Wednesday, October 31, 2007
I recently recieved an email from a writer named Mike Gadd about an interview he conducted with Prince Paul. He had checked out Heavy In The Streets, noticed I was a fan of Paul, and forwarded me a link to the interview. It's a great one, so I'm going to share it with all of you. Check it out by clicking here.
Sunday, October 28, 2007
For my seventh interview with The State I was able to throw down with Thomas Lennon. During our interview I was given an honest look into the oftentimes ruthless world of a studio comedy screenwriter. Between constant firing, re-hiring, and re-writing, the picture painted was not a pretty one. Somehow, throughout it all, Tom has managed to stay upbeat and maintain a sense of humor about everything. His positive attitude seems to be paying off as he continues to write wildly successful movies such as Night at the Museum with writing partner Ben Garant. Read on to find out more about his wild ride through the Hollywood system, some interesting background info on the writing process behind The State, and the true essence of Christopher Walken.
DJ Sorce-1: Most of The State cast is living in LA now. Is New York still a hot spot for established actors, or is LA the place to be?
Thomas Lennon: I think New York is better once you are established. But if you want to constantly find work it can be very helpful to be in LA, because stuff comes up on very short notice. Ben and I have to be here mostly for the movie writing. We constantly have to go in to talk to the studios.
DJ Sorce-1: You guys have been cranking out movies non stop for the last few years. I saw that you’re writing the sequel to Night at the Museum. The first one was a big success, so you must be happy about getting called back to write the sequel.
Thomas Lennon: Yeah, we’re pretty pleased with that one. People always think Ben and I have had so many of our scripts produced. We’ve had seven movies come out, which is a lot, but we’ve gotten about half or maybe even less than half of the movies we’ve written produced. For every movie that’s been made, there are an equal number of un-produced films that we’ve written.
Thomas Lennon and Kerri Kenney as Lieutenant Jim Dangle and Deputy Trudy Wiegel in Reno 911!
DJ Sorce-1: How are you able to write so frequently? I tried to write a movie script this summer, and it was so difficult I gave up. I can’t fathom writing that much material in a short span of time.
Thomas Lennon: It really helps to have a deadline where you absolutely have to hand it over to someone. When you can fiddle around with a script forever it’s hard to get motivated. One of the good things about Ben and me writing together is that when you write with a partner, it’s always a little bit competitive. You’re sort of always racing to see who can write more. Ben and I both write almost compulsively. The advantage of having a partnership is it’s half of the work and you’re always in a slight competition to see who can write more material.
We’ve never really written spec scripts. We’ve only ever written specific stuff for a studio where they tell us, “We want it, boom, you have 12 weeks.” That’s a very long time to have. We’ll spend eight weeks on the outline and four weeks on the script. The outline is kind of the hard part. After that it’s just fun because you get to write the dialogue and jokes.
Tom as Thayer in How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days
DJ Sorce-1: Are the movies that got shelved ones that studios approached you about and just ended up falling through?
Thomas Lennon: Yeah. There’s always someone who’s really hot for a second that the studios want you to write something for. We wrote a movie for Orlando Jones. I don’t know if you even know who he is anymore. Eight years ago he was the next big thing so it was like, “Quick, write an Orlando Jones movie right away.” We wrote a movie for Jennifer Aniston a long time ago. We wrote a movie for Eddie Murphy like five years ago that we actually just started working on again. It’s a really slow process writing movies for the studios. It’s unbelievably slow. You’ll work on the same thing for years.
DJ Sorce-1: Do you ever get frustrated with a project when it seems like it’s never going to get finished?
Thomas Lennon: You need a pretty thick skin to write in the Hollywood system. The studio system will really crush your spirit if you’re not prepared for it. The writer doesn’t have very much power, and you get fired and re-written all the time. If you write a script that’s going into production, generally you’ll get replaced on your own movie with somebody else just to let them do a draft, and then frequently you’ll come back in and rewrite everything they just wrote.
Lt. Jim Dangle at Indie 103.1 Studios
DJ Sorce-1: That’s so different than what I envisioned. I think to a lot of people who aren’t in the industry still have this illusion of an aspiring screen writer pitching their script to an exec, it ends up getting picked up, and then it gets made into a great movie.
Thomas Lennon: I suppose sometimes that happens. We’ve been fired and replaced on our own movie as many as three or four times. The comedy studio writing guise is a pretty small community out here. You’re usually getting replaced by people that are pretty good friends with you. We’ve had to replace them on their movies too.
