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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.

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toddkillick

You helped create "Day Off." That is still one of the funniest things I've ever seen.

Camille

I agree with everything Renee said, and not just because she's my internet lover.
Lexapro had the opposite effect on me, made me nervous as hell.
I was just thinking about how difficult it must be to put everything into a show/project/etc and have to wait until some board(or whatever) tells you it's good enough to continue. You're right about us all having struggles and wow, I really appreciate your honesty. You certainly didn't have to put it out there but you did. I only wish good things for you and hope you have a wonderful holiday season with your family and loved ones. Showalter? Not so much.


Elizabeth

Dear Michael,

I don't know if you read these comments or not, but I thought I would at least put my thoughts down.

I just want to say "thank you" for being honest and candid about your feelings. I know it is not easy. I have suffered from depression for many years and at times it can be downright disabling (I also take Lexapro). Most days are fine, but during a rough patch like I am going through now, every day can be a real struggle.

But, enough about me.

I know you are not looking for supportive notes and comments. However, I just wanted to say that, for what it's worth (which may be very little), you have gotten me through some really tough days by making me laugh. And, as they say, laughter is the best medicine. As a pharmacist, I know that's not really TRUE per-se...Lexapro is probably the best medicine...but, I'm sure you get the idea. :)

But, seriously, I mean that sincerely...your work has really kept me going during some rough patches. Which is why when the opportunity came for me to help out your cause by hanging a few posters around the city for your show, I jumped at it...it was the least I could do. I am excited about the show and I am trying to round up as many paying customers as possible to come see the show. I truly want to see you and Michael succeed and for your projects to do well. I wish you good luck with the rest of your tour and, in turn, the rest of your career.

Take care and thanks for the laughs.

thecitychicken

"This kind of desperate feeling makes me want to do more, more, more." Does it feel like hypomania? Have you read the very latest about the SSSR antidepressants? They are finding they unstabilize a lot of people and can give them hypomania and anxiety. Now defined as "mixed states." (Or an "agitated depression.") So they often give people mood stabilizers with their SSRI's nowadays. I started taking the mood stabilizer Lamotrigine. OMG, what a difference. It's even allowing me to take less Celexa.

Camille

That's interesting,citychicken. I'm going to look into that.
Geez, it's hard when an enemy has outposts in your head.

thecitychicken

Interestingly, telling someone who is having depressive episode that you love them sooo much doesn't really ameliorate depression. Not that Michael won't love hearing that, but it's that you could tell someone who is having an episode that they are wonderful all day long and it won't make them feel better and better, in proportion to the amount it is told to them. Depression/anxiety, the endogenous kind (comes from within) doesn't come from without; it comes from your own brain. I myself have had a number of distinct depressive episodes when my life was WONDERful. That's why medication often helps. Also, Michael might believe that he's feeling depressed because he's having "failures" in his life, but it could be that he's having a depressive episode and associating it with his current goings-on, when really they aren't related. He can probably think of times when he's had subjective "failures" which didn't make him depressed at all. This is why, for depressives, that they have on retainer a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner or psychiatrist for these kinds of times. "You are great" times 100 doesn't replace one of those.

showalter

yo dawg,

stop cryin like a baby.

take klondikes money and stop worrying.

you're like the fat girl that isn't having fun and can't find a boyfriend. stop lookin so much and just have fun dawg.

eat some doritos and get off the internet for a week.

Philip

As lame as this may sound, I actually wrote you a fan letter recently. I was dismayed to learn that I had no address to which I should send. Now, I'm not asking for one, because I realize that could be dangerous, but I think I'll just summarize here and hope you read it.

You are literally the reason I want to be a writer and a comedian. I have only you to thank.

Thanks, Michael.

PandD

a ping pong match will revive the inner soul! lots of love...xxoooxox

Michele

I have ALWAYS wondered why more people didn't "get" the material you guys always did on The State/Stella, because, to me, it's obviously comedic genius and I'm always impressed with what you have to offer. Then I remember that most of the people in this country have shitty taste and are entertained by the most mainstream, generic shit possible. And I'm really not trying to sound like some snarky, above it all, ironic hipster, that's just the way that I've accepted things. Just try to take comfort in the fact that most of your fans are really die hard. Especially because they aren't sure if the majority of the country will accept it or not. Don't know if that helps. Oh well, I'll always be a fan, I also fought to keep Stella on the air. Your show in Philly on the 29th has got me very happy, and super excited. A fan like me will always support whatever you do, and there are a lot of fans like me. See you in Philadelphia!

