 poker fundraiser this weekend you're sorry you said yes to? Did we ever mention that one fundraising element is that one's friends and neighbors go online to donate money to you as players (which we then keep)?
If you would like to just forward your loved ones the following link, they can click on "support a player" and donate that way: http://www.826nyc.org/poker/
If you don't feel like asking people you know for money would you let me? I have no shame. Just paste the missive below into an email or in some electronic thingamajigs (sans my email address, please).
Right now, each of you has the hundred bucks 826 will slip you to play with and another hundred I just donated to each of your accounts. You are being out-earned by a grandmother and some Motorhead fans.
Dear friends of Michael Ian Black, David Cross and Ira Glass:
Sarah Vowell of 826NYC here. The aforementioned gentlemen will be participating in a poker tournament this Sunday to benefit the writing programs at 826NYC in Brooklyn. (To learn more about our programs: www.826nyc.org.) I know what you're thinking: What can I do to help? You can go to the link below and donate to your player of choice that's what! The more money each player raises, the more he has to bet with. Is there anything nicer than helping a friend win? Yep--helping New York City public school students with their homework. These donations are tax deductible. To contribute, go to http://www.826nyc.org/poker/ and click on "support a player." Thanks.
Please don't let me get beaten by David Cross or Ira Glass. Both of them are already so much better at what they do than me that it would be great to hand them their asses in the arena of poker charity fund-raising. Plus the organization we're playing for is all into literacy and shit. How awesome is literacy and shit? TOTALLY AWESOME!
Won't you please contribute a little something for the children - the precious, precious children?
Michael Ian Black (very famous)
(CNN) -- Michael Ian Black has a fine sense of the absurd.
Michael Ian Black, left, and Michael Showalter have "Issues" in their new Comedy Central show.
You can hear it in the comedian's deadpan delivery, which makes some of his serious musings sound like jokes -- and some of his jokes sound like serious philosophizing. You can see it reflected in his VH1 "I Love the ..." guest spots, in which he acts as if the most ridiculous pop cultural events are worthy of solemn commentary.
The absurdity is also obvious in his new Comedy Central show, "Michael and Michael Have Issues," in which he and pal Michael Showalter -- the two go back to the early-'90s troupe The State -- play exaggerated versions of themselves doing such things as competing for the attention of an intern and torturing a reporter as they make a TV show.
"Michael and Michael," which airs Wednesdays at 10:30 p.m. ET on Comedy Central, premiered last week for a multiweek run. Though Black has hopes for more, he's well aware of the pitfalls of his particular brand of humor: Not everybody gets it. Watch Black respond to assertions that he's not attractive »
"Well the first episode has aired, and it was a HUGE HIT!!! (Except for the fact that not enough people watched it)," he wrote on the "Michael and Michael" site. "Yes, once again Showalter and myself have produced a show which America has yet to discover."
America may catch on yet, thanks to Black's determined publicity tour. He talked to CNN.com about the origins of "Michael and Michael," the comedy of discomfort and the "Jack Benny Projection Theorem." The following is an edited version of the interview.
CNN: How did the show come about?
Michael Ian Black: The last show [Showalter and I] did together was called "Stella," which was also on Comedy Central. After that, I talked to Comedy Central about doing a different show, and they said sure. I brought on Michael to help me make it. We made that pilot, it didn't go, but when it was done, they said, "We'd still like you guys to do something." So we started pitching around ideas, and this is the one that stuck.
CNN: Does Comedy Central keep a hands-off attitude with you guys?
Black: Yes and no. They definitely trust us to a certain extent. We've had a long relationship with them, so they have a lot of faith in us. ... At the same time, they're a television network, and I don't know if you're familiar with television networks, but they definitely have opinions.
CNN: They like to provide notes, I've heard.
Black: Yes, that's exactly right. So they've given us lots and lots of notes.
CNN: One thing that always strikes me about you guys is that you like the comedy of discomfort, [as in] the kind of thing that makes you laugh but makes you squirm a little bit?
Black: When phrased that way, then yes, I suppose we do like that. There's something very funny to both Michael and myself about putting yourself in awkward situations and revealing this banal awkwardness that kind of happens to everybody.
CNN: What makes you uncomfortable in real life?
Black: I'm very uncomfortable with sincerity. (laughs) Anybody who's being sincere about stuff gives me the icks. I just invented a term: "gives me the icks."