DJ Sorce-1: That must get awkward.
Thomas Lennon: Oh totally. It’s very awkward, it’s embarrassing, and it makes you mad. But you just have to think, “Ok, fuck it, it’s part of the game.”
DJ Sorce-1: That’s a really good outlook. If I got fired from my own movie I would be cursing people out.
Thomas Lennon: You feel like you never want to go back, but then they hire you right back and they’re like, “Boy that last guy really fucked up.” (Laughs) It’s just a cycle. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend writing movies in the studio system if you’re looking for something that’s really fun.
DJ Sorce-1: Is there going to come a point where you’ll want to back off the studio system and do more independent and personal projects?
Thomas Lennon: I think at some point we will move on to smaller, independent stuff, but it’s a hard habit to break. Once you’re on the list as an approved studio comedy writer guy, there is a lot of opportunity. A career in writing for the studios is generally pretty short…like an NFL career. You don’t want to mess with it while it’s working.
Movie still from Reno 911! Miami
DJ Sorce-1: Let’s talk about Reno 911! Miami. What kind of things did you add to the movie to make it different from the TV show?
Thomas Lennon: The sex and violence in it is at a pretty high level that we couldn’t do on the TV show. Since it was the movie version we were like, “You know what, let’s just turn everything up a notch.”
Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon
DJ Sorce-1: How did you feel about the film after it ran its course in theatres?
Thomas Lennon: We’re very proud of the Reno movie. It got terrible reviews, as did Balls of Fury for the most part, which we’re also very proud of as a movie. The kinds of comedies we write don’t get very well reviewed. That’s life. If you put something out there, you’re generally going to get ripped up on the internet. Ben and I have literally never written a film that has gotten good reviews, and we’ve written seven films now. I’m actually sort of getting used to it. There are lots of movies that I’m really proud of, and some that I’m not. Some movies we have credit on were basically re-written by other people. But I’m very proud of the Reno 911! movie. And it made more than double its budget.
DJ Sorce-1: That’s a success, right?
Thomas Lennon: Yeah.
Reno 911! Miami Trailer
DJ Sorce-1: Absolutely. You have to take the internet with a grain of salt. There are so many lame people that have websites or blogs solely dedicated to ripping on other people.
Thomas Lennon: Yeah, we’re thoroughly used to it. We realize were not working on art films.
Balls of Fury Trailer
DJ Sorce-1: What was it like working with Christopher Walken? He seems like one of the more interesting guys in Hollywood.
Thomas Lennon: He’s actually a very shy, extremely normal guy. Remarkably, there’s nothing that weird about him. He does look like he’s going to bite you all the time, and that’s kind of weird. But he’s the most incredibly soft spoken, shy person you’ll ever meet. It comes of as sociopath, but he’s just really mellow…very nice, and very funny. It certainly takes some getting used to him. Until you get used to him he seems pretty weird.
DJ Sorce-1: Had you and Ben met him before shooting Balls of Fury?
Thomas Lennon: We had never met him. He read the script, loved it, and said, “Great I wanna do it.” We got a message one day that we were supposed to call Christopher Walken, which kind of freaked Ben and me out. We were like, “Shit, really? I don’t know if I want to call him on the phone, it seems kind of scary.” So we called him, he was incredibly mellow, and we talked about Pennies from Heaven for a long time. The next time he showed up he had memorized all of his lines. He did the entire script like a monologue of all of his scenes. But yeah, he’s less interesting then he seems.
Thomas Lennon as Karl Wolfschtagg in Balls of Fury
DJ Sorce-1: Did you write the part of Feng with him in mind? Out of all of the characters who seemed like they could have been written with someone specific in mind, his seemed the most likely match.
Thomas Lennon: At one point we were thinking Eddie Izzard. And then for a while there was some discussion that I would play Feng. That fell apart when Christopher Walken called. We were like, “You have more academy awards, you can do it.”
Ben Garant, Dan Fogler, and Thomas Lennon
DJ Sorce-1: Did the cast of Balls of Fury get along well and was there any hanging out off set?
Thomas Lennon: Quite a bit. Ben and I didn’t hang out that much just because our days were really long. The cast all became really close on that film and I know they’re all still really good friends. But Ben and I didn’t hang out so much, because when you’re making a movie like that, the days are epic, and the call times are like 5 a.m.
