Q&A: Comedian Michael Ian Black
From starring in the legendary teen comedy Wet Hot American Summer and MTV’s ’90s sketch show The State, to writing for shows like Two Broke Girls, Comedy Central Presents, and his own Michael & Michael Have Issues, Michael Ian Black has had a long successful career in show business. Last year, he starred in Yahoo!’s parody of The Bachelorette called Burning Love, and in the summer, he hosted Ben Stiller’s Comedy Roundtable at the Nantucket Film Festival.
While Black continues to add to his list comedic endeavors, rumors have spouted on the Internet that Black might be a strong contender to replace Craig Ferguson on The Late Late Show. However, Black is quick to deny the speculation. “I know they’re looking at a lot of people [to replace Ferguson], but I would be very surprised if they came to me,” he says.
As Black gears up for his show at Johnny D’s in Somerville on May 30, we asked him about the comedy scene in Boston, writing with notable comedians, and his general impression of Nantucket.
What’s usually your initial impression of Boston folks when you come around these quarters?
White. Mostly white. Generally wearing baseball caps… Boston’s a great comedy town. It’s one of the better comedy towns.
Why do you say that?
There’s just a good tradition of Boston comedians. I think it’s also because it’s a young town—it gets to support comedy.
You’ve done some work on Two Broke Girls, but I know a lot of stand-up and sketch comedians are different in terms of writing. How do you come up with your jokes and punchlines? How do you know if or when something works and when it doesn’t?
Generally the best way is to try it out on an audience. It’s very hard to sit by yourself, write a joke, and know whether or not it’s funny. You generally need to get out onto a stage and start playing around with it to have any sense of it. Writers, we write. And comedians, we joke. There’s just no other way to do it—you’re constantly rewriting on stage. That’s the only way that I know of.
Are there any ways that you approach writing for TV that’s different from writing your own stand-up material?
Generally with television, you’re writing to serve a story. TV tends to be narrative. So you need to move characters from point A to point B, and you want to use humor as a way to do that. Also, generally you’re writing for specific characters who have distinct points of view. When you’re writing for yourself, you want it to be your own as opposed to somebody else’s.
Let’s talk a bit about Fox’s new sketch show Riot. What’s that show like? I read that it’s a competitive series with singing, dancing, and sketch writing. I’m picturing Who’s Line Is It Anyway?
I’m just on one episode, but yes, it’s an improvisational comedy show similar to Who’s Line Is It Anyway?, but it’s a lot more physical. There’s a lot of physical humor built into it… Steve Carell is one of the executive producers of the show. It’s hosted by an Australian guy [named Rove McManus]. And then there are teams of improvisational comedians who compete against each other… I haven’t seen it all put together, but it seemed fun when we were making it.
Last year, I saw you with Ben Stiller, Mike Meyers, and Seth Meyers at the Nantucket Film Festival’s Comedy Round Table. You guys discussed comedic inspirations, but since you were hosting, we didn’t hear your response. Who are some of the best comedians you’ve worked with?
There’ve been so many—different people are good at different things. I worked with a great cast when we were doing this show called Burning Love, which was on Yahoo! and then E! [network]. There were so many funny people on that show. I worked with Tim and Eric a few times—they’re super funny. Mike Birbiglia I’ve worked with a few times. People from my sketch comedy troupe are still really funny to me. There are just so many.
What did you think of Nantucket?
Well, it’s lovely. It’s hard to dislike Nantucket. It made me want to go whaling—made me want to go kill some whales. We made a weekend of it. We used the comedy festival as an excuse to make a vacation of it.
Michael Ian Black will perform at Johnny D’s in Somerville on Friday, May 30, at 7:30 p.m. For ticket information, visit ticketmaster.com.