Comic Michael Ian Black has been a cult favorite since The State debuted on MTV in 1994. The show’s screwball, absurdist sketch comedy lasted only three seasons, but it proved to be a launching pad for several of its cast members. Michael Ian Black went on to perform in such under-the-radar projects as the Comedy Central show Stella and the movie Wet Hot American Summer, but he’s not what you’d call a household name. Now he is on a quest to correct that mistake. He’ll be coming to Asheville on Friday, Sept. 9 at the Orange Peel on his “Black is White” tour to promote his new Comedy Central stand-up special Very Famous. Xpress spoke to him about being funny, getting famous and what makes Asheville sexy.
Mountain Xpress: Your new Comedy Central special is called Very Famous. Is that your goal, to be very famous?
Michael Ian Black: No. The title was meant somewhat ironically. It is certainly not my intention nor goal to be very famous, except in so much as it allows me to do what I want to do. I’ve been fortunate to have middling success, nothing better than middling success.
Would you mind being very famous?
I don’t know what the upside to being very famous is. I don’t think it’s either be very famous or climb under a rock. … I’m a writer and a performer, that’s just what I do. The stuff that goes along with that, fame in particular, is a side effect, not the goal.
What’s it like starting stand-up in your 30s? Most comics start out in clubs and then move to TV. You did the opposite.
I always admired stand-up comedians and thought I’d want to do that someday, but I didn’t want to pay my dues in the way comedians pay their dues. They start out in open mics and might work up to doing eight-minute sets at 2 o’clock in the morning in some shitty comedy club. I didn’t have any desire to earn it. I wanted it handed to me.
When did you realize you were funny?
I did not intend to be a comedian. I never really envisioned myself having that career. I’m still not sure if that’s the career that I want, although I like aspects of it and will probably continue doing comedy. … I used to make myself laugh doing things, but a lot of times I was the only one who thought I was funny, and that remains true to this day.
You’ve spent much of your career collaborating with writers and actors like Michael Showalter and David Wain. What is it like working solo?
I enjoy being on stage by myself, but I miss collaboration… Collaboration, particularly in comedy, is just a really great way to wring every joke that you can out of a premise. It’s harder to do that when you’re writing by yourself. I have to work harder and I don’t know that I’m as good by myself. I think we bring out the best in each other.
You’re very active on Twitter. Is it tempting to throw your material up there and see what sticks or do you save your best stuff for stand-up?
I don’t really think of it that way. If there’s something I write on Twitter that has potential for stand-up, I’ll use it. I’m not a comedian who writes one-liners, so there’s not a ton of overlap between the two things. Generally, if something I write is funny to me on Twitter, I’ll save it and use it as a starting place for something, not as an end to itself.
Tell us about the book you’re writing with Meghan McCain [blogger and daughter of former presidential candidate John McCain].
We are an unlikely pair. We have nothing in common, which is why we’re writing together. The book is tentatively called America, You Sexy Bitch. It’s about two people who love their country but who come from very different points of view. We went coast-to-coast in a RV talking to people about the country and trying to figure out what’s so f—ked up about our politics at the moment.
I heard a rumor that there might be a sequel to Wet Hot American Summer. Is that true?
It’s true that there’s a rumor. Whether or not there’s an actual movie to be made, I don’t know. I hope it’s true.
You tweeted that you want to cheat on Atlanta with Asheville. Why do you think Asheville’s so sexy?
It’s all those mountains, all those mammary mountains. Atlanta’s got nothing on you guys.