DJ Sorce-1: Wow. Do you guys have a short shooting schedule?
Thomas Lennon: Our period was about 42 days, which is somewhat short in studio movie schedules.
DJ Sorce-1: I imagine that can become incredibly stressful if you fall behind schedule.
Thomas Lennon: It’s pretty intense. We never fell behind schedule. We’re really used to doing television where you move really, really frickin’ fast. Particularly on Reno where we don’t rehearse anything ever and we’re just shooting all the time.
Movie Still from Reno 911! Miami
DJ Sorce-1: Speaking of television, I’ve read about a pilot you and Ben pitched to FX about porn set directors in the 1930’s. It sounds intriguing.
Thomas Lennon: It was called Formosa. I still hope something happens with that one, it’s pretty cool. It’s sort of like a combination of Chinatown and Boogie Nights. It’s about these two guys who are getting in on the ground floor of stag films. It’s set in 1936, and Hollywood still has orange groves and dirt roads. These two guys who failed in the moving picture industry decide to make stag films and get mixed up with the Mexican mafia. Formosa is actually much more dramatic than anything else we’ve ever written. It’s kind of like an ongoing mystery/thriller with comedy.
DJ Sorce-1: Do you think there’s any chance of it getting put into action?
Thomas Lennon: Often I think people have scripts of ours and they forget they have them. We get calls from people sometimes and they’re like, “Man we really want you guys to write a script for us.” And we’re like, “Don’t forget, you already have one.” Executives change so much that you have to remind them what they own. FX owns it and any time they wanted to they could pull the trigger on it.
DJ Sorce-1: I think the people from The State could do great work in genres other than comedy, so I’d like to see Formosa on TV some day.
Thomas Lennon: I’m pretty sure there are a couple of horror scripts in amongst the members of The State. I wouldn’t be surprised if horror is the direction that many of The State members go later. It’s basically the cousin of comedy. It’s closer to comedy than drama.
Jason Lee, Thomas Lennon and Shawn Hatosy in A Guy Thing
DJ Sorce-1: Are you a horror movie fan?
Thomas Lennon: I am. It’s weird, but most of the movies I rent tend to be in the horror of thriller genre. I don’t really rent a ton of comedies.
DJ Sorce-1: Speaking of comedy, I understand that you and Ben Garant have worked closely with Ben Stiller on a few comedic projects.
Thomas Lennon: Ben Garant and I have worked with him on a couple things. We worked on Starsky and Hutch for several months while it was in pre-production and shooting. The other project was Night at The Museum. Those were two kind of biggies for us.
Movie Still from Starsky and Hutch
DJ Sorce-1: Did you get any writing credit for Starsky and Hutch?
Thomas Lennon: We didn’t pursue credit for Starsky and Hutch because it was a slightly political situation, but a tremendous amount of our material ended up in the film, which was nice.
DJ Sorce-1: Do you think people in “the know” realize that you came up with a lot of the material?
Thomas Lennon: The only people that would really know that we wrote a lot of that film would be Ben Stiller and Todd Phillips and those guys. Again, it’s sort of a weird part of the business that sometimes you have to…you know…walk it off.
Movie Still from Starsky and Hutch
DJ Sorce-1: You have such a good attitude about all this stuff.
Thomas Lennon: You have to, or else you’ll go completely insane. When Ben Stiller asks you to do something, it’s good to do it. He’s the most bankable movie star; maybe in the world right now…probably him and Will Smith.
Love Seat Skit
DJ Sorce-1: Let’s talk about The State for a little bit. I asked Michael Ian Black to give me some background on Barry and Levon when I interviewed him. Do you want to share any additional details?
Thomas Lennon: A lot of the great sketches that I wrote were written in the amount of time it takes to write them down. For Barry and Levon skit we just started talking like they talk in the sketch, and wrote it in about five minutes. Usually your first instinct is right with those sort of sketches, and if you start really thinking about the logic of it you’ll say, “That doesn’t make sense, why is there a big pile of pudding?” The great thing about The State is that we were all so young that we didn’t really second guess ourselves on stuff like that. We just did it. “Pudding” was written very fast, and I think it was immediately approved. It seemed to go over very well the first time we pitched it. Somewhere I still have the blueprint for the set that the set designer did for what the pile of pudding would look like.