CNN: Who did you follow when you were growing up?
Black: The comedians who I always really looked up to when I was a kid were John Belushi, George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy ... but for different reasons. I can't say I'm particularly like any of them, but I've always responded to comedy that doesn't point itself as being comedy. ... That's where that straight-faced thing comes from. You're telling the joke without telling people you're telling the joke. You have to trust that they're going to get it.
CNN: How about Jack Benny? He was always marvelous at being able to stand off to the side.
Black: I think what was great about Jack Benny or anybody who sort of does that kind of thing -- that deadpan thing -- is you're allowing the audience to project their thoughts on to you. So you think you understand what Jack Benny's thinking ... but it's because it's what you're thinking. And what you're thinking is funny, and that's what makes you laugh. Does that make sense?
Black: It's a theory I just made up. I feel really, really good about it. ... I'm gonna call it the "Jack Benny Projection Theorem."
CNN: What do you think you'd be doing if it weren't for comedy?
Black: Well, I don't know what recycled cans go for these days, but I suspect I'd be in that industry.
CNN: Does "Michael and Michael" look like it will be renewed?
Black: We just premiered last week, and it's just too early to know whether we'll come back or not. We've been fortunate. The press for the most part has been very good, and so now it's a ratings game and we'll wait and see how it does.
CNN: You've worked consistently since the early '90s, but there's always the question of the big breakthrough. Your comedy might be too offbeat for the mainstream to get. Does that concern you?
Black: Well, it certainly concerns the people who hold my mortgage. They're very concerned about it. They often say to me, "Can't you be more mainstream?" And the answer is, I don't think so. I've certainly tried. I can only be me.
CNN: We're getting very philosophical here.
Black: Well, that goes along with my Jack Benny Projection Theorem.
CNN: Are you working on anything else?
Black: I'm writing a book and I'm attempting to be a decent husband and father after not being home the last few months working on this television show. ... When you're working the kind of hours a television show requires, you don't see anybody but the people you work with. And as much as I love them, I don't love them as much as my family.
Did I make gazpacho today? I did. Because I’m finally home and able to do things like make gazpacho. I also made some turkey burgers on the grill and refilled a propane tank. If it sounds like I’m very manly at home, it’s because I am. Set aside the fact that I also fluffed pillows and organized my closet. Those can be manly tasks if they are accompanied by grunts and performed while drinking a Schlitz. Although now that I think about it, gazpacho isn’t a very manly soup, even if you put extra garlic in it, so maybe I’m not as manly as I think. The propane tank was pretty macho, I guess, especially when I was lugging it from my SUV to the grill, so that counts for something.
Regardless, the point is that I am largely finished with television production for a little while, and get to spend some time at home with my family. The weather could not be better, which is why I am inside with the windows closed surfing the internet and blogging.
Some friends from New York are on their way up to my Connecticut mansion with their fantastic, amazing (snotty, ill-behaved) children. Should be fun. We’re going to loll around outside and maybe have a bonfire with s’mores later. Or maybe after the kids go to bed, we’ll decide to swing. Who knows? The point is, I’m grateful to be home.
As for my kids, they are taller than I remember. One of them, whose name escapes me at the moment, has gotten obsessed with the new Wii I bought them out of guilt. When I first bought it, I told them we were going to put a limit on the amount of time they get to play per day. I did not know when I said that, that the limit would turn out to be twenty-three hours a day. When I was a kid, I used to spend pretty much every waking moment on my old Atari system, so I know how he feels. He asked me the other day what my favorite thing to do was when I was a kid. I wanted to say, “masturbate,” but I decided to go with my second favorite thing, which was “play video games.” So I understand his enthusiasm.
Back in my day, there was no concern for the violence in video games. One of the most popular was called “Missile Command,” in which your job was to prevent a nuclear holocaust. The game ended when you failed. So every game of Missile Command ended with six cities decimated by nuclear bombs. Oh well. My son is playing Super Mario Galaxy, and every time I pass him I have to restrain myself from calling him a pussy.
So it’s a good day to be home. Sho and I are going to be on Jimmy Fallon’s show on Tuesday if you want to watch. Should be fun. Also, please don’t forget that our new show “Michael & Michael Have Issues” is on every Wednesday at 10:30 EST. I need the show to succeed because I put the Wii on layaway, and if we get cancelled that’s the first thing that’s going back.
