By Ryan Penagos
For over 15 years, Michael Ian Black has helped inject a particularly absurd and hilarious brand of humor into American pop culture. From "The State" to "Ed" to "Wet Hot American Summer" to the red-hot "Michael and Michael Have Issues"—currently-airing on Comedy Central—and many projects in between, Michael Ian Black has brought the funny time and again.
We chatted with the comedian about "Michael and Michael Have Issues" and its show-within-a-show format, his favorite Marvel villain, why he doesn't like Thor and much more!
Michael Ian Black: Well my friend Michael Showalter and I have been working together in various ways for the past 20 years and over the years we just have gradually thought that it might be fun to do a show where we play ourselves, and then we also wanted to do sketches 'cause that's something we started doing when we were very young and haven't done in a long time. [We] just thought it would be fun, more than anything.
Marvel.com: Fun is good.
Michael Ian Black: Well making TV shows is really hard, and if it's not fun then it's kinda not worth doing. It's a lot of hours and if it's not something you're passionate about or excited about doing, then it can be the worst job in the world.
Marvel.com: This show is super interesting because it's a show-within-a-show, and you guys are playing sort of these stylized versions of yourselves. Do you personally lean toward the sitcom side of "MMHI" or the sketch side?
Michael Ian Black: It really depends on the day. Some days it's more fun to do the backstage stuff and some days it's more fun to put on the silver space suit and run around being an idiot.
Marvel.com: What about the audience? Is that a real studio audience that you would normally bring in for a live sketch show?
Michael Ian Black: For the sketches, that's a real audience and those are the same people we would bring in for a regular sketch show. The challenge for us was to figure out a way to do sketches on the show in a way that we weren't commenting on the sketches. Because you're seeing so much of the backstage element and you're seeing our real lives, we didn't want that aspect of it to carry over to the sketches. So like on "Larry Sanders," for example, the stuff that happened backstage was intricately woven into what happened on screen. If he and Carol Burnett were having a fight backstage, you would see that reflected on the actual show itself and we didn't want to do that. We wanted the sketches to stand alone. So that was a real challenge, the sketch show element is treated exactly like we would treat any sketch show.
"The State" on DVD
Marvel.com: I'm digging it, but I'm a huge fan of "The State" from back in the day, so it'd be hard not to dig the show. Anyway, let's jump over to some Marvel stuff. Now you mentioned a little bit that you were a Marvel fan when you were growing up.
Michael Ian Black: One of the greatest things that ever happened to me, when I was 11 or 12, my mom came home from work with a box of comics that somebody didn't want and that was Christmas.
Marvel.com: What did you read back then?
Michael Ian Black: I loved the Hulk and I loved Iron Man, did not care for Thor.
Marvel.com: Why not?
Michael Ian Black: I don't know. I'm not into blonde super heroes. I don't feel that super heroes should be blonde.
Marvel.com: Really? Is it that the mythology and the sci-fi were just so far out there?
Michael Ian Black: No, I honestly think it was the hair. He sort of had a mullet.
Marvel.com: Don't diss the mullet. We actually have a future Thor from the year 35,000 or something [It's actually around the year 2587, but close enough. -Ed.] and his name is Dargo Ktor. He's the future Thor and his mullet is beautiful.
Michael Ian Black: [Laughs] Is the Hulk Marvel?
Marvel.com: The Hulk is definitely Marvel!
Michael Ian Black: I liked the Hulk. I liked the sort of, unmitigated violence of the Hulk.
Marvel.com: It's intense. We've built a lot of layers on him over the years, but boiled down...
Michael Ian Black: He just destroyed ****.
Marvel.com: Smash smash smash.
Michael Ian Black: I had Stan Lee [and John Buscema's] book, "How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way" which made it look so simple in the book. For the life of me, I couldn't make anything look the Marvel way. I couldn't draw anything the Marvel way.
Marvel.com: [Laughs] It's really not that simple, I guess.
Michael Ian Black: No it's not simple at all.
Marvel.com: Have you ever met Stan? He's super nice and easy to approach and chat with.
Michael Ian Black: I always feel like Stan Lee and Hugh Hefner would be friends.
Marvel.com: I could see that, definitely.
Michael Ian Black: You'd think right? They just seem like birds of a feather.
