2005_8_MBlack.jpgMichael Ian Black is a very famous celebrity. Black’s career launched with sketch comedy troupe The State back in the early ‘90s. Since then, he has appeared in the cult comedy Wet Hot American Summer, was a regular on the NBC TV series Ed and was co-creator of the Comedy Central series Viva Variety. Along with Michael Showalter and David Wain, Black is currently a member of the comedy trio Stella.

Gothamist caught up with Black while he was doing press for Michael Showalter's directorial debut The Baxter, which opens in theaters tomorrow.

You play Ed in The Baxter, was that part written with you in mind?
I don’t think so. I don’t think any of the script was written with anybody in mind except for the main guy, who of course he [Showalter] wrote for himself.

Oh he did? I thought he was trying to get someone else for that role.
Oh please. Did he tell you that?

No, I thought I read it somewhere.
The only reason he wanted to make the movie was so he could fucking be in it. He’s so fucking self-absorbed. He would have played all the parts if he could. He’s like Peter Sellers without the accent or the talent.

What’s The Baxter about?
The Baxter is a romantic comedy for anybody who’s ever been the wrong guy or the wrong girl in a relationship, which I think pretty much describes everybody. It’s a very universal thing to be a Baxter, which is to be the wrong guy or the wrong girl.

2005_06_baxter_poster.jpgYou have an interesting wardrobe in the film. Who came up with it?
I came up with the concept for the wardrobe. It’s kind of a difficult thing to explain and it’s never explained in the movie exactly what’s going on. It sort of looks like he’s a cross dresser, but he’s not. He just sort of wears his wife’s clothing sometimes, because it’s handy. Often in the film (I’m only in 4 or 5 scenes), I’m generally wearing something that’s clearly women’s. The reason being, in real life I often wear my wife’s clothing. Usually it’s just her jeans, not so much her blouses or pant suits or moo moos. I almost never wear her moo moos.

How comfortable did you feel wearing the women’s clothing in the film?
They were pretty comfortable. One was sort of a flouncy tank top, and that was sort of comfortable. I was wearing camo briefs also, those were mine.

Do you think you have a lot in common with Ed [your character]?
I guess so. We are both married. We both have bad hair. We both wear our wife’s clothes. And, we both know Michael Showalter.

Can you describe Michael Showalter, the director.
I would say he’s cheerfully clueless as a director. He knew exactly what he wanted as a director, which was good, but it was difficult for him because he was simultaneously acting in it and directing it, so he wasn’t always able to see the whole thing as it was unfolding.

Do recommend he continue directing and acting?
I would say he should continue to do both. The Baxter came out really well. He did a great job as a director and as an actor. If he can find people foolish enough to give him money to make things, he should just keep doing that.

How would you describe Michael Ian Black, the actor?
Like a C student. I am to acting what George W. Bush was to Yale. I get by. I’m not winning any accolades.

right, right…
What do you mean right, right. You’re not supposed to agree with me.

Oh, I mean, wrong, wrong…
“Yeah, totally, yeah, you suck. I definitely agree with you. I’m glad you said that. I hated you in that movie…”

Ok. What about you as a comedian?
I think I’m slightly better as a comedian than as an actor. I’m still not great. I don’t know any jokes. I don’t have an act. I don’t even really have any skills. You know what, about the same. Actor, comedian, roughly the same level.

So where do you excel then?
Honestly, I spend almost everyday of my life trying to figure that out, praying, praying, praying to God that he will deliver unto me some gift that I can give to the world other than snarkiness.

What did your parents think of your career choice?
I’m actually just doing an anagram in my head for New Yorker and I’ve come up with “keen worry.” Maybe “worry keen” would be better…What was the question?

What did your parents think of your career choice?
I think it’s hard for parents to be particularly supportive when their son or daughter says, I’m going to go be in show biz. I don’t think that’s a career choice most parents would recommend to their children, and with good reason, it has a 98% unemployment rate. But subsequently, since I have been able to house and feed myself and my brood, they’ve certainly come around.

What did your parents do?
My dad worked for the phone company. My mom worked for social security.

Were you performing for them from an early age?
No, from an early age I was morose and unresponsive. So, I think they might have been surprised when I said I want to be on stage. You can understand their apprehension, “but you’re so morose and unresponsive at home, why do you want to do that in front of other people?” And I had no good answer.

When did you come to them and say you wanted to perform?
Early, like nine. I mean nine in the morning. No...I was nine years old.

What happened when you were nine that made you realize?
I went to summer camp and did a play there and said, oh this is the life for me. And I think the thought at the time was, last week you wanted to be a baseball player and this week you want to be actor, so fine, whatever you want. But it didn’t go away.

Was there anything else about that experience at summer camp?
Well, for one thing, it seemed like an easy way to meet girls, doing theatre.