Name: Michael Showalter
Neighborhood: Brooklyn Heights
Name: Michael Ian Black
Neighborhood: Currently every neighborhood and Connecticut
Occupation: Writer/actor/director/comedian/celebrity (very famous)
Who's your favorite New Yorker, living or dead, real or fictional?
Michael Showalter: Al Hirschfeld. His cartoons encapsulate everything I love about New York.
Michael Ian Black : (1) Every member of the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers, especially Jackie Robinson, (2) Ed Koch, (3) whoever thought of the "Mitzvah Mobile."
What's the best meal you've eaten in New York?
MS: The mussels at Noodle Pudding on Henry Street.
MIB: Every year, my wife and I celebrate our anniversary at the Gramercy Tavern. Delicious. And they give you coffee cake to eat the next morning: by far my favorite meal of the year because I love my wife. (NOTE: This was written before we announced our divorce.)
In one sentence, what do you actually do all day in your job?
MS: I act silly and take it very seriously.
MIB: I make jokes.
Would you still live here on a $35,000 salary?
MS: I'd try. I did it for many years.
MIB: I've certainly lived in New York for less. New York is a great town in which to be really wealthy or really poor. Middle-class, not so much. When I was younger and had no income I used to shoplift groceries.
What's the last thing you saw on Broadway?
MS: Next to Normal. Loved it!
MIB: Hair. I was there for the first preview; I went for the nudity and the groping.
Do you give money to panhandlers?
MIB: Not very often.
What's your drink?
MS: Iced coffee.
MIB: Currently Diet Dr Pepper. I will occasionally have a regular Dr Pepper, but that's only when I'm feeling frisky.
How often do you prepare your own meals?
MS: Two or three nights a week.
MIB: If you expand the definition of "you" to include my wife, often. If not, then not very often.
What's your favorite medication?
MIB: Currently Ambien, although I don't know if that counts as a medication since I don't take it to medicate anything other than consciousness. But I'll pretty much swallow anything that comes in pill form.
What's hanging above your sofa?
MS: A large painting of a wooded area in autumn.
MIB: Some guy.
How much is too much to spend on a haircut?
MS: Depends on the haircut, I suppose. If I was a diva, there's no number.
MIB: Anything above $25 is pushing it, although if I have a shoot that I need to look good for I will treat myself to a $100 haircut by my amazing stylist Josh, who is female, British, and the only person left who still thinks rockabilly is cool.
MS: 11:30 p.m.
MIB: An hour after I take the Ambien.
Which do you prefer, the old Times Square or the new Times Square?
MS: I try to avoid it altogether.
MIB: I have always suspected that the people who pine for the old Times Square never really experienced it. If they did, they wouldn't want it back. It was a terrible, filthy, dangerous place filled with crack whores. I don't miss it at all, although it's become much harder to find a $2 BJ.
What do you think of Donald Trump?
MS: Seems like a good dad.
MIB: He's everything I hate about white people.
What do you hate most about living in New York?
MS: Crowds and noise.
MIB: Lack of public restrooms and guilt about not doing anything cultural.
Who is your mortal enemy?
MIB: I'm not crazy about Sam Champion.
When's the last time you drove a car?
MS: This weekend. I have a beat-up Honda. I drive it all the time.
MIB: This past weekend.
How has the Wall Street crash affected you?
MS: I will know more in ten years.
MIB: My second job as a stripper at FlashDancers is generating much less tip money.
Times, Post, or Daily News?
MS: Times and Post.
MIB: The Times is not only the greatest New York newspaper, it is a daily miracle. The only thing that would improve it is if they replaced the Tuesday Science section with a Tuesday Gossip section. And added a comics page. And topless girls, like the Sun.
Where do you go to be alone?
MS: I like walking around in my neighborhood. Just drifting.
MIB: The odd thing about New York is that walking down a street jammed with people can be the most solitary experience in the world. When I want to be alone in New York, I walk.
What makes someone a New Yorker?
MIB: Knowing which direction to look for your train while waiting on the subway platform.
Michael Showalter and Michael Ian Black's new show, Michael and Michael Have Issues, premieres at 10:30 p.m. tonight on Comedy Central.