DJ Sorce-1: Another favorite of mine that you and Michael Ian Black did was “Monkey Torture”. Are there any interesting facts to go along with that skit?
Thomas Lennon: A lot of people don’t know this, but “Monkey Torture” was a backup sketch. We cut a piece from the show, and we didn’t have enough pieces to shoot that night. We needed to add one more thing. I had pitched “Monkey Torture” earlier, but it hadn’t been approved. Something else bombed when we kept rehearsing it and we were like, “Fuck, let’s add Monkey Torture.” We knew it needed no set and we found out from our producer it was super easy to get a monkey there that night. Essentially “Monkey Torture” got called up from the bench. It became an enduring, popular sketch for some reason, and I’ve never quite understood why. It has my favorite Michael Patrick Jann appearance as Terry from back stage.
Monkey Torture Skit
DJ Sorce-1: What was the approval process that you talk about when it came to pitching skits?
Thomas Lennon: First it had to go through The State cast. Every day at three o’clock you’d have to pitch. Some people would pitch one thing; some people would pitch three or four sketches. It taught us all to be productive, fast writers, because you had to have stuff to pitch every single day. First you had to get it through the group, and you’d have to have it get a majority vote in order to go on to the board. Then it would have to go through the producer, Jim Sharp, who was sort of the George Martin of our group. He would cross stuff out or say, “You can’t do this.” Jim was a very powerful voice in terms of what made the show and what didn’t. He’s the executive on Reno 911! right now.
DJ Sorce-1: Was it ever hard to stop yourself from breaking up and laughing when you were doing a sketch in front of a live studio audience?
Thomas Lennon: I don’t remember ever having any one of us cracking up in front of the audience. We were really, really serious about our sketches. We were all just out of drama and film school, we fought a lot, and we took it really seriously. We shot so many sketches in a row in front of a live audience that there was never any time for mistakes. If you messed up somebody else’s sketch, they would be really mad, because it might not make the final show. We rehearsed a lot, and it was surprisingly serious how we treated the sketches.
DJ Sorce-1: Do you have an all-time favorite?
Thomas Lennon: People always ask that, and sometimes I say the Cannonball Run credits are the coolest, weirdest thing we did. For classic sketch writing, I always liked "Tenement." I’ve always liked the "Taco Man" one, and of course "Cutlery Barn", where it’s just our strange talking heads. That was one of the ones Jim Sharp didn’t want us to do. He really thought it was a bad idea. The reason it’s shot in a black space with just heads is that we designed it to be so easy that there was no point in not doing it. It was like, “What’s the worst that can happen? It’s just heads in a black space popping up.”
Monday, October 22, 2007
If this track is any indication of how his new album Made is going to sound, I’m impressed. I like me some innovative chops in my hip hop production, and this song doesn't disappoint. The way the producer flips the vocal samples on the chorus is perfect. I’ve always been a fan of Face because he’s one of those rappers who can cover a wide spectrum of subjects successfully. He’s rhymed about some of the most misogynistic shit you’ve ever heard, glorified violence and drug dealing, but also gotten introspective and socially conscious on certain tracks. Check out Scarface at his finest by clicking the link below.
Girl U Know- Scarface
Thanks to Cocaine Blunts & Hip Hop Tapes for sharing this with the blogging world.
I get tons of email blasts every day about all sorts of new joints coming out. These days I tend to just delete them because I don't feel like sorting through the shit to find the good stuff. Today I got an email blast I couldn't ignore. It's a new track from Royce Da 5'9" produced by Nottz. Royce sounds really good on this one, and the Nottz track is perfect for him. Overall, I'm feelin' it. Download it and see for yourself by clicking here.
Sunday, October 21, 2007
Ok, so classic might be a really strong word to describe the songs I'm about to post, but there is something about Bell Biv Devoe's crappy Hootie Mack album that I've always liked. Maybe it's the fact that I bought it from a sketchy thrift store in Worcester, MA, and shortly after my purchase the owner skipped town with all his merchandise for reasons I can only imagine. Maybe it’s because the album is called Hootie Mack, one of the sweetest album titles of all time. Or maybe it’s because I really liked a lot of New Jack Swing, even though some of it was technically god awful. Who knows?
The important thing is that for a mediocre album, there are some bangers on here, and I’m going to post them for your enjoyment. The first one is the cut “Above The Rim”. This song was featured on the highlight video NBA Jam Session, and, in my humble opinion, has a dope, yet dated beat.
