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Tue, 28 Feb '12

Michael Ian Black: He's Doing It Right

The prolific comedian talks life, laughs and his book, You're Not Doing It Right

From his early days as a writer and actor on MTV's You Wrote It, You Watch It (hosted by a then-unknown young comic named Jon Stewart) to being part of sketch-comedy ensemble show The State and the much-loved cult comedy Wet Hot American Summer, Michael Ian Black has always displayed a uniquely skewed sense of humor. Now he wants you to know the real him. Sort of. In conjunction with the release of his new book You're Not Doing It Right: Tales of Marriage, Sex, Death, and Other Humiliations today, we tried to get to know the man in Black.

Nerdist News: Your new book You're Not Doing It Right is a comedic look at your own experiences. Are there any good stories or anecdotes that didn't make it into the final version?

Michael Ian Black: No, I left a bunch of things out because they didn't pertain to the central theme of the book, but nothing that I feel like the reader is missing.

NN: What made you want to write this particular book? Was there a desire to let people know the "real you?"

MIB: That wasn't the intention. My goal was to write an honest book about marriage and fatherhood. I wanted to break through my own comedic persona and move into more personal territory as well, and I wanted to take a step forward as a writer. Those were the goals. But it wasn't about people getting to know "me." In a weird way, although it's my story, I want to remove myself from the book as much as possible. I almost wish I could have published it under a pseudonym because I don't want people to think of it as a "celebrity memoir." 

NN: You probably knew this was coming; next year is the twentieth anniversary of The State. Can we expect any sort of reunion show or maybe a movie? What if we said "please?"

MIB: We weren't going to do anything, but since you said please...

NN: As a follow-up, what's the status of This American Sandwich? Also, is there more Stella in the near future?

MIB: This American Sandwich is a script that The State wrote for a television movie that never got made. As usual, we were promised something by a television network which never materialized. We'd love to make it at some point and hope that somebody would be willing to let us do that. The State really wants to do something together again, but it's hard to find the time/money with so many people. I'm positive Stella will be doing more stuff in the future. What, I don't know. We will almost definitely tour again, and we'd love to put something on videotape as well. 

NN: Some of your projects with the most fanatical following have come when you've partnered with someone or with an ensemble; how do those partnerships affect your solo work and writing? 

MIB: It's a relief to work in collaboration with people, especially with the people with whom I generally work because we have such a long collaborative relationship. The ideas flow more freely with those guys (and girl), and we generally make pretty good work pretty quickly. When I work by myself, I tend to be more deliberative, which isn't necessarily good for the process. 

NN: Do you ever find your humor or tone changes based on who you're working with?

MIB: Of course. Each collaboration ends up having its own distinct voice. I think that's a good thing. When you blend two or three different voice, the sound you get is going to necessarily be different than what you would get on your own. 

NN: What's your favorite snack you and Tom have eaten so far on your podcast, Mike & Tom Eat Snacks? What's your favorite snack, period? What's your favorite bit of life knowledge you've gleaned from doing the show with Tom?

MIB: It's always a relief when certain snacks I expect to be delicious actually are. Snickers, for example. Tremendous candy bar. No candy bar manufacturer is ever going to top Snickers. They may equal it, but they're not topping. Also, clementines are excellent. Sometimes fruits and natural snacks get taken for granted, but in this case, the clementine really shined. One of the great things about our podcast is that nobody is learning anything. It's all conjecture. 

NN: You seem to be able to bridge a number of comedy styles as well as mediums, from absurdism to observational humor and stand up to short films. Do you have a preference for the medium you work in? Do you have a comfort zone for how you approach a given medium?

MIB: First of all, thank you. Secondly, I think of those distinctions as fairly arbitrary. My goal is not to work in different styles or mediums, but just to do good, challenging work. The fact that one might be a book or a podcast or a movie is almost irrelevant. The work remains the same. I think that's true for most people. Sometimes I focus more exclusively on one form over another, but that's because I'm interested in that particular form at that moment. The underlying process and commitment to craft never changes. 

NN: Do you find it difficult to switch gears between writing more adult-oriented comedies and children's books? What sort of challenges does writing for children present?

MIB: Writing children's books is very similar to writing sketch comedy. The idea is to create a fun premise, explore it as fully as you can and get out. That's basically it. With more grown-up stuff, the process is similar, but you have more space to develop characters and incorporate larger ideas. Kids aren't going to sit still for a three-hundred-page exploration of what it means to turn 40. 

NN: How did you feel when you found out you were going to be a He-Man action figure, as Robot Chicken's Mo-Larr? 

MIB: Those kinds of things, while nice, don't mean that much to me. Because all it means, ultimately, is that a manufacturer of plastics has agreed to manufacture your plastic. Nice, but not earth-shattering. 

NN: Do you have any advice for people in their comedy/nerdly pursuits?

MIB: I have only one piece of professional advice: if you want to do something, do it.

You're Not Doing It Right: Tales of Marriage, Sex, Death, and Other Humiliations is available for purchase as of today.

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