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Michael Ian Black on Being ‘Very Famous,’ Road-Tripping With Meghan McCain, and the Rumored Sequel to Wet Hot American Summer

Photo: Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for The Webby Awards
Michael Ian Black. Photo: Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for The Webby Awards

This Saturday, the somewhat famous Michael Ian Black will debut Very Famous, his first stand-up special, on Comedy Central. The one-hour gig represents the culmination of a nearly two-decade career that’s led him from cult troupes/shows The State and Stella to talking-head notoriety in VH1’s I Love the … series, and a failed Twitter campaign to become Taco Bell’s latest pitchman. The special arrives as Black prepares to launch a number of projects: the Very Famous comedy album, due next week; a “memoir-ish” tome, You’re Not Doing It Right, and a political book co-authored with Republican royalty Meghan McCain. We got him on the line to discuss road-tripping with McCain, his Taco Bell debacle, and Wet Hot American Summer sequel rumors.

You’ve been in comedy for years. Why the long wait for a special?
I wasn’t really doing stand-up, particularly, up until a couple of years ago. So this is sort of my first stab at a stand-up special.

How do you feel about how it turned out? Are people ready?
I think it’s probably going to change the way people look at the world, in a very significant way. I think after the special, things like the debt-ceiling crisis will seem irrelevant. Things like the pirates in Somalia. All these problems will basically be solved in the wake of the special, and more than that, I think it will be a light bulb moment for the culture. They’ll see the special and you’ll see people smacking their foreheads with their palms and going, “Of course. Of course.” And everything will seem so simple.

Given your history of prematurely canned shows on Comedy Central — Stella, Michael and Michael Have Issues — do you have any concerns that they’ll cancel the special before Saturday?
I think they’re going to have a hard time canceling it before it airs. Because at this time point, they’re advertising it, they’re making a to-do about it, I’m hosting their Snark Week for them. I think it’s going to be very hard for them to cancel it before it airs. It’s not to say they won’t cancel it fifteen minutes in. They could absolutely do that, and I wouldn’t put it past them.

One of the special’s jokes is about your kids’ Halloween costumes. You don’t necessarily see too many stand-up comics talking about their children. How has being a dad changed your comedy?
The children have given me a broader perspective on things to dislike. Now I have a whole new universe of things that I don’t care for, and the kids are at the top of that list.

The cover of your Very Famous album pays homage to Dr. Dre. Was The Chronic a formative influence?
Here’s the thing that you don’t understand about Dr. Dre and me: Dr. Dre gets the lion’s share of the credit for shepherding new talent such as Snoop Doggy Dogg and Eminem into the mainstream culture. I feel like I don’t get any of that credit. So, I’m trying to right a wrong with this album cover. I’m trying to say, “Look, haters, I’ve been in the game a long time. I’m chronically in the game.” You understand?

On a related note, you just finished a road trip with hip-hop expert Meghan McCain for a new book, Stupid For America. Tell us about it.
We’re going to write a book about why both of us think politics are so fucked up in this country, in a funny way. We’re coming at it from two different perspectives: she’s a Republican, I’m not. She’s a conservative, I’m not. She’s got boobs, I don’t. So we went on this cross-country road trip to research, to find out what people think about our country, and the results may astonish you.

How so —
I don’t know, they probably won’t. I was hoping you wouldn’t ask that follow-up question.

In doing the “Mike and Tom Eat Snacks” podcast, have you made any important snacking discoveries?
There have been a few things that we’ve eaten that I wasn’t familiar with, including an Irish snack called Meanies. It’s sort of like somebody said, “What if we took the delicious taste of boogers and put them in a snack bag?” Then you get Meanies.

Would you say that America has the best snack food?
I would say, in my limited snack experience, America is leading the world in snack-food technology. And attitude, by the way. We have the best snack attitude. Because we’re playing to win. When you’ve got Oreo out there, making Oreo Fudge Cremes, what that’s telling me is: America is in it to win it.

Beyond the podcast, you’re very plugged in with your Twitter account and blog. Is it difficult to devote enough time to all of these networks?
For me, yeah, it can be a little time-consuming, but that presupposes I have something better to do. Which most of the time I don’t, and mostly because of Comedy Central.

You had a Twitter campaign to become the Taco Bell spokesman earlier this year. What did you learn from that experience? Were you approached by other brands afterward?
I learned primarily that Taco Bell is not interested in my services as a pitchman. That was the first lesson I took away. I don’t know if it’s because they dislike Jews. One can only assume that Taco Bell hates Jews in light of my experience with them. But no other brand came forward and said, “Hey man, you did such a brilliant job not getting a job with Taco Bell that we’d like to give you a job.”

Beyond the McCain collaboration, you have a book coming out in 2012, You’re Not Doing It Right, which will be more of a memoir. What will that be like?
Yes, more memoir-ish, it’s me recounting true facts about my life. But not in a fact-based format. Not like a Wikipedia entry.

I saw your colleague Michael Showalter on his Mr. Funnypants book tour earlier this year and he didn’t want to answer any audience questions about you. How do you feel about taking questions about Michael Showalter?
I’d be happy to talk about him all night long. He’s one of my dearest friends. Why he didn’t want to speak about me, I don’t know, but it gives me nothing but joy to speak about him.

Did you read his book?
No. I wouldn’t bother.

Wet Hot American Summer turned ten recently and there’s been some talk of a sequel. Is that in the works?
I have heard rumors that [director] David Wain started floating out there I think probably somewhat prematurely, but I don’t know. I think we’d all like to do it. If somebody wants to write us a check for several million dollars, I’m sure we will do it.

Related: Wet Hot American Summer Celebrated Its Tenth Anniversary With Janeane Garofalo, Caped Boy, and a Self-Fellating Can of Beans


Michael Ian Black on Being ‘Very Famous,’ Road-Tripping With Meghan McCain, and the Rumored Sequel to Wet Hot American Summer