The second cut is “Something In Your Eyes”. This is an old school, baby making anthem that you throw on when your old lady’s coming over for the night and shits about to get freaky. It might make both of you laugh when you're having a "moment" because it's kind of corny, and then things could get akward. But that probably won't happen, so just download it. If nothing else both songs are a fun look back t a forgotten time in R & B music.
Above The Rim- Bell Biv Devoe
Something In Your Eyes- Bell Biv Devoe
I recently bought an old Mc Eiht album that was sitting on the two dollar wall at Mystery Train Records. I'm still not sure how I feel about the album as a whole, but it does feature a cool posse cut with Spice 1 and Redman. I'm a big fan of posse cuts and collaborations with weird, odd ball pairings, and Redman rhyming with two west coast gangsta rap legends isn’t something you hear every day. Check out the track for yourself, and post some feedback.
Nothin' But The Gangsta- MC Eiht feat. Spice 1 and Redman
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
Hate all you want rap purists, I think Slim Thug is fucking awesome. I know he doesn't always rhyme about the "deepest" of topics, but in my eyes, dude can rap his ass off. He also picks some of my favorite beats to rock over. Check out this new anthem with The Boss Hogg Outlawz.
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
About five months ago I set out on a mission to interview everyone from one of my all-time favorite TV shows, The State. So far I’ve been impressed by how funny, honest, and friendly each cast member has been. Michael Ian Black is no exception. From talking about his experiences as a first time film director to his disappointment with how Stella was received by TV audiences, Michael was both insightful and hilarious. Read on and you’ll find out what projects he’s working on now, some background info on the Barry and Levon characters from The State, and why he thinks Andy Dick is a pansexual freak. Enjoy, and many thanks to Michael Ian Black for helping me get past the halfway mark.
DJ Sorce-1: Michael thanks so much for agreeing to do this. I really appreciate it.
Michael Ian Black: My pleasure.
DJ Sorce-1: I’ve been trying to interview every single cast member from The State, and you’re the sixth one that I’ve gotten.
Michael Ian Black: So I’m past the halfway mark.
DJ Sorce-1: Yeah, everyone has been super nice and helpful so far.
Michael Ian Black: I’ll try to spoil that.
DJ Sorce-1: (Laughs) I guess well see how this goes then. It was hard to find questions for you that haven’t already been asked in a bunch of other interviews.
Michael Ian Black: Yeah that’s because there’s not that much to talk to me about.
DJ Sorce-1: (Laughs) Yeah, I’m working with limited material. I was wondering if you can talk a little bit about your experience directing your first feature film, Wedding Daze.
Michael Ian Black: Umm, it’s a little bit like falling out of an airplane for a year and a half. It’s like spending a year and a half in free fall. The initial part of it, you’re in panic, because you’re falling out of an airplane. But then, once you keep falling, you realize, “Ok, I’m going to be in some sort of state of panic for the next year and a half.” So you just sort of get used to it. It’s a wonderful and horrible experience. It’s kind of everything.
DJ Sorce-1: What’s horrible about it?
Michael Ian Black: It’s incredibly stressful and very difficult. You have to be considerably smarter than I am to do a good job at it. It’s like being a crisis manager. You’re always lurching from one crisis to another.
DJ Sorce-1: Are the crisis’s’ with the actors?
Michael Ian Black: With everything. It’s the set, the actors, a prop isn’t right, or the schedule isn’t right, or it’s raining, or you’re running out of time, or a camera went down, or you can’t find the right location. It’s every conceivable problem, one after another, all day long, every day, for months. Part of the fun of it is dealing with the problems and putting out the fires, but it also gets very stressful.
DJ Sorce-1: Is it also stressful to have the people financing it, the producers, and the studio breathing down your back while you’re trying to orchestrate all these other people?
Michael Ian Black: It can be. You’re simultaneously trying to solve all of these problems while trying to be a diplomat and a politician. It’s not always easy. It certainly calls on you to exercise skills and muscles that you didn’t know you had and that you may not have. In my case, I’m not sure I did have those skills a lot of the time.
Wedding Daze Trailer
DJ Sorce-1: Do you think your experience as an actor helped you relate to your cast?
