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October 2009

October 26, 2009

Go Yankees

The Yankees are in the World Series for the first time in six years. I have mentioned before how difficult it should be for me to root for the Yankees since it’s sort of like being in high school and cheering for the most popular kids to become more popular. And yet, I cannot help myself.

As a New Yorker, every fiber on my being wants to be a Mets fan. I want to love them because they are New York’s perennial scrappy underdogs, the misfits who can never seem to catch a break. I want to love them the way I would a crippled kid. But I can’t. Because they suck. And when I am honest with myself, I find it impossible to throw my lot in with a sucky sports team. I prefer winners, which I suspect is yet another deep and horrible character flaw.

I mean, what’s the point of rooting for something that’s preordained? The Yankees are obviously going to win. Maybe not every year, but often enough that being their fan seems pointless; it’s like praying for Kanye West to do something stupid. We already know its going to happen so why waste time and energy hoping for it?

Sure, it’s fun to back a winner. But aren’t sports supposed to teach us lessons that extend beyond the fleeting satisfaction of winning a stupid game? Isn’t it ultimately more satisfying, more enriching, to adopt the broke-down, the wheezing, the flailing and the buffoonish? To stick with a team through its lean years, to cry with them when they inevitably self-destruct, to mutter black thoughts about into your beer after another disappointing season? To proclaim to the world that they may be bums, but they’re your bums? Isn’t that what dedication to a sports team is all about? In a word, no.

No, losing sucks. Losing is bad enough when it happens to you on a daily basis through circumstances of which you have little to no control: the car dies, you get fired for being “inebriated,” etc. These are things that happen out of the blue. But when you root for a sports team that you know is terrible, that you know is going to disappoint you, that you know is going to find a way to screw up the sure thing, and leave you with a keen desire to strangle/stab/asphyxiate each individual member of said team, then you have nobody to blame but yourself. What good comes from being a Baltimore Orioles fan? A Cincinnati Reds fan? A Pittsburgh Pirates fan? You enter the season knowing your team doesn’t stand a chance and leave the season knowing the next season will be no better. Where is the joy? The relationship is totally one-sided. You give them your heart. They give you nothing but pain and suffering and then skip town. It’s like being in a relationship with Charlie Sheen.

With the Yankees, I know what I’m going to get. Winners. Over-priced, corporatized, mechanized winners. Winning machines. Guys who wake up winning, win all day long, and then go to bed still winning. They win at sleeping, these Yankees. They win at everything they do. They even take longer, stinkier shits than everybody else. Then they sell them as collectibles that only rise in value over time. They win because that’s what they were made to do. Each individual Yankee was poured from the same molds used by the Franklin Mint, the highest standard of quality on earth.

I understand why people hate winners. I hate winners. But I love the Yankees. Because, for me, the Yankees aren’t just a team. They are an aspiration. Whereas a lot of baseball teams represent the daily struggles and shortcomings of their cities and their fans, the Yankees represent something different; they represent possibility, the aura of doing something well year in and year out. The represent the majestic. Sure, that’s easy to resent, but it’s far easier to resent than to achieve. When kids dream, they dream of being baseball players. When baseball teams dream, they dream of being the Yankees.

In every other aspect of my life, I will continue to identify with the misfits and losers. As people they are more interesting and fun to hang out with. I mean, I love Derek Jeter, but I wouldn’t choose him as my Scattergories partner, the stiff. But I have one small place in my life where I am the guy with the brightest teeth. That place is my love for the Yankees. May they destroy those scrappy, fucking underdog Phillies.

October 22, 2009

A Brief History

After my last blog entry, which dealt with my recurrent bouts of depression, self-doubt, and existential angst, so many people wrote lovely comments detailing their own experiences with similar issues that I felt compelled to address this topic again even though I am afraid of making this blog even more self-indulgent than it already is. If the dewy-eyed photo of my self on the masthead isn’t enough to make people think “what a pretentious, albeit gorgeous, asshole,” these posts just might do the trick. Even so, I felt like I couldn’t quite move onto more interesting topics, such as “How to Laser Etch the Statue of Liberty Into Your Pubes,” without at least writing a brief follow-up.

My depression started when I was very young, around the age of nine or ten. This coincided with Ronald Reagan’s election to the presidency. I do not think the two events were related but I am not ruling anything out. I do not know if there was an actual trigger which activated the precipitous drop in my happy brain juices, but I suspect living in a tiny townhouse with my lesbian mom, her verbally abusive partner, and three other kids, one of whom needed constant care due to Down Syndrome (not me), didn’t help. Chances are, I would have been a miserable fuck regardless of my life circumstances but who knows? Whether I was unhappy at home because of my depression or my depression made me unhappy at home I do not know. All I know is that fourth graders shouldn’t dress like Goths.

