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So What Do You Do, Michael Ian Black?
Cracked's new editor-at-large on the failure of Stella: 'I think Comedy Central gave it a fair shot. The fact is we were just too weird for a mainstream audience to embrace.'- August 29, 2006
If the name isn't familiar, his face probably is. Through his career, comedian Michael Ian Black has played a steady mix of off-beat characters on film (Wet Hot American Summer), television (MTV's The State, Stella — both of which he co-created — VH1's I Love The 80s), a writer (Black has been a regular contributor to McSweeney's) and in commercials, most recently as a Sierra Mist-toting airline commuter stopped by security in an ad now soaked in terror plot irony. His latest role, though, may be the most off-beat of all: editor-at-large of Cracked, the half-century old humor magazine relaunched after a two-year hiatus and targeted to a new, older audience. We grilled Black on the new Cracked, Stella's failure, MTV's reluctance to release a DVD of The State — a show far ahead of its time — and on what, exactly, an "editor-at-large" does.
mediabistro: How did your involvement with Cracked come about?
Black: I was doing some random humor writing for various Internet sites and publications — Juggs, etc. — and was looking for a more permanent home for my stuff. At that time, [new Cracked owner] Monty Sarhan approached and asked if I would be interested in contributing. I agreed, and then we negotiated a substantial fee for my services. Then he paid for breakfast. Then I punched him in the nuts. In fairness, I did apologize profusely for punching him in the man sack. That kind of behavior is completely unacceptable and it was important to me that he understood that I knew that.
mediabistro: How do you differentiate Cracked from Mad?
Black: The Cracked of old was very much like Mad: lots of dumb jokes aimed at 12-year-old boys. The new Cracked is a lot more grown-up. Dumb jokes aimed at 25-year-old boys.
mediabistro:What does an "editor-at-large" do?
Black: I'm a lot like the Queen of England. It's basically a figurehead position. I get to go to all the Cracked polo matches and balls, but I have no actual power. I'm also like the Queen of England insofar as I wear a tiara and carry a scepter.
mediabistro: What happened with Stella? Did Comedy Central give it enough time?
Black: I think Comedy Central gave it a fair shot. The fact is we were just too weird for a mainstream audience to embrace. I'm incredibly proud of the work we did on Stella. I think the show is terrific. Unfortunately, America did not agree with me. Yet another reason why I hate America.
mediabistro: Any updates to the long-awaited State movie and/or DVD?
Black: Yes. MTV is going to be releasing State sketches on iTunes. If those sell well — and there's no reason to think they will — they will take the time and expense to create a full State DVD.
mediabistro: You have risen to a greater level fame, arguably, than any of the other original State members. Are you comfortable with what you've accomplished in comedy so far? What would you like to accomplish?
Black: I don't know if anybody is ever satisfied with what they've accomplished. Maybe Jonas Salk, although even he probably felt like, "I only created a vaccine for one deadly wasting disease." I'm far more impressed with my friends and fellow State members' accomplishments than I am with my own. To a man (and woman) they're an incredibly talented group of actors, writers, and directors, and I'm lucky to count them as my friends.
mediabistro: Comedy in New York is obviously competitive. How do you deal with that sort of atmosphere? Do you have any rivals?
Black: To be honest, I don't find it that competitive. There are so many venues and shows in which to perform that anybody with a little gumption can find places to do their stuff. Also, I've found comedians incredibly supportive of each other. The only rival I have is Lance Armstrong, but for reasons totally unrelated to comedy.
mediabistro: What do you think about your Sierra Mist commercial airport screening commercial in light of the liquid terror scare?
Black: I didn't even think about it until Time.com did a little piece about it. Then, I thought, "My God, we were so ahead of our time with that one." Then I thought, "I really need to take a nap."
mediabistro: What do you think about the comedy industry in general at the moment? There seems to be more hype of late — Chappelle's Show, The Onion, Collegehumor.com's sale, etc.
Black: I think there's never been a better time to be a comedian. There is so much great comedy out there, so many talented comedians, and a huge audience of people who have an endless appetite for it. The profusion of cable channels has helped, certainly, and the expansion of comedy into the territory of rock-n-roll. It's happened before, of course, and I'm sure we'll figure out a way to kill it, but what's nice about comedy is that it's evergreen. People always want to laugh. Interestingly, broadcast television, traditionally the most reliable outlet for comedy, is showing less and less of it. I think there are reasons for this, but I have no idea what they are. Because I am, at best, developmentally disabled.
[Dylan Stableford is mediabistro.com's managing editor of media news; dylan AT mediabistro.com]
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