Michael Ian Black: I certainly thought it would. It didn’t. I thought that would be my real strength and that I would be able to deal with the actors. It was actually sort of the opposite. When they were being pains in the ass, I was far more frustrated than I might have been had I not been an actor. I felt like it was insulting to me as an actor when somebody was being a pain in the ass. That’s behavior that I never try to exhibit on set. I feel like it’s totally unprofessional. When I felt somebody was misbehaving I had a very hard time being a diplomat about it.
DJ Sorce-1: After your experience, is directing something you want to pursue more, or is it something you want to fall back from.
Michael Ian Black: I do want to do it again, but I’m in no rush. There are a lot of things I would do differently. But I expected that. I expected to make a lot of mistakes. I expected to learn a tremendous amount, which I did. It’s incredibly educational, and you’re learning stuff all day every day. Dealing with crisis is the best way to gain an education, so that’s what I did.
DJ Sorce-1: Your screenplay Run, Fatboy, Run ended up being directed by David Schwimmer. Did you have any desire to direct the film or did you just want to focus on the script?
Michael Ian Black: When I wrote it I thought to myself, “I either want to direct this or sell this for a lot of money.” As it happened neither came to pass. My intention was to direct it when I wrote it, but it was a much more expensive movie than my first one. Not so much expensive by Hollywood standards, but expensive for a first time director. When I wrote it I hadn’t directed yet, so it was hard to convince anyone to let me handle that aspect of the film. But I think it worked out well. Simon Pegg is the main character. I’m a big fan of Simon Pegg, and I couldn’t have gotten the script to him.
Run, Fatboy, Run Trailer
DJ Sorce-1: How did you come up with the concept? Man leaves pregnant fiancée on wedding day, realizes he fucked up, and runs marathon years later to win her back is a unique premise.
Michael Ian Black: Honestly I was just trying to think of movie ideas and I thought, “Fat guy runs marathon…that’s a pretty good idea.” It was no more complicated than that. I think my initial notes on it were like, “Jack Black runs marathon.” It was never intended to be a morbidly obese guy, because then the audience would just fear for his life. It was always intended to be somebody out of shape rather than fat, but fat just works better in the title. Simon is a skinny guy, so he had to wear a little belly.
DJ Sorce-1: In one of your interviews you mentioned that they were having trouble casting the film. Could you talk about what those difficulties were specifically?
Michael Ian Black: It’s always hard to cast a film. It’s just hard to get people to commit to do anything. I don’t think the difficulties with Run, Fatboy, Run were any more or less difficult than any other film’s casting problems. Some directors just snap their fingers and actors show up. I’m not one of those writers, and I don’t think David Schwimmer is one of those directors yet. Hopefully he will be. It’s just a process of matching people to the material. I’m thankful that Simon Pegg ended up playing the part. He had to rewrite the script. It was originally set in America, but ended up being shot in London, so he had to anglicize it.
Another Run, Fatboy, Run Trailer
DJ Sorce-1: What kind of release is the film going to have?
Michael Ian Black: I think it’s going to be pretty wide, probably between 700 and 1,000 screens in the US. It’s going to have a proper American release.
DJ Sorce-1: I’ve seen you perform live a few times and you take shots at some pretty big celebrity type people about sensitive topics. I was wondering if you’ve ever gotten angry reactions from people about things that you’ve said in your standup.
Michael Ian Black: No. I think I’m too on the margins for anybody to pay any attention to what I’m doing. I don’t think anyone cares. The only person who I heard was mad at me was Andy Dick for something I said on VH1. I don’t even know what I said. I think Andy has a chip on his shoulder towards a lot of people.
DJ Sorce-1: Really?
Michael Ian Black: I think when you put your tongue on as many people as he does you’re going to end up upsetting some people.
DJ Sorce-1: Do you mean literally putting his tongue on people?
Michael Ian Black: He literally licks people all the time. That’s his bit. He comes up to you and licks you. It might be your face; it might be your rectum. You never know with Andy.
DJ Sorce-1: (Laughs) It must be difficult to maintain a friendship with someone like that.
Michael Ian Black: Oh, I’m not friends with him. I wouldn’t maintain a friendship with him. He’s a nightmare. He’s a drug addled pansexual freak.
DJ Sorce-1: (Laughs) Oh man. I didn’t know your feelings on him were so strong.
Michael Ian Black: I like him…but he is a drug addled, pansexual freak. (Laughs)
DJ Sorce-1: Let’s talk about The State for a second. I love Barry and Levon. It’s one of the greatest State sketches of all time. How did you guys come up with the characters Barry and Levon, and where did the idea for the $240 pudding pile come from.