Kaitlin

This post makes me feel like I should personally apologize for being an unemployed college student and not having the money for a ticket to the Ogden show tonight. I bet it was bitchin'.

m

It's really nice to see a little sincerity on the internet/in the world, especially from a (very famous) person such as yourself, whose viewpoints I respect and find hilarious enough to have paid actual money to see them, multiple times.
Anyway, nobody who has anything to say (or at least anything insightful or especially anything funny) isn't at least a little bit neurotic, right?

Australian Martin

Abraham Lincoln was depressed since his 20's, and he had panic attacks. So was John Adams, Chopin, Winston Churchill, Grover Cleveland, Kurt Cobain, Rodney Dangerfield, Charles Darwin, Charles Dickens, Emily Dickinson, Harrison Ford, Jim Carrey, Keats, Faulkner, Tolstoy, Lord Byron, Poe, Hemingway and Tennessee Williams. Anguish, however awful and suffocating it may be, is a wellspring of brilliance, and the vast majority of brilliant people to ever have lived suffered from bouts of misery. That’s just what it costs. After all, if they were perfectly happy and content, why work?

If you want it to go away, first try 60 minutes of daily exercise, healthy eating, a consistent sleep routine, less alcohol and some form of spiritual outlet (philosophy, religion or anything outside of your normal world). For talk therapy, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) has the best empirically supported results, and those people who don’t respond to it generally find a meditation based ‘Mindfulness-integrated’ therapy to be helpful (e.g. Mindfulness-CBT, Dialectical Behavioural Therapy or Acceptance and Commitment Therapy).

If those treatments doesn’t alleviate the misery, I guess you’ll just have to keep on being one brilliant f&%@ing motherf%@&er.

LRU

You are very brave to be so candid. Thank you for this blog post.

You are right. You aren't the only one who feels this way. Reading this post is as if you have an inside circuit into my mind and wrote the story of my life.

It's never enough. Being more accomplished, having more, trying to be even more, it's never good enough. I'm never as hard on anyone as I am on myself. I guess we have that in common.

Maybe it's ironic I've been reading and responding to your tweets/blog to balance myself and to bring some levity into my life.

I really appreciate this post particularly.

Good luck with the rest of the tour. I'll be there at the Boston show in the balcony with all the other malcontents since the mezzanine has sold out.

P.S. I'm training to go into psychiatry. I was just talking about SSRIs and psychotherapy with a psychiatrist at a karaoke bar on Friday night. What a coincidence. :-)

Reen

Wow, I'm enjoying the outpouring of thoughtful understanding folks opening up back to you. I'll try to come up with a word for this giant therapy session like you would. How about: "Therapy-nado?" No?

I really like what Australian Martin wrote, a gentle reminder that all the cool smart people are a little "off". XOXO

And now that we're all sharing our innermost struggles with you, you should get your specs out, notepad, and start nodding. You know, step into the role of Doctor.

Doctor SUPERHOT that is!