Marvel.com: Okay, so we touched on some of the heroes, but what about some of the villains, what about Dr. Doom...
Michael Ian Black: Oh I loved the Fantastic Four.
Marvel.com: Awesome. Any member in particular?
Michael Ian Black: I honestly felt like the sum of the parts was greater than the whole. Any of them by themselves I didn't feel were particularly amazing, but there was something about the mythology of the four of them that I really got into. I liked the whole team aspect, more than I liked any of the individuals. It felt more character based than a lot of the other stuff.
Michael Ian Black, photo via michaelianblack.net
Marvel.com: The whole family thing is a big part of it as well.
Michael Ian Black: Yeah I think I liked that. You know, the Thing, to me...Well no actually he's more interesting than the Hulk because [the Thing] is so sad. And I liked Reed Richards, the genius aspect more than I liked his super power. And then you know, turning yourself invisible and turning yourself into flame is sort of super hero 101 but when they were all sort of combined, I liked them a lot.
Marvel.com: So to come back to the bad guys, would you say Dr. Doom or one of the Fantastic Four's foes would be your favorite villain?
Michael Ian Black: Yeah I did like Dr. Doom. Who was the Fantastic Four's big villain? It was Dr. Doom, wasn't it?
Marvel.com: It was Dr. Doom, but they also fought Mole Man, Skrulls, Namor...in the first hundred or so issues that Stan Lee did with Jack Kirby they must have fought 60, 70 different characters and every month it was amazing. So out of that it's hard to pick, but there's also Galactus—who's the giant dude—and Silver Surfer...
Michael Ian Black: I vaguely remember Galactus. Silver Surfer was always interesting to me because I never quite understood his deal.
Marvel.com: He's like an indentured servant to Galactus, he finds places for Galactus to chow down on because Galactus is just a big hungry dude.
Michael Ian Black: He serves Galactus! I didn't realize that, I remember Galactus, but I didn't realize there was a relationship between the Silver Surfer and Galactus. I loved the Silver Surfer. But Dr. Doom I always liked.
Marvel.com: Spider-Man a ton of great villains, such as the Lizard...
Marvel.com: Hobgoblin was awesome, 'cause he was just crazy.
Michael Ian Black: I liked the ones who are just ca-razy. I have an intrinsic problem with super-villains, sometimes. Some of them I get and some of them I don't. This is why I don't like things like Lord of the Rings for example. I don't like villains that are just in it for evil. To me, that's pointless. It doesn't make any sense because I don't understand their end goal, so a villain like Joker or Hobgoblin—they're just ******* out of their minds, so I can give them that excuse.
But if it's just about evil, I just can't wrap my head around it. I understand virtue, but I don't understand evil because it seems pointless to me. Kind of like, "We're going to destroy the world because it's there to destroy even if it means our own destruction." I don't understand that and I never have.
Marvel.com: It's interesting that you say that, because when I watch some of the characters that you've played, especially on "Michael and Michael Have Issues," the character seems like he's being a jerk just to be a jerk.
Michael Ian Black: Yes, but it's a game. It's spy vs. spy is how we think of it. So, it's always about status and one guy one-upping the other because we're just keeping score. It's a game. The game has no beginning and no end—the game just is, and we're constantly just one-upping each other. It's basically to gain points, and the way that men compete.
The same reason that I play poker is the same reason that I'm a **** to Showalter and we're ***** to each other. It's not about money when I play poker, it's about the competition and the psychological base for our relationship in the show. And in a way that's how we express our intimacy, you know, by being ***** to each other. That is our friendship.
Marvel.com: When you explain it like that then it makes perfect sense. I've had those friendships. Okay, back to comics. If you had one super power what would it be?
Michael Ian Black: Extra mustard.
Marvel.com: [Laughs] I'm not even going to follow up on that. Do you have a favorite sketch from the first season of "Michael and Michael Have Issues"?
Michael Ian Black: This season? Probably, there's one called sweat pants that's really funny. A guy's going into a store that only sells sweat pants...
Michael Ian Black: There are two more that are airing, so we made seven and five have aired.
Marvel.com: Fantastic! Good luck and I hope that we get to see more.
Follow Michael Ian Black on Twitter and catch "Michael and Michael Have Issues," Wednesday nights at 10 p.m. on Comedy Central.
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