Michael Ian Black is a very busy man. He co-hosts Mike and Tom Eat Snacks. He's promoting his recent stand-up special Very Famous. He's releasing two separate books, one of them co-written by Meghan McCain. He's also currently taking his Black Is White tour across the country including a stop by the New York Comedy Festival to perform at the Bowery Ballroom on November 11.
We asked him some questions about his multiple projects, his views on stand-up comedy and the current status of the Wet Hot American Summer sequel.
When I was getting ready for this interview, I was looking over your projects and you have to be one of the most prolific comedians. You've done everything: sketch, TV, movies, commercials, books, children's books, podcasts, Twitter. Do you have different approaches to being funny in all these different forms?
It's more or less the same although certain things have certain focuses. Stand-up is innately a little different than working with Stella for example. Writing a children's book is obviously different than sucking a cock for Stella. But it's all coming from the same place, which is just trying to mine my own brain.
Do you have different techniques for writing for these different forms?
It's not very different at all. There's no real difference between any of it, other than sometimes I use Microsoft Word 2004 and sometimes Microsoft Word 2008.
You mentioned stand-up is different. Why is that?
Because it tends to be a little more personal and more character based. Almost by definition. It's a more personal medium. Where as sketch really isn't. My stand-up has been moving to more personal over the last year and a half.
Boredom and the desire to be an extension of myself. I've spent the last fifteen or twenty years doing a lot of absurd, silly stuff, which I still love. But there just came up a point for myself where I felt like I needed to work a new avenue, take my comedy in a different direction and the result is the work I'm doing and also the new book I just wrote.
Yes. Exactly right. I really enjoyed writing the first book. But I feel when I was done with it that the next time out I wanted to write something different and more personal, a little richer. And that's what it is.
That seems like a staple of your career. You don't seem to do one thing and do it again. It seems like you do one thing and afterwards do almost the opposite.
I don't know if it's the opposite but I know what you mean. I tend to veer in different directions and it has to do with wanting to stay creatively engaged in what I'm doing. I just don't have the attention span to do the same thing again and again. I'm interested in whatever is new, whatever is next. And that's lots of different things.
How did the idea for Mike and Tom Eat Snacks start?
Tom Cavanagh and I worked on a TV show together a number of years ago called Ed and remained friends. We wanted to work together, but both of us are busy, and we didn't really have the time to devote to writing or developing a television series. It is very easy to do a podcast and the idea of snacks was just literally the first thing that came to mind.
It's a very fun idea.
I think so. I think all we were looking for was something that give us a certain amount of structure so it's not formless but not so much structure it really mattered. Nothing we would have to adhere to, and it didn't. And snacks seemed the obvious choice. We both like snacks.
What are your favorite snacks on the podcast so far?
You have a book written with Meghan McCain called Stupid For America. What's the story behind that? Seems like an odd pair.
That goes along with everything else I do. It's just like a fun idea. I didn't really know her although I knew who she was. I paid attention to her as a Republican I thought I could get along with if I knew. And then we met on a TV show briefly. One night she was on Twitter when I was on Twitter. And I mentioned to her we should write a book together and she thought I was kidding. Maybe I kind of was but the next day we started brainstorming about what the book could be and it ended up being a cross-country road trip along the lines of On The Road or Hunter S. Thompson connected with politics.
Do you talk about actual politics in the book?
We do but not in terms of policy. It's more about people's attitudes towards the political system and how they feel engaged or disengaged from it.
Did the book at all make you see politics in a different light?
It reaffirmed a lot of what I was thinking already which is that our country is fucked up at the moment and nobody knows what to do about it.
Do you think there's a theme connecting the set on your current tour?
If there's a theme, it's humiliation and shame. Which we can all relate to. We can all relate to my personal humiliation.
Your book seems to reflect more on your suburban life. Is that reflected in your tour?
It is, but it's not Ray Romano. It's still very much me with a lens, maybe a little more aimed at my own day-to-day life. For me it's important to identify things that I care about in my comedy. And for better or for worse, I do care about my family. Mostly for worse.
Why do you think it's important? Important for yourself or for the audience?
It's important for me. It's important for me to find the avenues to explore comedically. That's part of what I'm working on for myself. I can't anticipate if the audience will come with or not when I try new things. But all I have to do is pursue the things that interest me.
Has that affected the actual joke writing?
No. It's the same worries I've always had: just write what you write but make sure you're writing it in your voice, specifically you. As opposed to writing what you think people will think is funny or falling into the trap of hearing other people's voices in your head. So I'm always on guard to make sure that what I'm saying and doing is authentic to me and me alone. It's not about not ripping anyone off. It's about making sure I'm speaking in my voice. And that's something every comedian has to deal with.
That's interesting that it's still something you think about. That's something I associate with a lot of younger comedians.
I think many young comedians don't even have enough awareness of their own voice to know when that's true and when that's not. I think it takes years to discover your own voice. I think for myself as a stand-up, I'm still in that process. I don't think that ever changes. Maybe it does. But for me I'm still in the process of learning my own voice.
I'd be remiss if I didn't ask, but what's the deal with the Wet Hot American Summer sequel?
I don't know. I know that Michael Showalter and David Wain are talking. I think they would like to do another one, but as with anything movie related, the desire to do something and the ability to do something are often separated by a vast financial gulf. I hope we get to do another one. It was really fun, and I do like having fun. So hopefully, we'll get to make another one.