Things went south very quickly in sixth grade. I was always young in my class because of the way my birthday fell but I became a lot younger when I skipped fifth grade and moved up to sixth. In my town, sixth graders went to a different school, which combined all the town’s elementary schools into a huge “Lord of the Flies” type jungle environment in which the larger boys began hunting down and killing the smaller boys. I was almost two years younger than many of my classmates and I could not relate to their violent, pubescent ways.

To make things worse, as a kid I used to burst into tears frequently and without provocation. My mother used to say I was “sensitive,” which was her code for “probably gay.” My sixth grade peers used the word “faggot,” which was their code for “faggot.” So I got tagged with being gay from a fairly early age, a perception which has continued to this day, which is weird considering that I have always been deeply and profoundly attracted to girls, even ones without dicks. I’m not sure what it is about me that seems to scream “homosexual,” but sometimes when I see myself on TV even my own gaydar pings. Frankly it’s embarrassing, although you’d be amazed at how much tail this single character trait used to get me. Ladies seem to like soft girly men such as myself.

I mention my hyper-sensitivity only because I finally figured out how to bury all of my emotions around the eighth grade, which probably made my depression even worse. So I became, essentially, a zombie for the rest of my schooling. A very funny zombie, yes, who happened to own what can only be described as an “awesome” Miami Vice sateen jacket. But a zombie in a Miami Vice jacket, no matter how awesome, is still a zombie.

The depression stayed with me for the rest of public schooling, through college, and through my twenties. It wasn’t always there but it was there enough that it was a problem. Earlier diagnosis and treatment would undoubtedly have helped me, but therapy wasn’t really something people did back then. Unless they were New York Jews. As a New Jersey Jew I didn’t qualify.

So for a long time I didn’t even realize I had a problem. I just knew that I was miserable a good portion of the time, and rather than deal with anything that was going on with me, I put all of my energy into career. Acting classes, plays, and then the State. Had you asked me if I thought having my own television show at the age of twenty-two would help my problems go away, I probably would have answered, “I know I’m supposed to say no but I’m pretty sure the answer is yes.” As it turns out, the answer was no. I was miserable on “The State,” miserable on “Viva Variety,” “Ed,” and have been on and off miserable throughout. Not because of anything anybody did but because I have Crazy Head, which I later learned is the clinical term for depression.

Now, finally, I feel like I’m better. Not perfect, but better. Here’s what helps: medication, therapy (which I don’t go to enough, but should), and my family. Professional successes don’t help. Money doesn’t help. The very nice BMW does help a little but only because I look so good in it. And I have found that talking about it helps.

What I know is that depression is a lifelong battle and I’m okay with that. In fact, I’m grateful because there are lots of people, some in my family, who have much worse depression than me. Mine is sort of like a paper cut. It hurts for a little bit but it doesn’t last that long and then I can get on with my life. Until it happens again. Because I’m terrible with paper. The rest of it: the self-doubt and existential angst and everything else are just different symptoms of the same problem. So sure, I’m a self-indulgent, bipolar pussy. But I like to think I’m best kind of self-indulgent bipolar pussy, the kind who eats pills. And lots and lots of ice cream.

October 17, 2009

Mad Pimpin'

One of the fun things about having a blog is being able to write unfunny posts about depression and desperation. SO FUN! I’ve been a depressive my whole life, both to myself and to those around me. The kind of guy who makes people say, “Let’s not hang around that fellow anymore.” Several years ago I started taking Lexapro, a serotonin reuptake inhibitor, which I think means that it works like the urine recycling thing in “Waterworld,” only instead of recycling your pee it recycles your happy moods. The Lexapro has been very good for me because it reduces the amount of time I think about hating myself to a manageable level, and when I do think about it, it’s not as bad.

I’ve also done therapy, although I find that the pills work a lot quicker. Rather than explore the causes of my problems, I’m much more interested in suffocating them under a blanket of complex chemicals. Lately though, as in the course of this tour, even the pills haven’t really helped.

Part of the problem is that the tour isn’t selling as well as I had hoped it would, which I take to be a referendum on my talent and worth as a human being. You can obviously understand why I would equate mediocre tickets sales with failure at humanity. The other thing is a vague unease with my entire career. I can define the unease like this: “I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing.”