Michael Ian Black: Tom Lennon could probably tell you better than me. Tom came up with the title, and was writing it, and I happened to amble over his desk to see what he was working on. We just started working together and ended up writing it in about ten minutes. Our normal process was to write things down and send them up to the network to make sure we could do them. We thought, “There’s no way by reading this that anybody is going to understand what this is.” So we sort of marched upstairs to the executive’s office and performed it for her so she would understand what exactly we were going for. As for the pudding, the pudding was actual pudding and it really cost around $240 dollars to make all of it. It was like a foam core with pudding slathered on top. But yeah, it really cost about $240 dollars. Something about two suave guys and a bunch of pudding just seemed funny.
Barry and Levon Skit
DJ Sorce-1: When I interviewed Joe Lo Truglio about your experience at MTV he said that, “We also had a lot of feelings of entitlement, which let to some head butting with some other people at MTV.” I was wondering if you could expand on that quote a little bit.
Michael Ian Black: We were definitely arrogant motherfuckers. I will agree with him on that. Entitlement…I’m not sure if that’s the right word for me. It was more like we were going to have to kick, claw, and bite in order for us to get our due. I don’t even know what “our due” was supposed to be besides being great at what we did and have people feel that we were great at what we did. They certainly didn’t feel that way when we started.
Capt. Monterey Jack Skit from The State
DJ Sorce-1: Do you think they doubted you because you were young and unproven?
Michael Ian Black: I’m not even talking about the network or anything. I’m talking about the audience. It took a while for them to find us. And the critics hated us. We were very young, and we hadn’t done TV before. It was a real trial by fire. To MTV’s credit, it would have been very easy for them to cancel us. The reviews were terrible, and the ratings were ok, but not spectacular.
DJ Sorce-1: How did you deal with such a hostile reaction?
Michael Ian Black: We were devastated. I sort of expected people to really like what we were doing. I thought the critics would embrace us as something fresh, new, and young. It was the opposite. They just hated us.
Let's Go Watch The Monkey's Do It
DJ Sorce-1: Once the show left MTV and was cancelled by CBS there were so many fans that wanted the show back. It’s bizarre that there was such a negative response early on.
Michael Ian Black: I think a lot of it had to do with our youth. People looked at us as these brash upstarts that were maybe too big for their britches. A lot of it had to do with MTV as a network. At the time MTV was getting a lot of flack for their programming, and they continue to…some of it justifiably so, and some of it not. Part of it was our sensibility, which just didn’t jive with what was considered funny at the time. We were also inconsistent. Those early episodes were kind of hit or miss. But we chose to see that glass as half full. The critics chose to see it as entirely empty. Since then, pretty much everything that we’ve done collectively and individually in comedy has been met with hatred. So we’ve sort of gotten used to it.
DJ Sorce-1: Do you honestly believe that?
Michael Ian Black: Yeah, it happens all the time. Stella got some good reviews. But for every good review, there are five bad ones. Comedy is a difficult thing because everybody thinks they have a great sense of humor. They know what makes them laugh, so they think they have a great sense of humor. Guys rubbing their asses in pudding doesn’t necessarily work for a lot of people. My reaction to criticism has mellowed over time, and I know I’m never going to please a certain segment of the population. All I can do is continue to do the work that I find funny.
DJ Sorce-1: It seems like The State has a specific sense of humor for a certain target audience.
Michael Ian Black: I guess. We never thought that was true, but it is. It’s been proven to us time and time again that the things we do are not going to appeal to everybody. The three of us thought that Stella was going to be a mainstream hit. We were like, “Oh yeah, people are definitely going to get this.” They didn’t.
The Woods Skit from Stella
DJ Sorce-1: Let’s talk about Stella for a minute. I’ve seen the live show. You guys were completely uncensored and you could do or say whatever you wanted. Then you had to make the transition to Comedy Central and tone down some of the content. Was that difficult for you guys to find a way to make it work for television?
Michael Ian Black: It wasn’t difficult creatively. We wanted to find ways to express ourselves other than manipulating dildos. That was part of the appeal for us. We wanted to do a long form Stella TV series and we knew what those parameters were going to be. We welcomed them. We didn’t want to be filthy and outrageous. We wanted to try to use the medium of television for what it was.
