Comedian, actor, and writer Michael Ian Black is bringing his "Black on White" tour to Chicago this Saturday, November 5th at Park West. Black is best know for playing "Phil" on the NBC series Ed, as well as for starring in other TV shows such as The State, Stella, and Michael and Michael Have Issues. His Comedy Central special "Very Famous," premiered this past August. Michael has also had success in a number of celebrity Poker tournaments, many of them televised.
Michael called me to discuss some of his television roles, the challenging career an actor faces, the type of Poker player he is, auditioning to host the Late Late Show, and he takes time to answer some of your questions from Facebook. You can see Michael perform this Saturday, Novemver 5th at Park West at 8:00 PM: Buy Tickets.
You were born in Chicago, how much time did you spend here?
About four years.
What did you do for fun back then?
Between the ages of 0 and 4? Suckeling, mostly suckeling.
What do you love about Chicago and what do you hate about Chicago?
Well of course, every year I run the Chicago marathon. A lot of it is because I love the challenge, but I hate it because I've never done better than coming in 3rd.
When you were cast on Ed, did that help you realize you could have the type of acting career you wanted and give you some ease?
I don't know that any actor ever thinks, well maybe a couple do, but most actors never really experience that "A ha! I've made it" moment. I know I haven't experienced that moment yet. For most actors, like most people in general, their careers are a constant struggle in terms of either moving your way up or just making sure that you don't tumble all the way to the bottom, because of whatever: you get fired, you can't find work, or it's just circumstances beyond your control. It's a tough business, but I think that every business is tough. So I never had that moment. I was just happy that I had a job.
In 2004 you were guest-hosting the Late Late Show and at the same time, auditioning to be the permanent host. Can you talk about that process and who else you were competing with?
Craig Kilborn had just left that show. They were looking for a new host, so my name got thrown around and I did two nights of guest-hosting, among a lot of other people and they narrowed that field down to myself, Adam Carolla, and I think D.L. Hughley, and obviously Craig Furgeson. We each did a week, I think I was the last person to go, and at the end of that, I received a very very nice phone call telling me I did not get the job.
As you're auditioning and hosting the show, do you put a lot of pressure on yourself knowing it's a big deal?
Yeah, I did. But at the time I wasn't sure I even wanted it. I did in the sense that I thought it would be fun and I thought I would be good at it and also I like to make a lot of money, but I didn't want to uproot my family and move everybody to Los Angeles, and at the time I was working on a television pilot for Comedy Central called Stella. We had just finished shooting it. That was with Michael Showalter and David Wain who are two of my best friends and if I had gotten the Late Late Show, that would have meant that I couldn't do the television series Stella, and I didn't want to screw them, which that would have required. I had a lot of mixed emotions about it.
After Craig Ferguson gets the show, is it weird for you to watch it or go on it?
Well I like Craig and I like doing the show. It's not weird particularly, the first time I did it a little bit, but since then it's been nothing but a pleasure. He's a great guy.
Out of acting, sketch, improv, and stand up what's your favorite way to perform?
My favorite way to perform is in the nude. But I have found that the audience doesn't like that. I don't know if they're intimidated because I just look so great in the nude. I think that's part of the problem, that I look too good, if that makes sense. I'm so perfectly proportioned that I think it's a little off-putting for people. There's a certain amount of jealousy and it's kind of distracting I think. They don't focus on the jokes, they're just looking at perfection wrought onto a human being.
Do you have a favorite art form?
Everything that I do, whether it's stand up, or writing, or acting, or whatever, I kind of think of it all as the same thing just with slight differences. I don't really distinguish too much between one or the other and say this is my favorite... They're all challenging, they're all fun, I've been fortunate to do a lot of different things. When one gets tiresome, I've been able to sort of switch to another one and do something different.
Are you a better poker player than Norm MacDonald?
Great question. That's probably the best question of the interview so far... I would say Norm is probably a better poker player than I am. Based on my limited experience playing with him, I think he knows how to... in poker there's such a thing as having a big stack, when you have a lot more chips than your opponent. A good poker player is able to use that stack like a club and beat his opponents with it and based on what I saw, Norm was able to do that in a way that I am not.
Do you think comedians are drawn to the game of Poker for a certain reason? Seems like a lot of them enjoy playing.
Comedians are drawn to any self-destructive activity and Poker can be that.
What kind of approach do you take when you play? Do you wait on cards and surprise people, or are you more aggressive?
I tend to sit back a lot when I'm playing cards. There's different types of Poker players, categorized as the weaker type or aggressive, or loose. I'm probably the weaker type player, where I play a limited number of hands and then gets his ass handed to him when he does choose to play.
Question from Facebook 1: Who would be your dream opponent in a Poker showdown?
Anybody who is really wealthy and really really bad at Poker.
Question from Facebook 2: Once you start acting on a show with a script, does that have any type of impact on your stand up?
Question from Facebook 3: What is your favorite episode of Ed?
I think the series was at its best when Ed, who was the main guy, was flailing against the world trying to win over the love of his life, Carol, Julie Bowen. Then the rest of us were sort of able to support that quest in our best "corky" ways. Then we were all kind of involved and this little town came to life with Ed at its center. That's when I think it was at its best. As far as a particular episode, I can't think of one. But when the whole world came alive like that is when I think it was at its best.