I’m confident this is a common problem among people. They feel like a fraud to everybody around them and live in desperate fear that they will one day be discovered. That’s how I feel pretty much all the time. For a comedian, I have never felt very funny, and do not have any idea how to be funny. This a really bad combination for a comedian. And the older I get, the more I feel like the mainstream Hollywood community agrees with me. As a younger man, I thought it was only a matter of time before I got discovered and sent on a fabulous rocket ride of fame and fortune. (In my head, I think of that “rocket ride” as the end of the old “Wheel of Fortune” where you got to go shopping for ceramic poodles and elegant light fixtures with your prize money. That seemed to be the height of wealth and sophistication.)

Now that I’m older I realize that Hollywood has looked me over and found me lacking. My big chances have come and gone and I am left scrambling to keep my umpteenth basic cable television show on the air. I am left with this malaise, this feeling like I tried my best and my best was found to be marginal. I imagine a lot of people feel that way, like the dreams they had for themselves ultimately matter only to them, and their failure to achieve them is a letdown to themselves, but worse, to the people around them. By the way, nobody around me is telling me I’m a failure. On the contrary. But when those around me say encouraging things, what I hear is, “We’re just telling you this because you’re a failure.” So it’s a kind of a no-win situation for them. If they don’t encourage me, I think it’s because they think I’m a failure. If they do encourage me I think it’s because they think I’m a failure.

Do they make extra-strength Lexapro?

This kind of desperate feeling makes me want to do more, more, more. Like if I just make enough stuff, eventually something will break through and I’ll be able to breathe easy about my own self-worth. If you think, “That doesn’t sound like a healthy way to live a life,” I would say to you, “I agree.” It’s not.

In the last few years I’ve felt less and less like an artist and more and more like a hustler. Now, I like hustlers. I admire their wide-brimmed hats and coats with large lapels, but I don’t know that I want to actually be one. I don’t want to be a guy with ulterior motives or somebody who is doing something just to get paid, even if that something is extolling the rich, delicious chocolatey shell of a Klondike bar. (Which actually are delicious – no joke.) I’m sure I’m just like all of you: all I want to do is what I want to do when I want to do it. And like all of you, I can’t. Because, like you, I have responsibilities greater than myself. So I continue to hustle to meet those responsibilities.

Ideally I would just disappear for a while. I would sit at home and learn piano and play with my kids. I would lay in my hammock and read internet articles about Kevin Federline getting fat. I might write jokes on Twitter. I might get good at rock climbing. I don’t know what I would do, but I would like to figure out how to live in such a way that I don’t derive my self-worth externally, from the public. That’s the danger with my business. So much of it is designed to feed ego that people forget how to feed themselves. A lot of people like me maybe were never good at that in the first place so we always feel hungry for more. It’s a kind of reverse anorexia: the more we get fed, the more of ourselves we lose.

This is why celebrities get increasingly desperate to hold onto whatever fame they might have had at an earlier point in their lives. They need the attention because the attention is how they came to define themselves. I don’t think I’m like that but I would be lying if I said I was so far off. Fortunately, when you’ve only ever been a C-Lister, you don’t feel like you’re missing that much when you’re treated like a D-Lister. So thank God for small favors.

Anyway, the point is that it’s hard out here for a pimp. And it’s even harder when the ass you’re pimping is your own. 




UPDATE: Just wanted to write a quick note to tell everybody that, while I appreciate the supportive notes and such, I really wasn't looking for that. I just thought it might be interesting to share with you that I experience a lot of the same self-doubt that a lot of people go through and that I get depressed like a lot of people out there. Separately, I think there is a lack of honesty from people in my business about how scary and sad it can be. When everybody tries so desperately hard to be "somebody," it's hard to admit that most of the time we don't feel like anybody. Our real selves get sublimated by the image we're forced to create. Too often that image is supposed to be invulnerable. And I don't think it's just my business, either. I think it's the business of being American. Just wanted to share that I don't feel invulnerable.

October 14, 2009

Disappointing

I'm not going to lie. This tour is not going well. For the first time in our moderately illustrious careers, we're having attendance problems. Most performers will not admit when attendance is down, but I am not most performers. Because I am already self-loathing, I take a perverse pride in faltering attendance because it further bolsters my already horrible self-image. Tonight we are in Milwaukee, at a lovely ballroom, and there is a real scarcity of paid audience members. Some of them may have won the tickets and some of them may have just wandered in off the street.

Perhaps the reason is the economy. Perhaps ticket prices are too high ($2,500 a piece). Perhaps people are just sick of us. Or perhaps we have fallen into irrelevance. Whatever the reason, it's discouraging to drive/fly to faraway cities only to show up to be met with a half-hearted shrug and cricket sounds. Sometimes cricket sounds are terrific, like when you go to Cricket World, but when you show up at a big ballroom in Milwaukee they can be disconcerting.

