Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Michael Ian Black Says "I Love You"
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.