Ask Me Another
Fri April 19, 2013
Michael Ian Black: Jack Of All Trades
Originally published on Fri July 26, 2013 8:11 am
You might be familiar with Michael Ian Black, the comedian, from his sketch comedy shows The State and Stella. Or, you've seen Michael Ian Black, the actor, in roles in NBC's Ed and the cult summer camp comedy Wet Hot American Summer. But if you're a parent of small children, you may know Michael Ian Black, the author, from his quartet of children's books, one of which includes a lemonade-selling monkey who reads minds.
Michael took up writing children's books such as The Purple Kangaroo after reading countless others to his son and daughter while thinking, "Oh, I could do this. Let me see if I can make money off exploiting my children." (He was joking. Kind of.) His relationship with his kids, as well as that with his wife, is one of the topics Michael unpacks in his frank, hilarious memoir You're Not Doing it Right (2012).
The actor, comedian and long-suffering father of two sat down with Ask Me Another host Ophira Eisenberg to dole out some useful parenting tips, discuss his love of poker and reveal that the once-in-a-lifetime role he dropped out of NYU to pursue was as a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle.
Since Michael seemed up for anything, we catered to his competitive spirit by inviting him to play an Ask Me Another Challenge against World Series of Poker champion Matt Matros. The topic? Poker, of course. As Michael put it to Ophira, "When [I] sit down at the poker table, all I'm thinking is, 'I need to vanquish my foes.' And everyone at the poker table are my foes. But really--the foe is I."
About Michael Ian Black
Michael Ian Black began his career with The State, a sketch comedy troupe he co-founded at New York University in 1988, which went on to have a successful run on MTV. He is also known for his work on NBC's Ed, Stella, Michael and Michael Have Issues and Wet Hot American Summer. Michael has appeared in several films and is a frequent contributor to VH1's I Love the... series. His first album of stand-up comedy, I Am a Wonderful Man, was released in 2007, and his first book of humorous essays, My Custom Van (and 50 Other Mind-Blowing Essays That Will Blow Your Mind All Over Face) came out in 2008. He has written four children's books, and in 2012 released a memoir entitled You're Not Doing It Right. Michael is married and has two children.
In the video below, Michael Ian Black joins his friend, actor and comedian Michael Showalter, to discuss his children's book Chicken Cheeks.
(Warning: This video contains language that may not be suitable for all viewers.)
OPHIRA EISENBERG, HOST:
You're listening to ASK ME ANOTHER, NPR's hour of puzzles, word games and trivia. I'm Ophira Eisenberg, and joining me is this week's VIP, that's very important puzzler, actor and comedian Michael Ian Black.
EISENBERG: Welcome to ASK ME ANOTHER, Michael.
MICHAEL IAN BLACK: Thanks. It's great to be here.
EISENBERG: You get around. I knew you from MTV, the sketch "The State." You've gone on to appear in tons of television, movies. You have written half a dozen books of different genres. Some of them are children's books, a memoir, a book of essays. You are...
BLACK: Radical feminist poetry, you neglected to say.
EISENBERG: I can't wait to read the sequel to that. You are a prolific tweeter. You're a pretty good poker player.
EISENBERG: You got a lot going on. We're going to have to focus here.
BLACK: You neglected the part where I'm often unemployed.
EISENBERG: Yeah, that just sounds like downtime to me, just a lot of downtime. Before the break, I teased a trivia question. In which of your stories does the main character have the ability to read your mind?
BLACK: That's in my second children's book entitled, "The Purple Kangaroo." But the character that reads people's minds is not a kangaroo, is in fact a lemonade-selling monkey.
EISENBERG: Ah. Did you always want to write a children's book or...
BLACK: No. Oh, no, no, no.
BLACK: No, but I had kids. And when they were little, I would read them these children's books, and I thought, like I think most parents do, "Oh, I could do this."
BLACK: Let me see if I could make money off exploiting my children.
BLACK: And but what I found out is that, you know, children's book authors, when you talk to them, you know, you'll hear them say, you know it's very difficult to write children's books.