All of that said, the audience members who have come are great. Lovely people who enjoy themselves. My whiny blog post is meant to encourage more people to attend, not to disparage those brave and hearty souls who already made the commitment.

I love you.

I hate me.

October 07, 2009

Virginia Tech

Last night I did show at Virginia (“Whatever you do, don’t mention the massacre”) Tech with the very funny Greg Giraldo. I found it challenging showing up at a school primarily known in my mind as the site of a horrible shooting rampage and not mention it at least once, which may be why I feel compelled to write this post about it. Forty years after Kent State, I’m pretty sure everybody there still says the words “bell tower” when they visit, so it was tough to bite my tongue only two years after this particular attack. Not that I think there’s anything funny about what happened at Virginia Tech. Far from it. But when a place is so closely associated with a tragedy, naturally your thoughts turn to that tragedy when visiting that place. I will never drive by Ground Zero, for example, without having the same thoughts. But those thoughts and “comedy show” aren’t necessarily compatible so I made a conscious decision when leaving home yesterday morning to keep my mouth shut. Even when the local news reporter asked me if I had heard of Virginia Tech before coming here, and what had I heard, I answered by saying “I heard you have a pretty good football team.” Which they do. Ranked number five. Out of six. (That was a joke. There’s probably more than six teams. There could be as mamy as seven.)

The students I met seemed to be happy and filled with school pride, which is good. Normally I’m not a fellow who takes school pride real seriously. As a Jew, any kind of tribalism leaves me a little squeamish since we’re usually on the losing end of it, but in this case I was glad to see how hopeful and normal those kids seemed. So go Hokies. I’m rooting for all of you, even though you have a terrible, terrible mascot. (Fighting turkey, pictured below.)

 

 Hokiebird1024

 

Well Done

I don't normally get very political with this blog, but I thought this was very well done. Particularly great is the interview at the very end with the Teabagger. Don't just skip to the end, though, because the whole thing is worth watching.

October 02, 2009

Soup!

Fall is here. A great time of year in Connecticut because the trees are turning, the weather is refreshing and brisk, and the kids are back in school. (I actually don’t care about the trees and weather; it’s primarily about the kids.) Yes, it’s hard to believe that only a few weeks ago I was swimming naked in a pool in Spain. What’s even harder to believe is that nobody called the police because it wasn’t my pool.

Autumn is, of course, soup weather. For most of my life I didn’t realize how much I enjoyed soup. I would occasionally crack open a can of Campbell’s Chicken Noodle, maybe indulge in a little French onion if the mood hit me. But only in recent years have I discovered that I actually love soup. Pretty much any kind of soup.

Tomato soup? Yes. Minestrone soup? Sure. What about carrot ginger soup? Yes, my friends. I love carrot ginger soup, even though I do not really like either carrots or ginger. But when they are combined into a creamy broth, they gain the magical power of deliciousness. A power known the world over simply as “soup.”

Anything you put in broth becomes tastier than it was before: mushrooms, peas, the cat. Anything. Every culture enjoys soup. The Russians make borscht, the Vietnamese make Pho Bo. Even the Armenians make soup, and they don’t make anything!

Some people think that soup is boring. Not so. If it’s hot enough it can burn you. Getting burned isn’t boring. Just ask a burn victim. In fact, during the Middle Ages, castle guards used to throw boiling cauldrons of soup onto their enemies. Historians may disagree with my previous statement since it is “not true,” but it is possible and that’s the salient point.

Also, soup features heavily in popular entertainment. Think about every successful movie of the last fifty years. Chances are, at least a couple of them had soup in them. I’m not saying soup is responsible for the success of these movies, but it obviously didn’t hurt.

I think of soup as future food since it is two states of matter at the same time. It’s not really solid or a liquid. It’s the best of both. A food you can slurp. A liquid you can chew. It’s like somebody from the twenty-fifth century sent us a care package. The closest anybody has come to inventing something comparable is James Cameron who gave the world liquid metal in “T2.” But you can’t eat robots, James. Lord knows I’ve tried.

Best of all, soup is associated with family. There’s that old saying, “The family that eats soup together eats soup together.” And while that saying may seem a little redundant, it’s still a great sentiment. So this fall, if you find yourself bored and hungry, why not make your family some fresh homemade soup? You’ll look like a real hero and also you can make it cheap which is good if you have a gambling problem like me.

 

 

October 01, 2009

Interview I Did With the University Daily Kansan

By Valerie Skubal

Comedian Michael Ian Black says, “You'd have to shit in my mouth to make me really uncomfortable,” and you have to believe him.