mr

Michael, I appreciate this blog entry so much. Like you say, what you are feeling is ultimately very human--shared by basically everyone in your demographic ("the western world?" whatever I mean by that). I'm a professor and I struggle constantly with the worry--no, the CERTAINTY--that I am not qualified to teach young people anything. The gaps in my knowledge are so vast; my ability to shape information into meaningful chunks so impoverished; how can I be allowed to do this for my job? Yet I am, and I am good at it, and I've realized this is just how it feels to be alive, if you are a thoughtful person. "Fraud Syndrome."
My husband just told me that H.G. Wells wrote an essay about how the question "What do I do?" is the ultimate question of modernity. Now that we all have choices, on some level we are suffused with a kind of ennui, because every choice by necessity excludes the possibility of other choices, etc. And once we start defining ourselves from outside--job, fame, money, whatever--we are doomed to never feel really secure enough. Who am I really? What other kind of person could I be? Am I still me if I stay home with my kids instead of hustling in L.A. or whatever?
Another thing your post made me think of is the fact that a goal, once reached, becomes less satisfying than it was in your imagination. I always thought getting a PhD would just blow my mind with awesomeness, like it was the most incredible thing I could imagine happening to me--so many years of work! etc.!--and now it's like, I am glad but not blown away. My life doesn't feel changed. And I'm sure fame is the same way...in high school if you had known you'd have done all the things you've now done--the fucking STATE?? I mean, that is huge enough right there but then you went on to so many amazing things AFTER that that have really defined comedy for so many people, myself included--you would have been amazed if you'd foreseen it all. But now that you have worked slowly toward attaining all those things, they don't seem as profound as they did when they still had to be achieved.
Before grad school, I played in bands, and achieved a certain kind of extremely small-scale popularity. And there, too, it was never really enough--each goal attained only made me think of how much better it could/should be--but the thing I tried to focus on was how amazing it was that some total stranger in Florida had my album and loved it and would then email me. Even if what I made only reached, lets say 100 people who weren't my friends, that's still incredible, and it's moving to me that things I worked hard on can become meaningful to people who don't know me. Regardless of the scale of the endeavor or success, that is the thing that you have achieved--you have meant something powerful to many people who don't know you personally. And that's what makes art beautiful. I think at its root, that's what actually makes people want fame. It's not the approval of mainstream Hollywood, which is so inane and hog-tied by needing to appeal to the lowest-common-denominator. It's the PEOPLE. And maybe you should just do the very hokey thing of thinking about the THOUSANDS AND THOUSANDS of people who are inspired and totally blown away by the amazing art you have made over the course of your adulthood. That is so special! And beautiful! You have MEANT SOMETHING, and you have made people happy, and you have pushed the boundaries of your art (comedy) into new places, which is what all good artists do. The scale of it doesn't matter. You could become the most famous person on earth and you'd still have these nagging doubts. I know you know this, but I'm just saying.
I feel like I've grown up with you--I think you are maybe 8 years older than me or something--and I enjoy each new undertaking or effort or experiment from you (and Showalter, Wain, Kinney, et al) with so much real and true pleasure, so much affection, so much joy that such things can exist in this dumbass world. Do you think people feel this way about "Two and a Half Men?" I doubt it. What you do is weird and special, and of course that is never going to appeal to 100 million people all at once.
I know you know all this, because you are smart and thoughtful. But anyway, this entry really struck me and moved me and i just wanted to say "hey man." You only feel this way because you are thoughtful and sensitive. I wouldn't want to be someone who didn't struggle with these issues, I think...you know?

Nickel Jean

Well, whether you were looking for supportive comments or not, you got them! Not being a celebrity, I cannot identify with that aspect of your life, but I agree that a lot of people feel like frauds and live in fear of being discovered as such. Maybe being oneself all the time and being okay with it is the key to true happiness.

Anyhoo, I adore you and almost everything you do. I promote your work to the less-enlightened. You have a tight-knit, dedicated fan base that borderlines on fanatical. As much as I know it would be nice to have the fame, money and prestige that comes along with being "mainstream", I also know what the mainstream is composed of.

Kasper

I'm an "avid follower" who actually named our firstborn daughter Stella just over a year ago. My wife thinks she was named after a cashier in the local supermarket. Erm, careers are tricky, aren't they?

Ann Arbor fan

I've never taken antidepressants, but I have had to start some therapy to deal with impostor syndrome. I'm in grad school on a sweet ass fellowship, but secretly I'm the world's biggest idiot and I'm just waiting for everyone else to discover how stupid I am, even my fiance. We all feel like failures sometimes. It doesn't mean we are.

It's too bad those certain wires get crossed up in the brain to make us feel depressed and worthless. No one deserves to feel like that, least of all my favorite funny man. I say after the tour, take a break. Spend time with your family, give yourself some 'you' time away from the rest of the world. We'll still be here.

Porcelain

This article helped put some of my own thoughts into focus. Thank you from some nobody in Oklahoma :)

Ryalye

Bullshit.

kat

YOU ARE WORTH LOVING, MICHAEL!

How Do You See Yourself?
by Joyce Meyer
Do you like yourself? After years of trying to help people emotionally, mentally, spiritually and socially, it was a major breakthrough when I discovered that most people really don’t like themselves. Some of them know it, while others don’t even have a clue that this is probably the root of so many other problems in their lives.

God wants us to have great relationships, but self-rejection and even self-hatred are the roots of many relationship problems. In fact, I’ve found the Bible to be a book about relationships, providing valuable advice about my relationship with God, other people and even myself.

