Sit down with Michael Ian Black — actor (The State, Stella, Wet Hot American Summer, Ed), new author (My Custom Van…And 50 Other Mind-Blowing Essays That Will Blow Your Mind All Over Your Face), and self-proclaimed “hilarious observer of life” (VH1’s I Love the… series, his personal blog) — and you find yourself asking the same question repeatedly: “Really?”
Even after the most benign proclamation — “I made gazpacho this week, and black bean soup. Delicious.” — you can’t help yourself. Really? “Yes. I will tell you when I’m lying,” he says. And so, it is with that promise that we present the following statements as fact
and are almost certain that they are true.
1. He wrote the blurb on his book cover credited to Stephen Colbert: “Michael Ian Black has proven that even the most simple-minded among us can occasionally create works of genius.”
“I did. I wrote him, and I said, ‘Hey, would you blurb my book?’ And he wrote back saying, ‘You write it, I’ll sign it.’ I’m very happy with that blurb,” he says. “Amy Sedaris, I think, is probably the only one who actually read the book. She went out of her way to tell me how much she liked it, which I thought was very sweet and gracious of her. Even though I told her brother to suck it [in the essay “Hey, David Sedaris — Why Don’t You Just Go Ahead and Suck It?”], she was able to separate herself from that.”
2. He’s puzzled by people who’ve criticized him for not revealing more about his real life in My Custom Van. Though a memoir was never his intention, there are a few kernels of truth…
“I did really get a perm when I was in sixth grade [“An Open Letter to the Hairstylist Who Somehow Convinced Me to Get a Perm When I Was in Sixth Grade”]; I do like tacos, very much [“Taco Party”]; this probably is what it would take for me to eat dog s— for the rest of my life [“Using the Socratic Method to Determine What It Would Take For Me to Voluntarily Eat Dog S— For the Rest of My Life”],” he insists. Also, he adds, “I do love candy corn [“Lewis Black Hates Candy Corn: A Rebuttal”]. Now, was I as outraged in real life listening to his hyperbolic rant against candy corn as I tend to be in the essay? No, of course, not. But as I start to write the essay, I become more and more outraged.”
3. He has three children’s books coming out.
“I have kids, and it seemed easy,” he says of his inspiration. “Turns out I was right on both counts: I do have kids and it was easy….The first book comes out in January, called Chicken Cheeks.That’s right, it’s about chicken butts. Or, excuse me, it’s aboutanimal butts including chickens’. There’s no story, it’s just a list offunny animal butts. Like, chicken cheeks, polar bear derrière, hounddog heinie, deer rear, giraffe back half, etc. My kids think butts arefunny. I think butts are funny. It was called Duck Butt, originally, but Barnes & Noble made it very clear that they would not be stocking a book called Duck Butt. I don’t know why. It was heartbreaking for me because I thought Duck Butt was about the best title, for anything, in the world. Even better than Cap’n Crunch. Barnes & Noble didn’t agree. The word butt doesn’t appear anywhere in the book. The second book is officially untitled. Unofficially it’s called Purple Kangaroo, and the narrator of the book says he can read your mind and then proves it. The third one is called A Pig Parade is a Terrible Idea, and it explains why having a pig parade would be a terrible idea.”
4. He’d also like to write a novel.
“But if I were to write a novel, I’d probably write it under a pseudonym because I would probably write a serious novel, and no one would take it seriously if it was under my name. I’m a man of many sides. I’m a diamond, a multifaceted gem that just sparkles. But I’ll probably never do that. I’ve got all kinds of plans for things that I’m never gonna do. Open an ice cream stand, for example. I’m never gonna open an ice cream stand, but I’d like to. I like ice cream, and I like thinking of ice cream-themed ideas. Like resolution No. 17 [in the essay “My Top 50 New Year’s Resolutions”]: “Finally invent ‘ice cream burrito’.”