From movies such as Wet Hot American Summer and comedy sketch shows such as The State and Stella, he shows the audience that he has no limit to his humor. The comedian talks to Jayplay about his new sketch comedy show, Michael & Michael Have Issues, who the real headlining Michael is and what he thinks about the University.

Jayplay: What inspired Michael and Michael Have Issues?

MIB: Michael and I have been friends for a long time and we thought it would be fun to do a show based on our lives. We also wanted to do some sketch comedy because we haven't done that for a long time and that's where we got our start. This was a kind of natural way to do both with a sketch show and about our real relationship: best friends who hate each other.

photo

From TMNT to cable TV: Michael Ian Black left college to perform as a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, and has since built a successful career as an actor and comedian. His most recent TV show, Michael & Michael Have Issues, just finished its first season on Comedy Central.

JP: You guys are pretty mean to each other on the show. Is your real-life relationship with Michael Showalter as love-hate as it is on the show?

MIB: It's obviously a huge exaggeration. Our real relationship is far more love than hate. But there is some hate. I think we have a very competitive relationship in real life and exaggerate it for the show. It's not so far off though.

JP: Who really is the headlining Michael?

MIB: Well, in terms of who's the more famous and talented, obviously I am. But Michael has his good qualities too, he's good at doodling. I'm clearly the headliner. I spend a lot more time on VH1 than he does.

JP: Would you say who you are on the show reflects who you are in real life?

MIB: Like everything else, it's an exaggeration. Theres nothing on the show that is exactly like it is in real life. At the same time theres nothing so far removed from real life. How much Showalter gets laid is an exaggeration. As far as I know, he's a virgin. He's overcompensating with all the women on the show.

JP: Why do you use Twitter so much?

MIB: I'm an attention whore. That's the main reason. And I'm trying to get more followers than Weird Al Yankovic. I'm not sure how many he has. We're pretty close.

JP: What makes you uncomfortable when doing comedy?

MIB: There is very little that makes me uncomfortable. You'd have to shit in my mouth to make me really uncomfortable. I want you to print that. That needs to be your lede. If the article doesn't start with that I'm going to be very upset with you.

JP: How do you think your approach to comedy has changed over the years from The State to Stella to Michael & Michael?

MIB: It hasn't. By the time you're 12 your sense of humor is pretty much what it's going to be. It's just a question of getting better at it. I don't know if I've gotten any better at it. I just keep doing it. The things I was doing with The State make me laugh and will probably make me laugh for the rest of my life.

JP: What will your kids think?

MIB: I'm sure my kids will be deeply mortified by me when they get old enough to see my work. We made a Stella video where we took turns sucking Ms. Claus' dick. I'm sure that won't go over well with my children but what are you going to do? This is who I am.

JP: Where do you get your inspiration for the sketches you do?

MIB: They just happen. People ask that a lot but I don't know how anyone comes up with ideas. They're like the little big bang in your brain. The answer is not 'smoke a lot of weed.' People who assume that smoke a lot of weed themselves and look to justify their behavior. That's a theory, I can't back that up.

JP: What did you want to be when you grew up?

MIB: A long-haul trucker. When i was growing up in the late 70s that was the coolest thing you could be. There was a TV show called B.J. and the Bear about a long-haul trucker and his chimp. I didn't need the chimp but I felt like I needed the truck. In retrospect I was lusting after the wrong thing, it would be far better to have the chimp than the truck.

JP: What were you like when you were in college?

MIB: The same. But just with cheaper clothes and an even worse haircut and slightly more acne.

JP: What got you to leave college at New York University?

MIB: I took a job as a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, me and Ben Garant who was in The State. We traveled the country as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and I left for a semester and didn't go back.

JP: What is your favorite thing you've done?

MIB: I would say the Stella TV show. I think it's really good and it's what might be called 'underrated.'

JP: Who are your comedic influences?

MIB: John Belushi, George Carlin, Eddie Murphy.

JP: You've been doing Klondike bar commercials, what would you do for a Klondike bar?

MIB: Make Klondike bar commercials. I had never had one before I ate one for the commercials. Terrific.

JP: Any new projects we should know about?

MIB: Waiting for Comedy Central to decide whether Michael & Michael is up for another season. I'm just writing a book and waiting. But if you have a job for me I'll take it. Michael Showalter and I are going on tour but we're not coming to Kansas but if you want us to come we can. I like doing colleges, I like Lawrence a lot.

JP: Any last words for the University of Kansas?

MIB: Just the University of Kansas is my favorite university in the world. There is no better university in Lawrence, Kansas than the University of Kansas.