Michael Ian Black Reading From You’re Not Doing It Right @ The 6th & I Synagogue, Washington DC
Ed. note: Michael Moats is a fellow book blogger and seeker of authors’ signatures. His tale is featured on today’s blog, and with good reason: Michael Ian Black unleashed amusing profanity within the sanctity of a synagogue, stirring the jealous wrath of a spiteful god. Mike Moats recounts the harrowing events of that evening, below.
The first thing Michael Ian Black does after the standard thank-yous and glad-to-be-heres is open up his laptop and start reading a review of his new book “You’re Not Doing it Right.” Black is not upset or particularly pleased with the review; he’s sharing it because “it is truly the most terribly-written piece of crap I’ve ever read.” (This and all quotes here will be paraphrased, FYI.) The review, and I’ll spare the author attribution here, was posted on a website no one’s ever heard of (MIB: “I think this is a college paper. If it is, it’s not a very good college.”), written by someone no one’s ever heard of. And he’s right: It’s garbage.
“Michael Ian Black is one of those comedians where guys wish to high five him while some girls want slap him across the face. In the end, he is only joking…or is he?” is how review begins. The reviewer stumbles through the trite (praise for “detailed descriptions” and “witty analogies”; MIB: “I mean, I know how to use a fucking adjective.”) to the incompetent (Black’s memoir is consistently referred to as a novel) to the impolite (“It’s an easy read that entertains and exposes the real life and funny mind of a D-list celebrity.” Emphasis mine, and Black’s when he reads it to us).
I suffer from a lingering, casual interest in Michael Ian Black leftover from the 1990s. I haven’t followed his recent career closely and confess I didn’t know he was a published author. I’m here because the MTV sketch show, “The State,” defined a chunk of my high school and college life. I’m here because of $240 worth of pudding and that one where Black buys pants to the Breeders’ “Cannonball.” [ED: I’d be there because of the toothbrush sketch.] I’m here because Porcupine Racetrack was my “On the Road.”
But let me be clear that I’m not here for nostalgia. I’m happy with today’s Michael Ian Black, who has transitioned into an adulthood of “I Love the 80s,” book writing, and Expedia commercials. At my age, I enjoy these things. It’s like an old friend is in town and we’re supposed to meet for drinks – but if work runs late or he’s too tired, no big deal.
Black reads from a chapter titled “I Hate My Baby,” about the miseries of having a colicky infant. “The main problem is the sleep deprivation…I feel like I have been awake for eight months out of the last four.”
He and his wife hate each other: “The only thing preventing us from strangling each other in moments like these is the knowledge that doing so would mean even more time alone with the baby for whichever one of us is left.” As he rocks his son to sleep, he wonders, “Why is my baby such a dick?”
The book is not, as the review claimed, a novel. And it’s not a career memoir like Tina Fey’s “Bossypants” or Steve Martin’s “Born Standing Up.” We don’t hear about Black’s rise to the D-list. It’s a short, sweet, and simple book about Black and his wife and children, “the people I hug everyday,” as he puts it. It’s a good mix of his charmingly dickish humor and some of the serious trials of adult life.
It’s while he’s reading that I notice a slight uptick in my BPMs and some clumsiness in my fingers. I’m turning the copy of the book they gave me at the door over and over in my hands, and when I set it down I’m cracking my knuckles. I’m wondering about the Q&A and smiling really big. My ‘no big deal’ attitude is evolving into an overwhelming desire to make Michael Ian Black my best friend.
The Q&A is my chance. The first question’s from a young guy who tells us his girlfriend wants to know the specifics of Michael Ian Black’s cock. Way to go, asshole. Now he’s going to be on the defensive for stupid questions. Black’s answer is more gracious, and funnier, than I expect: “There’s no good answer. If I say, “big,” you’ll think I’m being an asshole, and if I say “small” or “normal,” you’ll think I’m just trying not to be an asshole. I don’t really want to answer, but Rachel, you’re invited to find out…”
I’ve been in a few situations like this before. I once gave Wayne Coyne my business card (he never contacted me). I’ve also worked in politics, where the one reliable reward for overworked and underpaid staffers is a handshake and a picture with the candidate – face time with a Famous Person.
This particular anxiety is roughly approximate to those moments at bars when you’re psyching yourself up to talk to an attractive woman. Where meaningful connection is possible, but there’s only a five-second window to get through and show them you’re worth their time. The question is whether you’ll fill that moment with something witty and charming, or just walk over and pee in your pants. I’m trying to distract myself by getting scientific about my situation. What is it about fame? Is there some sort of primal, lizard brain part of me that wants approval from a guy because he’s been on TV? Is there an anthropological explanation for why I’m having an anxiety attack because I want a picture that will get lots of likes on my Facebook wall?
I’m trying to deconstruct the Warhol-esque convergence of famous people and normal people in an internet connected world when a guy in the back yells out about winning his tickets to the reading by calling in to a radio show. Black congratulates the man with sincerity, wishes happy birthday to the guy’s wife (he also yelled about that) and then says how it’s actually kind of sad because you’re only going to win one radio call-in contest ever in your life, and he won it to be at this.
I’m sitting right next to the microphone and can ask something at any time. My inner monologue is starting to increase in volume like those kids in the old Corn Pops commercials. I’m thinking maybe I could make a joke about how the girl Rachel had stolen my first question. I think about asking him who his influences are. Then somebody else does, revealing it for the lame question it is. Black’s first answer is Eddie Murphy, and he takes longer than I thought he would to say Steve Martin. What about his influences as a writer? Same deal. Someone beats me to the punch, and it’s not a good question. (MIB: “I get asked this a lot. You’d think I would be better prepared [but I’m not because it’s a shitty question].) He says he’s reading that book “1Q84” by that guy whose name he can’t pronounce and he doesn’t even like it.
I surrender. Not to my urge, but to reality: Nothing I can do will get him to remember me. There’s nothing that will work, for any of us, to get his attention. Not your cool jacket. Not your hip beard. Maybe you went to his high school five years after him. Maybe your buddy worked landscaping with Ken Marino. Nothing’s going to work because you’re one of hundreds he’s meeting here and thousands he’s met and going to meet on this book tour. It’s like a drop of water trying to make an individual mark on a rock worn smooth by a river.
And there are a lot of things that can make it worse. Trying to recite lines, or hint at old sketches from The State (“Tell ‘em about your glass eye Mike!”) or just be familiar in general is a bad idea. I cringe a little when some guy mentions Wet Hot American Summer 2, to which Black reflexively responds, speaking fast like the fine print guys in car commercials, “Thanksnoguaranteesthat’shappening.” Trying to be funny during the Q&A can also be fatal. Black handled the penis question gracefully, but I once saw Kevin Smith tell some guy in front of an auditorium crowd in Boston, “Not for nothing but, why don’t you leave the jokes to me?”
I lead with the best thing I can think of. It’s a trusted idea, and one I steal from someone who’s better at this than me. When I get to the signing table with my book, I ask Michael Ian Black if he would be willing to insult me in the inscription. I prepare to explain something or offer suggestions but he cheerfully says sure, and with a smile scrawls out FUCK YOU MIKE across the page and hands it back.
I walk out feeling a strange mix of pride and adrenaline and disappointment (also something I remember from bars), because I didn’t fuck it up. I try a few times in the days after to bait @michaelianblack into a re-Tweet, but the guy has 1.7 million followers, so I leave it alone and get on with my life. I post the picture of me and MIB that my sister emails me as my Facebook profile picture. It gets lots of likes.