Backstage: Michael Ian Black

Michael Ian Black is a man of many talents: Comedian. Actor. Children’s book author. Poker player. While not necessarily a household name, making a living onbeing funny has paid off for Black, who has established himself a secure niche in the stand-up comedy world with his signature brand of absurdity. Flippant and sardonic, Black’s humor heavily draws on sarcastic observations of the mundane. With a dry yet conversational tone, he is a master of bringing out the unperceived nuances of modern life.H

Q. How do you feel about coming to Yale?

A. Great opening question. I feel fine about it.

Q. Do you have any funny Yale jokes?

A. No. No, I don’t have any funny Yale jokes. Believe it or not, I have not spent a tremendous amount of time at this point in my career writing jokes about Yale.

Q. Huh.

A. I know you would think a guy like me probably sits around at least half the time thinking about jokes about Yale, and what I’ve found in trying to do that is that the audience for those jokes is pretty much limited to people who go to Yale. At this point in my life, I’ve only performed at Yale once, so I haven’t had a lot of opportunities to use Yale jokes.

Q. How do you write a joke? What’s funny to you?

A. I don’t know how to write jokes­ — I say that in all honesty. Every time I write a joke, I feel as though it’ll probably be the last I will ever write. I have no idea how to write a joke. You just write it, and then you hope it’s funny. For every ten jokes you write, nine might not be funny, or maybe the ratio is more like 19 out of 20.

Q. And you’ve written a children’s book.

A. Several, actually.

Q. Sorry, several children’s books. Was that a little easier than writing a joke?

A. Well, they’re different skills. There are jokes within the children’s books, but writing a children’s book is like writing a short story. You’re trying to write something sort of fast and funny and appealing in a pretty severe space constraint, because children don’t have enormous attention spans. Neither do adults, but the adults pretend.

Q. How would you compare writing a children’s book to working on a VH1 “I Love the ‘Whatever Decade’” series?

A. Those two experiences are fairly dissimilar. One is you sitting alone in a room writing a children’s story, and the other is you sitting in a room talking about pop culture. If I wrote a children’s book about popular culture, then it might be more similar.

Q. How do you feel about having run out of interesting decades?

A. Fine; I’m fine with it. We milked that cow dry.

Q. What kind of projects are you working on now?

A. I’m currently writing a book for adults and touring. I’m also starting a podcast and developing a television show.

Q. Is the television show for Comedy Central?

A. No. It’s a television show for E!

Q. What’s your relationship with Comedy Central like? You’ve had three shows, all with relatively short runs.

A. Well, on the one hand, you have to say, “Hey, thanks guys for continuing to give me television shows.” On the other hand, you have to go, “Why the fuck did you cancel my television shows?” Personally, I have good relationships with the people over there. I like them. Professionally, they can go fuck themselves.

Q. Aside from comedy, you play a lot of poker tournaments. What do you like about poker?

A. Well, somebody described poker to me once as a bunch of guys sitting around trying to control the universe, and I think that’s essentially what it is. It’s a way of trying to reverse entropy and create order out of chaos. And I think you have to have a certain kind of narcissism to think that you can do that. It’s probably the same sort of narcissism that propels somebody into show business in the first place, that idea that there is a you-centric universe out there that you can somehow control. But as in show business, the game is incredibly humbling, because you can’t. There’s only so much you can do to control your world, and poker teaches you that constantly.

Q. Interesting…

A. Plus, I just like money.

Q. Have you been successful?

A. I have. For an ‘amateur/sort of intermediate’ level poker player, I would say I’ve been pretty successful. The kind of money that I win or lose at a poker table has no real effect on my life one way or the other. I certainly haven’t lost my house.

Q. Well that’s good. Switching gears a little, who is your favorite comic right now?

A. At the moment, I would say Louis C.K. is probably the best comic working.

Q. What about older comics?

A. Well I can’t say I consciously think of older comics when I’m writing, but the guys that have at least inspired me philosophically are George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Bill Hicks, Lenny Bruce and Steve Martin. I’ve been informed by a lot of silliness and a lot of irascibility.

Q. What do you —

A. Irascibility.

Q. That’s a great word.

A. It’s the first time I’ve ever spoken it out loud, and I will continue to do that as often as I possibly can over the course of the next week. While being irascible.

@yale.edu

and EVERETT ROSENFELDat

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