5. He would turn down Dancing With the Stars.
“It’s atrocious. It’s boring. Now that said, NBC did approach me to be on Celebrity Circus, and I seriously considered it. Not because I wanted to be on it, but because I thought I could, like, learn circus stuff and maybe nobody would see it. I thought, Forthe first time in my life, I would actually be in shape and I willlearn amazing circus skills. That could be fantastic. And I could be inLA. So if I’m in LA, that means I could go play poker every night.I really thought about it pretty seriously, and I probably would havedone it, too, but the timing didn’t work. There are oddball things thatI’ll do. Like, I was on $25,000 Pyramid. They called and said, ‘Do you want to be on $25,000 Pyramid?‘ Initially, I said, ‘No.’ And then I thought, Wait, I love Pyramid. And I do love Pyramid. And Donny Osmond is the host, and I’m gonna say no? NO. I went and did Pyramid. That’s probably the least awesome thing that I said yes to because I thought it was actually awesome. I did say no to Hollywood Squares because I don’t love Hollywood Squares.”
6. He almost had Elijah Wood’s role in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
“What happened was, I auditioned. Thought, I just gave a greataudition. Didn’t hear anything for, like, two weeks. Then they calledand said, ‘The director, Michel Gondry, saw your audition and reallyliked it. Can you come in and read with Mark Ruffalo right now?’ At thetime I was living in Peekskill, NY and just had a baby and didn’t haveanybody to watch the baby. So I figuredthat out, and went down there. It was me, and Seth Green, and AaronStanford, who had just been in that movie Tadpole. So I go in and readwith Mark Ruffalo, and think I just did a great job. I leave. They calland are like, ‘Right now, you’re the only choice.’ I’m, like, ‘Great.When do I start?’ They’re like, ‘No. You’re just the only choice.’ That’snever a good sign when you get that call. It means that they’reseeing if Elijah Wood is available. He didn’t need it; I kinda needed it. I was almost the host of TheLate Late Show. Craig Ferguson needed that; I also needed it.”
7. He was the original voice of Crush in Finding Nemo, but was told the character wasn’t working and that it’d been cut.
“Then I saw the trailer, and I was overjoyed because I saw the character and thought what I was hearing was my voice. But it sounded just off enough that I wasn’t sure, so I did a little investigation, which required one phone call, to discover that I’d been replaced by the director [Andrew Stanton, who recorded the voice himself]. I think that was my first firing. It was sad not because I particularly cared for myself, but because my son was gonna be two or three when the movie came out, and I wanted to make him love me. And also, because the residual checks on the world’s top-grossing animated film, I thought, would probably be pretty good.”
8. He’s now in the process of branding himself.
“The brand I’m trying to develop is ‘Witty, smart, slightly offbeat, handsome comedian.’ But that’s not the brand that really exists,” he says. “What really exists is ‘Kinda gay guy who annoys me on TV.'” What are his career plans? “My main goal right now is to be employed. I don’t think it gets much deeper than that. I want to do a lot of things. I want to direct another movie. I want to write more. I’d like to get a job where I’m just acting, because it’s exhausting doing everything. But at the same time, I’d like to get another TV show that I create on the air, so I’m willing to be exhausted. I’d like to write another one of these books, if my publisher will have me. I’d like this book to do very well, which would help me write another book. And, you know, I’d like to spend more time at home with my kids. But it’s hard to do it all. I can relate to Sarah Palin on this point. She and I both have to juggle family and career. She is clearly more successful at it than me, because apparently, she has the additional burden of having to hunt for every meal that she eats. I don’t have that problem. There are stores near me. That’s going to be hard on the campaign trail. I feel bad for the woman.” (But not too bad. After Palin’s speech at the Republican National Convention, he wrote a blog item titled “Hopefully This Doesn’t Come Across As Sexist, But Sarah Palin Can Suck My D—.” Any response from the Palin camp? “Just a note of thanks. ‘Thanks for the support!’ I think they were flattered.”)
9. He’d be mainstream, if he knew how to be.
“It’s nice to have a small audience of people who love what you do; it would be nicer to have a large audience of people who love what you do. When we were making Stella, we all thought, Well now we’re really doneit. Now we’re really made a mainstream television show that everybody’sgoing to enjoy. Everybody will get this. What’s not to get? Three dumb guys in suits running around doing stupidthings. We could not have been farther from that if wetried to be farther from that. All the things that I think I shouldn’t do,are the things that inevitably get me the closest. Like, the I Lovethe… series. I thought Well, I’ll just do this as a lark, ’cause theyasked and I’m a whore for attention, and that’s been the mostmainstream thing I’ve ever done….Run, Fat Boy, Run, that’s something where I tried to go a little bit more mainstream. [He wrote the original script, which star Simon Pegg reworked when the film relocated to London.] It was a big hit overseas. Big hit in England. Big, big bomb right here in the United States of America.”