How are the relationships with other people in your life? What about your relationship with God…and even with yourself?

Did it ever occur to you that you have a relationship with yourself? While I’ve never given it much thought, I spend more time with myself than with anyone, and it’s vital to get along well with me. Remember, you are the one person you never get away from.

We all know how agonizing it is to work day after day with someone we don’t get along with, but at least that person doesn’t come home with us at night. We can’t get away from ourselves, not even for one second, so it’s of the utmost importance that we have peace with ourselves.

Many of us fall prey to self-rejection because we feel that nobody really loves us or accepts us. We figure that if nobody else loves us, then why should we love ourselves? Because we think others don’t love us, we feel that we must not be worth loving. But that’s a LIE we’ve believed for way too long!

We should love ourselves—not in a selfish, self-centered way that produces a lifestyle of self-indulgence, but in a balanced, godly way that affirms God’s creation as essentially good and right. We may be flawed by unfortunate experiences we’ve gone through, but that doesn’t mean we’re worthless and good-for-nothing.

We must have the kind of love for ourselves that says, “I know God loves me, so I can love what God chooses to love. I don’t love everything I do, but I accept myself because God accepts me.” We must develop the kind of mature love that says, “I know I need to change, and I want to change. In fact, I believe God is changing me daily, but during this process, I will not reject what God accepts. I’ll accept myself as I am right now, knowing that I will not always remain this way.”

Many times people who reject themselves do so because they can’t see themselves as good, proper, or right. They fail to see themselves the way God sees them—as precious children He dearly loves.

As you begin to see yourself through God’s eyes—someone who’s loved and cherished—your view of yourself will begin to change. You’ll begin to see yourself not as rejected, but as loved and accepted…unique and beautiful in His sight.



Ben

Yeah..come to Ithaca and we'll pack the State Theatre for you. Maybe the crowds have been low because you haven't used this joke yet: (I thought of this in the shower this morning...the only people who could pull it off are you and seth rogan)..."Do Bulimics swallow THEN spit?" That's the least I can do for someone who's given me so much.

Katie

Well, if your tour was coming anywhere near me, I would absolutely buy 10 bazillion tickets. Okay, probably not, I'm a poor college student. But I would buy a ticket for myself and get all my friends to do so as well.

Keep on being hilarious.

Jaime

1. I'm not seeing this blog as a fishing line, and I'm not trying to throw you a fish. Let's just get that out of the way.

2. So many people have already said what I want to say better. Aaron, Renee, Michele, Mr :) But for the record, I'll just throw my agreement behind them.

I know you are commenting on the sort of cyclical nature of the public eye, that it is difficult to "figure out how to live in such a way that [you] don’t derive [your] self-worth externally, from the public" because "[s]o much of it is designed to feed ego that people forget how to feed themselves....They need the attention because the attention is how they came to define themselves." And that issue of perspective seems to be the issue. You are judging your worth based on an external artificially created yardstick of commercial "success." Many people have posed the extremely insightful question, what matters more: the work or the success? And I suppose you're having an issue because you don't feel totally secure in the work part. And how can fans convince you that the work is good if you have a hard time believing it. I mean, Tucker Max has fans. I'm sure they tell him the same thing. (love to zing old Tucker. See -- you gave me that gift. So nice :)

But look at the quality of your fans. Not everybody, but many of them, they're smart people. They're The Onion, they're The New York Times, they're NPR, and all the other astonishingly positive critiques who have half a brain. Does Hollywood have half a brain? Maybe a quarter brain. Certainly not half of one. Don't listen to us. Don't even listen to them. Definitely don't listen to you :) Just take solace in this: it's a crap shoot. Success means absolutely nothing. Once you accept that, that is freeing brother.

One last thing, Zach Galiafanakis, Patton Oswalt, and Brian Posein are some of my other favorite comedians. Many people don't know who the hell they are. But Zach lucked into _The Hangover_. He is that weird bearded guy from _The Hangover_. Will that stay? Will he build momentum? Who knows. Whether he does or doesn't, this doesn't change the fact that he is vastly underrated and intensely weird and funny. That's a lovely elite group. But it's a group you can be proud of being a part of. You be you. If you're not sure who you are, just keep doing what you have been doing. Because it's real and it's interesting and it's authentic. That's all we can ever ask for.

Love you most.

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