I’m really proud of Stella. I think we achieved what we set out to. For my money it’s really funny and consistent. It’s everything I wanted it to be. I’m disappointed that more people don’t agree with me and didn’t like it. I know some of the old Stella fans felt like it wasn’t what they wanted either. But we know that had we just gone on and humped each other for half and hour every week, it would have gotten pretty redundant. For us, creatively it was a huge success. It was incredibly difficult to make and we’re really proud of it.
DJ Sorce-1: I thought it was funny from the episodes I saw. I don’t understand why it didn’t catch on. But I guess a lot of stuff I enjoy doesn’t catch on.
Michael Ian Black: I understand if you’re just some dude out there who’s unfamiliar with our work, and you turn into the show for five minutes, which is how long people sample shows, you’ll probably think, “I don’t get this. I think this is really stupid and retarded.” You’ll turn it off never to see it again. Stella is the kind of show you have to meet us half way on. You have to trust that it’s good and give it an episode or two before you tap into what we’re doing. I think over time with the DVD people will discover it and like it, and that’s fine.
DJ Sorce-1: Is short attention span a problem with TV audiences?
Michael Ian Black: Mmm, I don’t think it’s their problem. I think it’s our problem. You know how people watch television when you make a show. You’ve gotta figure out ways to grab the audience. I can’t fault people for watching TV the way they watch it. I watch it that way. If something doesn’t hit me in the first five minutes, I’m done with it. At the same time you can’t really worry about it. You just have to do the work you do and trust that there’s an audience for it. Sometimes there is, and sometimes there isn’t.
DJ Sorce-1: Are there any State skits that are particularly memorable for you?
Michael Ian Black: There are a lot of memorable ones not so much for the content but just because of where we were in our lives. Like all things it could get tedious and difficult. But for the most part, I think we all had a great time doing it. The whole experience was really memorable, and going through it as a collective was fantastic.
DJ Sorce-1: Was it difficult to work with just part of the collective after The State was over and you went on to do Viva Variety.
Michael Ian Black: It was hard on the level of sort of feeling guilty about it and feeling like we had done something wrong by separating from the rest of the group. But The State as a whole wasn’t going to continue. It couldn’t. In terms of working with only part of the cast, it was very familiar. I think it would have actually been much harder working with entirely new people. The creation of Viva Variety and the process was relatively smooth throughout.
Viva Variety Promo Spot
DJ Sorce-1: Can you talk a little bit about the new pilot you have going on called Michael Ian Black Doesn’t Understand.
Michael Ian Black: It’s more or less turning into a sketch show centered on a topic each week, some topic that’s in the ether. The pilot was based on abstinence pledges. It’s a pretty simple concept. Michael Showalter was my partner on it and was incredibly helpful.
DJ Sorce-1: Is it going to be based around world news and political topics?
Michael Ian Black: Not really. I feel like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report have that market pretty well covered. It’s going to be pop culture and cultural topics that have some sort of debate about them. Gay marriage or guns could be a topic. Things like that. After doing the pilot episode were kind of sitting around waiting, which is why I have plenty of time to talk to you.
DJ Sorce-1: (Laughs) Lucky me. Do you have anything else you want to touch on for the interview before we wrap things up?
Michael Ian Black: I love you. Is that weird?
DJ Sorce-1: No. That means a lot actually.
Michael Ian Black: Good, I’m glad to hear that.
DJ Sorce-1: Would that be weird if I said I love you back? Then it might get kind of awkward.
Michael Ian Black: Yeah, now you’re totally creeping me out.
Please visit Michael's official website by going here and the Stella website by going here.
Read Michael's A Series of Letters to the First Girl I Ever Fingered. It's awsome.
To check out Michael Ian Black's Wikipedia page, click here. To view his IMDB profile, click here.
Tuesday, October 2, 2007
I recently made a post about an article my friend Ethan Brown sent me regarding a shooting in New Orleans. Even though my blog has been mostly entertainment, I decided I wanted to post it. Ethan moved from NYC to New Orleans to cover the criminal justice issues in the city, and has re-launched his website so that it now focuses on his experiences and thoughts on New Orleans. Please check out my interview with Ethan that I wrote for The Smoking Section about New Orleans by clicking here. We are also working on something that should go up on Heavy In The Streets sometime in the near future. Hopefully I can work political pieces into the blog on a semi-regular basis.