Because although the text may be short, you have to really construct it in such a sort of complicated way but it has to feel organic and you really have to spend a lot of time on word choice. It's the equivalent of writing any other kind of book. And what I discovered is that isn't true at all.
EISENBERG: It's really easy.
BLACK: It is really easy to write children's books. One of the things that was important to me in writing children's books is that I wasn't writing down to anybody. That, you know, I'm writing hopefully as much for the parent who has to read the stupid thing as the kid who has to listen to the stupid thing. And make no mistake, these books are stupid.
EISENBERG: I'm so happy to hear you got a new one on the way.
BLACK: I do.
EISENBERG: So as a, obviously as someone who writes children's books and you know - you have children, you know children, you could speak to them because you're writing books that - what is your number one child raising tip?
BLACK: When they say they hate you, it's best to just go "I hate me too."
BLACK: You turn the tables on them like that. Never fails to make them cry.
EISENBERG: Now, you went to NYU for performing arts. And that was - when you got accepted, were you just like my life's going to change?
BLACK: In that moment?
BLACK: I actually will never forget that. I remember getting the envelope from New York University and when you're a college senior, you're taught the small envelopes are bad news, the big envelopes are good news. And it was a big envelope, and I opened it up and I remember just jumping and dancing. And it was the most physical activity I had ever performed up to that point in my life and probably since.
EISENBERG: But you did not finish NYU.
BLACK: Oh, no, I dropped out almost immediately.
BLACK: Once I got to New York, you know, my goal was achieved. There was no point in staying there. No, I finished my second year, had started my junior year and got the opportunity to become a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle and...
EISENBERG: Which one?
EISENBERG: Okay, sorry.
EISENBERG: Yeah, the best looking one, I understand.
BLACK: So when that opportunity presents itself, one doesn't say, oh, no thank you, I don't want to be a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. You seize that by the shell and you run.
BLACK: So that's what I did.
EISENBERG: So in addition to all this, you decided to sort of shed the comedic persona, you know, kind of smart-alecky, above it all, snarky guy and get very vulnerable and write a very hilarious memoir called "You're Not Doing it Right." As you're writing it, are you freaking out that people are going to read this...
BLACK: No. I don't have that kind of foresight where I'm thinking...
BLACK: ...somebody's actually going to read this. At the time, I'm thinking this book is a year over due; I just need to finish it. As it happens, people did read it.
And it was really interesting to me because the process of writing about myself, what was important to me was that I be as honest and as self-critical and not paint myself in any kind of flattering light that I didn't feel like I deserved.
In doing so, like I really had to talk about my relationship with my wife in as honest a way as I could. And I didn't really feel nervous about that in terms of her reaction because it wasn't anything that I hadn't said to her. You know, I'd say to her all the time "you're a terrible, terrible person."
BLACK: And she says the same to me but in much, much stronger language. But then I was surprised when the book came out and people, their reaction to it was often "I can't believe that you would talk about your marriage in these frank terms."
And it surprised me because it seemed to me that - I guess was surprised that I thought everybody who was married talked to their spouses like that. That everybody, you know, was awful to their spouse and wonderful to their spouse and that relationship encompassed the gamut of human emotion and feeling.
EISENBERG: Turns out everyone's just lying.
BLACK: That's the impression I get is that most people in relationships are just lying to each other and in denial about how they really feel. So, yeah, my advice to your audience, I guess, is break up.
EISENBERG: And now you're also a poker player. You've played...
BLACK: I am a poker player. In fact, I just played a charity poker tournament with Ira Glass, also of NPR fame.
BLACK: In which he eliminated me.
EISENBERG: Are you competitive?
BLACK: I'm very competitive. You can't play poker and not be competitive because the idea is when you sit down at the poker table, all I'm thinking is I need to vanquish my foes. And everyone at the poker table are my foes. But really, the foe is I.
EISENBERG: All right, Michael Ian Black, well we have a challenge coming up for you where you can decide is the foe you or is the foe the others. But first, I will ask you, do you think you'd be up for an ASK ME ANOTHER challenge?
BLACK: Oh, of course.
EISENBERG: All right. Michael Ian Black, thank you. We'll see you later in the hour for an ASK ME ANOTHER challenge.
(APPLAUSE) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.