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L.A. Times Festival of Books: An Interview with Comedian Michael Ian Black

Candice Aman |
April 20, 2012 | 6:37 p.m. PDT

Senior Arts Editor

Michael Ian Black (Courtesy of L.A. Times Festival of Books)
Michael Ian Black (Courtesy of L.A. Times Festival of Books)

Michael Ian Black would like to barbecue with Hitler. 

“Wouldn't that be fascinating?” he asked. “Here’s the thing though, Hitler was a vegetarian and it will be a pain in the ass to grill up vegetables like zucchini slices, but I feel like it might be worth the hassle to slice up gourds of fresh vegetables to hang out with him for an afternoon.” 

All joking matter aside, the comedian, most known for his stand-up routine, roles in cult classic TV shows (“The State” and “Stella"), and stints on various VH1 programs, (“Best Week Ever” and “I Love the…”)—plus, who can forget his love scene with Bradley Cooper in the seminal raunch comedy “Wet Hot American Summer”?— is also a celebrated author, who has previously penned a best-selling book of essays and several children’s books. 

His newest literary endeavor, “You’re Not Doing it Right: Tales of Marriage, Sex, Death and Other Stories of Humiliation,” is a collection of stories that range from the laugh-out-loud funny to the achingly tender. Inside these pages, which has received early praises from Ira Glass and Mike Birbiglia, Black exposes all about his marriage, career, and his obsession for FKF (Fat Kevin Federline). 

In an interview with Neon Tommy, Black delves into the topics of his book, secret family and radical feminist poetry, all in the signature wit that has garnered him notable fame in the business of comedy as well as almost 1.8 million twitter followers.

You have a new book out, it’s called “You’re Not Doing it Right: Tales of Marriage, Sex, Death and Other Stories of Humiliation,” what has the writing process been like? 

I used the touch type method where my left hand is on A-S-D-F and my right hand on J-K-L-; and because I know what the letters are on any given moment, I don’t even have to look at it, I can just stare at the screen and type it. 

I mean, is the writing process for a screenplay or standup comedy different from writing essays about your personal life? 

I see what you’re asking me. Yeah? No? I don’t know. It’s all difficult. Writing is just a pain in the ass anyway you look at it. It’s hard to formulate thoughts and once those thoughts are formulated, they’re hard to translate into words no matter the medium, whether it is a book, or in my case the radical feminist poems that I write. I’m known primarily for comedy, of course, but in certain circles, I am known for my radical feminist poetry. 

Who are some of your favorite feminists? 

Bella Abzug, We can reach all the way back to Susan B. I like Steinem just for her figure but sometimes that can come off as sexist in people’s opinions.

Did your wife raise any concerns about being included in the book? 

She read it and she was concerned before she read it—about how it was going to be—but it was truthful to our relationship and I don’t think she felt like we had anything particular to hide. There was nothing that she particularly objected to. 

Are there any topics that are off limits now that you have kids? 

Well, they don’t know about my secret family. 

If you could barbecue with anyone, who would it be? 

If the other person is barbecuing, I’d like to go for a professional chef like a Bobby Flay, someone who knows their way around a kitchen. If I’m going to be the one barbecuing then what difference does it make? The food will be frozen turkey burgers then I would go for an entertaining companion, I’d maybe ask you, Candice. 

Any historical figures you’d like to barbeque with? 

 Hypothetically, if it’s just for conversation, just so that I can get a feel for the guy, just so that I have a historical understanding and a feel for this person, I pick Hitler. Wouldn’t that be fascinating? For an afternoon? Here’s the thing though, Hitler was a vegetarian and it will be a pain in the ass to grill up vegetables like zucchini slices but I feel like it might be worth the hassle to slice up gourds of fresh vegetables to hang out with Hitler for an afternoon.  I also don’t think he drank either but I wouldn’t get drunk if he didn’t get drunk. I’d want him to drink more than I drank.  The other thing is it’s not like I’m going back in time to kill him right? All the historical events would have already taken place whether or not maniacs. we go to this barbecue? It’s not like I’m going back to 1933, it’s that he’s coming to present and I can’t change the course of history? What have already transpired has transpired.  I don’t want to have to kill the guy but if I were to go back, I would have to, I mean anybody would have to, you’d have no choice but if WWII had already happened and he had already shot himself in the bunker, then I feel like we can just hang out, the way guys do with genocidal maniacs. 

Do you have any projects in the works?

Nope I’m done, I mean once you barbecued with Hitler, where do you go from there? I think that would be the climax of anybody’s life, for good or for bad. I might write a book about that, can I bring a film crew? That would be an hour of fascinating television. It’s not a bad premise for a TV show- who would you have dinner with and you can pick five historical figures and you pretend like you’re with those figures and make jokes. 

Would you bring anyone from “The State” to your show?

To hang out with Hitler? No. I want to have a one-on-one with Adolf Hitler, just hanging out. And plus I also have this lawn game called Baggo that’s sometimes referred to as Cornwall. It’s a talking beanbag game and I feel like I want to play a few rounds of that with Hitler. 

Would you ever consider doing live comedy again, like how Stella was started? 

Sure. Are you offering me a job? I’d be happy to do a live sketch again; it’s fun. 

I read reviews of your book on Amazon. It has five stars, congratulations, that is more than “The Fountainhead,” how do you feel about this? 

Thank you, very much. Well, obviously the comparison between my book and the works of Ayn Rand are legion. We both are radical republicans. We both dispose a radical, free-market philosophy based on the individual and the concept of selfishness. My storytelling is probably less turgid than her, although she wrote a lot more me. She is girthier and I’m just lean. 

That is pretty dense.

Is this pornographic?

Would you go back to doing the Vh1 series (i.e. “I Love the…,” “Best Week Ever”)?

Sure, I’ll do anything. I’m a nice person. People think just because I write angry radical feminist poetry doesn’t mean I’m angry. Nothing can be further from the truth. I decry the injustices against women and I feel the need to express that in a vehement tone. It doesn’t mean that in my personal life, I’m angry. I’d like to think I’m pretty nice. 

Are you excited to meet your fans at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books?

Yes but I’m mostly excited for the free books.

What are some of your favorite books?

Right now I’m reading the amazing adventures of "Kavalier and Clay" by Michael Chabon. It won the Pulitzer a couple years ago, that’s a good book

You're a pretty busy guy. How do you juggle having a great career with your family life?

I ignore my family and the secret family gets less time. They live down in Tampa. Sometimes I have to tell my not-secret family, ‘oh I have to go on the road to do some comedy,’ when I’m actually spending time with my secret family. 

You have written a lot of stories in your book. Do you have anymore humiliating stories in you? Are you planning to write a follow-up?

I think we all have lots of stories. I have no plans to write a follow-up but then again I don’t know what I’m going to do tomorrow, so that might change. 

You have a lot of Twitter followers? Do you ever feel pressure tweeting something out?

No, I mean why would I?

Well, you have the power to influence so many people just through 140 characters.

Not really. That’s the myth about Twitter, nobody is really influencing anyone on Twitter. All I’m really doing is advertising myself. I’m not really curing diseases, I’ve tried. I’ve tried re-tweeting for a cure for cancer, and as far as I’m concern, cancer is still around.

Michael Ian Black will appear at the L.A. Times Festival of Books this Sunday. 

Reach Reporter Candice here. Follow her on Twitter.

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