As usual I find myself alone in a hotel room. Tonight it’s because I’m doing some promotional stuff for the new show and the commute to and from my Connecticut mansion is too long to make it worth the trip. Comedy Central was nice enough to get me a room so I’m sitting here taking advantage of my alone time to obsessively Google “Michael & Michael Have Issues,” which is really, really healthy.
Hotels are strange places. They only exist because humans need sleep. Were it not for sleep, we would need hotels, which is why meth addicts rarely stay at hotels, unless those hotels also happen to be meth labs. So many hotels try way too hard. Over the last ten years or so, it seems like hotel lobbies have become Petri dishes for both the worst design ideas in the world and the worst music in the world. To me a hotel lobby should be a tranquil and serene environment which beckons the traveler welcome, not a shitty replica of a Turkish dance club circa 1993. Thank you, but I don’t need over-sized black porcelain poodles on the reception desk. I don’t need laser lights or vertical fireplaces or jellyfish aquariums. What I need is a room, a TV, good internet, and a warm chocolate chip cookie (Thanks, Doubletree Suites).
The idea of hotel as destination unto itself seems to stupid to me. If I’m staying at your hotel it’s because I need to be in your town, not because I need to be at your hotel. If I need to be at your hotel, it should only be because somebody’s getting married there and couldn’t afford a nicer place to hold a reception. But that’s it. Otherwise don’t intrude onto my trip. Rule number one for hotels: be unobtrusive.
The hotel I am staying in tonight is pretty good about this, but even they suffer from a chronic case of “Look at me.” For example, there’s a switch on the wall that opens and closes the window shades. Right above the switch is a sign that reads “Window shades open and close switch). Do I really this touch? How about a metal thing that I pull that opens and closes the shades? By putting the switch on the wall and then putting a sign above the wall, you’re not impressing me. All you’re saying is, “We’re just like the Bat Cave.” I don’t need to stay at the Bat Cave.
But the worst is when hotels attach cutesy names to routine functions. Like instead of a sign telling you where reception is, they’ll have like a hot pink neon billboard that reads, “Get it on” or something. Something just obscure enough that you have no idea what they’re talking about so you have to ask one of the male models where reception is, and they’ll turn to you and say “Get it on to your right,” like you’re the idiot.
The other thing that bugs me about hotels is how they try to impress me with toiletries. While I appreciate that the hotel wants me clean, I do not need “body milk” in my bathroom. Yes, body milk is an actual bottle of something in my bathroom at the moment. I keep thinking some poor Guatemalan illegal immigrant had to lactate a tremendous amount to fill that specimen container. Body milk, of course, is not to be confused with “body wash,” which is also in there, along with two different kinds of soaps and a telephone right next to the toilet.
I have never had a telephone conversation with somebody while shitting and I never will. There is probably no good reason for this other than it’s simply something you don’t do. God forbid you let out a little grunt and something and the person on the other end says, “Are you shitting?” Then what do you do? You either have to admit that yes, you are shitting while conversing or you have to lie. Either way you don’t feel very good about yourself.
Some hotels offer compact discs for purchase. The hotel I stayed in last week had one for sale for twenty-five dollars. Twenty-five dollars for a CD featuring bands I’ve never heard of, produced by somebody I’ve never heard of, put out by a hotel? For some reason, I always imagine that the people deciding to buy these are all involved in international illegal arms smuggling. I don’t know why. Maybe because I imagine that gun runners like techno.
A suggestion to hoteliers: please get rid of hotel TV remote controllers. They are horrible. When I turn on the television, I do not want a welcome message from you. If I want a welcome message I will call down to room service and have them send one up. But you don’t need to sell me on your stupid hotel. By definition, I’m already sold – I’m staying there. When you keep pushing your stupid hotel on me after I’m already staying at it, you just look cheap and desperate.
Also, stop charging for your terrible wireless internet connections. The internet is no longer a luxury item. It is a necessity. When you charge for it, you look cheap. Fourteen dollars a day for the internet? I will pay it, yes, but only because I need to know what Perez Hilton is saying at all times and at any cost. But I will resent you for the charge and I will never stay at your hotel again.
When I come to your hotel, please just let me go to my room. I don’t want to hear about your restaurant or your spa or your breakfast which is served from six to eight-thirty because I won’t be awake then. I don’t want you to talk to me, and no, I don’t know my license plate number and I’m not going to go look at it for you. Just give me a room key and shut up and we’ll get along just fine.