At nine?
I was pretty sure of my own sexuality early on. I think it was during the first or second play I did where the girlfriend of the girl that I liked came up to me. The girl that I liked, her name was Meredith, her friend came up to me and whispered in my ear, “Meredith wants to give you a blow job.” I was nine or ten at that time. And she was like, “you know what that is?” And I was like, “yeah, when she blows in your ear.” I think that’s what she thought it was too. Then we were both very surprised when later that evening she found herself sucking my dick. We were both very very surprised.

What do you think of the comedy scene today?
I’m not really involved in the comedy scene, which is maybe surprising. All of us who came from The State, we were never involved in comedy in any way other than being in The State. We didn’t know comedians. We didn’t perform as comedians. We were very insulated, which might be why we work so closely together today.

It seems to me that there is always good comedy and always terrible comedy. The good stuff generally rises or lives a life of borderline obscurity, which is what I’m doing.

Any comments on what is going with comedy in New York?
Comedy in New York right now is really good; it’s very fertile. What happened is, once stand-up comedy died in the early 90’s, which was sort of when I started doing it, I recognized at that time, and I think I was right, that it was sort of the perfect time to be starting out in comedy. There was nothing going on and the scene was so dead that there was an opportunity to reinvent it. I think a lot of us recognized that and ran with it. Were we successful? Well, I’m on basic cable television sister, so you answer your own question there.

What do think the future holds for sketch comedy?
Sketch comedy is cyclical. A great troupe will emerge once every 10-15 years, they’ll have their moment and then they’ll sort of disappear for a while and another troupe will emerge.

Television executives try to create sketch comedy out of nothing and the results are generally abysmal. But when it evolves organically, it tends to work much better.

Thinking in terms of comedy, if you could live in any era, what time would you like to live?
Probably the early to mid-70’s, because not only did you have the comedy, which was great, but closely associated with it were the abundant amount of drugs and associated with that was the free sex. Comedy in the early to mid-70’s, especially in Chicago and New York, was rock 'n' roll. So, that’s the closest I would have gotten as a comedian to being a rock 'n' roll star, which is what every comedian wants, and every rock ‘n’ roll star wants to be a comedian. It’s a truism in the industry, but it is actually true.

You have some scripts currently in development, including Run, Fat Boy, Run. Can you talk about these projects?
Run, Fat Boy, Run, David Schwimmer is supposed to direct and they are having a hard time casting it, so I don’t know that’ll ever get made. There is one I’m supposed to direct in the Fall called The Pleasure of Your Company. I can’t tell you who is in it yet because contracts aren’t signed, but big big stars.

Has directing always been an aspiration?
No, it came over time. I started to realize eventually that acting is a stupid thing to do.

Why is that?
If you’re not good at it, like say me, it’s not a particularly creative endeavor because you’re just doing whatever somebody wants you to do and telling somebody else’s story. As a writer, obviously you write the story and then if you don’t want that totally fucked up by some hack, you have to direct it. Not that David Schwimmer is a hack for example, he’s a very nice man…another hack.

If you had your druthers, would you just write and not direct?
If I had my druthers, I’d do what I’m doing, which is why I’m doing it. So in fact I do have my druthers and I’ll introduce you to them when we meet.

I wanted to ask you about your advertising work, you were the voice of the puppet for pets.com…
Yes, I have been involved with a number of very high profile advertising campaigns.

Is there any product you wouldn’t sell? Have you turned down any jobs?
Oh god no.

You also write for McSweeney's. How did that come about?
I just wrote a thing and sent it to them and they said they’d like to publish it.

Do they pay you?
No, they don’t pay anything. They pay you in prestige.

Do you have any other articles coming out soon?
I have a piece coming out in Filter Magazine and then I’m one of the new editor-at-larges for Cracked Magazine, which is being relaunched this fall.

How is Stella doing?
It’s going well in the respect that we have made 10 episodes that are funny. It’s going poorly in the respect that no one in America is watching them. I shouldn’t say nobody, dozens of people are watching on a weekly basis.

How can we change that?
If you’ve got several 100 Nielson boxes you can change it very quickly.

So what does the station…
What is the prognosis?

Yeah.
We are on life support right now. But you know, they’ve got very good medicine these days, so you never know.

Perhaps The Baxter will help…
No, I think the opposite is true; unfortunately we are going to drag The Baxter down.

I saw that your birthday just happened. How did you celebrate?
I celebrated by taking some friends out to Nobu. It was super nice of me. That was the most expensive meal I’ve ever had in honor of myself.

You just turned 34?
Yeah. But I think of myself as 35 already, so I feel young for my age. As soon as I turn 35, I’m going to start thinking of myself as 40.

Seeing as you are practically 35, have you ever contemplated…
Suicide?

No…running for President?
I have thought about running for President many times. Unfortunately, I don’t think I’m electable for a number of reasons. Starting with the obvious, I’m Jewish. #2, there’s a videotape of me sucking dildos with swastikas on my forehead, running around in my underwear and putting my ass in pudding. I think that alone is enough to disqualify me from ever holding elected office. But, you never know.