10. The person he’s most often mistaken for in The Kids in the Hall.
“People never say to me, ‘Hey, are you Bruce McCulloch?’ who I don’t really look like. Or, ‘Hey, are you Mark McKinney?’ who I don’t really look like. Literally, nobody’s ever mistaken me for any one of them — just for being of them. I don’t know why that is. Well, I think I have a vaguely gay and a vaguely Canadian vibe about me. They’re specifically Canadian and vaguely gay. And one of them is specifically also gay. It’s that combination.”
11. He doesn’t watch himself on TV.
Which means he’s only guessing when he says his latest Comedy Central show, Reality Bites Back, was funny: “It got surprisingly good reviews, and it’s the kind of thing I’m good at doing which is just sort of acting like an a–hole. That’s what one of my strengths. Sincerity? Not so much. Acting like a d—head? Yeah. That I can do.” It also means that he has no idea what you’re talking about when you quote one of his I Love the… quips back to him. “They sit me down in a room. I talk for four hours. And by the time I leave the room, I’ve forgotten everything I’ve said. And I don’t watch. So people will say things like, ‘Hey, you got a condom in your shoe,’ and I’m like, ‘I don’t know why you’re saying that.'”
12. He doesn’t watch a lot of TV, period. (Besides Mad Men, The Sopranos, and The Wire.)
“I try watching TV. Itry it all the time. There’s nothing I want to see. I likewatching shows on National Geographic about maximum security prisons. Anything about gang members stabbing each other inprison, that’s the sort of thing that I like. I do have an affinity for giants [as he reported on his blog], but that show [TheScience of Gigantism] was kind of disappointingbecause it went into the science. I didn’t care about the science, Ijust wanted to see giants. More to the point, what they never do isshow me a normal person — ‘This is John, he’s 5’10″‘ — then reveal…giant standing next to him. That would be a pre-cum moment for me. Or,show me exactly what they’re eating every day. That is endlesslyfascinating to me.” That sounds like a great show, we tell him. He should shoot a pilot. And suddenly, he’s the most animated we’ll see him in our 90-minute conversation. “What AreGiants Eating? That’s a great idea. Ohmygod, I would watch that showreligiously.” [He did recently shoot a pilot for Comedy Central, with Michael Showalter. “It’s called Michael and Michael Have Issues, and we playourselves. We have a fake TV show on it and we argue a lotbackstage. It’s funny, and I don’t know if they’re gonna pick it up.But if it’s anything like my other projects, it won’t be verysuccessful…knock on wood!”]
13. He can’t decide whether or not to go to his 20th high school reunion.
“As lovely as everybody at my high school was, they didn’t care for mevery much. What are we really gonna have to talk about? I don’t want togo there and be like, Hey, Look at me! I’m on the TV. I feel like justshowing up is sort of like showing off in a weird way. Not they’regonna be impressed or that they’re gonna care. So either I’ll bedisappointed that nobody cares, or I’ll feel like an a–hole for showingup, if they do care. I’ve been having stress dreams about it for abouta week. I had one last night. In the dream last night, I had a surprisingly nice time. I showed up and everybody wasvery gracious and people that I thought I would have nothing in commonwith, we were getting along like old chums, even though we weren’t atthe time. Like, this guy I went to high school with has been writing tome on Facebook. We were not friends in high school. He was one of theguys who I would consider sort of popular and well-liked, and I was theopposite of that. Had you asked me in high school, I would have said, ‘Oh, that guy’s kind of a d—.'” Turns out he’s like a pediatric nursenow. He’s turned into this lovely man. So now I have to feel bad forharboring a grudge against him…I doubt thatI’ll go. I went to my wife’s 20th, and she had a really good time, butI was bored out of my mind. So I wouldn’t take her to this one, ’causeI wouldn’t want to inflict that on her. But then it would be mestanding by myself, not knowing who to talk to or what to say…I’m notgonna go…I don’t know. There are a couple people thatI am in touch with who I’d like to see. But I feel like I’m in touchwith them. But mostly through email, I haven’t seen ’em in years. Seehow stressed out I am getting?”
What do you think? Should he go? (We say yes. And blog it.)
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