When Michael Ian Black comes to Johnny D’s this Friday, May 30, it will be as a stand-up comedian. But that’s only one of many suits Black wears. He’s also an actor in sitcoms (he’s currently waiting to hear if the retooled pilot for Jim Gaffigan’s sitcom will be picked up), a talented essay writer (his book “You’re Not Doing It Right: Tales of Marriage, Sex, Death, and Other Humiliations” was a breakthrough), an author of kids’ books (he released his fifth one, “Naked!,” in April), and podcaster (he co-hosts “Topics” with his State-mate Michael Showalter). And he had a cameo as himself in the first episode of “Maron” season two.
Even since we spoke with him last week, it was officially announced that The State, the sketch troupe Black broke through with on MTV in the early ’90s, will reunite for LA’s “Festival Supreme” in October, and Netflix is considering a 10-episode prequel to the State-heavy 2001 cult classic “Wet Hot American Summer.” We spoke with him by phone last Wednesday about his many projects and his stand-up career.
Q. How many plates do you have spinning at any one time? You’ve got books, TV shows, Web shows, kids’ books…
A. And podcasts. And there’s my radical feminist poetry, which I do. And that’s probably about it.
Q. Right now, how many things would you say are imminent and on your plate?
A. I’m working on a bunch of things that won’t be completed within the next month. The podcast is continuing. I’m doing something else that’s not performance-oriented, and I’m writing a book or two. I don’t know. Getting ready to tour, learning how to code. All kinds of things.
Q. About the Jim Gaffigan pilot, is that officially called “Gaffigan?”
A. It is called “Gaffigan,” and we’re kind of waiting to hear. I’m not sure what’s going on with that.
Q. Is that a strange thing when a show gets retooled? Is that worrisome or a positive thing?
A. I think in the case of “Gaffigan,” it wasn’t worrisome for me, because I wasn’t in the original [pilot], but I think he viewed it as a sign that the network really wants to work with him, and they hadn’t cracked the code the first time out, so they were trying it again.
Q. Is there pressure to have a lot of different things going in case one thing tanks or fails, you’ve got another one or two or three things going?
A. Yeah, but I think that’s just smart business. That’s just a way to control what you’re doing a little bit and keep things interesting and hedge your bets.
Q. How big a part would you say stand-up plays in your career?
A. Well it’s definitely not mainly what I do. I certainly wouldn’t consider myself a stand-up first. But over the years it’s become more important to me, mostly because I enjoy it and want to get better at it. I like the process, I like performing. So it’s the kind of thing I do intensely for maybe a few months out of the year and then kind of put away for a while and then come back to.
Q. Was there a place where you felt you hit your stride as a stand-up, where you discovered who you were onstage?
A. There wasn’t a moment. I mean, it’s been a process. It continues to evolve. One of the things I like about stand-up is the way it changes with you as a person. As you change, the comedy necessarily changes. If you’re doing the same act at 20 and at 40 and at 60, I think there’s something probably untruthful about that. And I think a lot of what stand-up is about is trying to uncover broad truths.
Q. Is the legacy of The State sort of a blessing and a curse? There’s a fanbase there and a lot of you still work together, but it’s also something that’s fairly far in your past at this point.
A. I don’t really think about it. I mean, I think about the friendships I have and I’m happy to have been a part of it. We will be performing together again as The State in October, and that’s fun for us. It’s fun for us to get together and do stuff together. So I don’t think about The State particularly on a day-to-day basis, but nor do I think of it as something that’s entirely in my past because, as you said, I work with a lot of those people time and time again, so I think of it more in terms of friendships that I maintained than anything else.
Q. Are there more books of essays in the works, as well?
A. Yeah, I’m writing one right now. It’s going terribly.
Q. Is that just the usual, “being in the middle of a writing project” I think it’s going terribly?
A. Probably. But when you’re in the middle of it, it feels uniquely terrible.
Q. What keeps you writing kids’ books?
A. It’s just fun. It’s just sort of a fun thing to do. I like seeing them. I like doing them. The kids’ publishing industry is uniquely lovely. Everyone in it is just as you would hope they would be. Very nice. And it’s just a fun place to kind of play around.
Q. What was your initial inspiration for getting into that market?
A. Just having kids and thinking to myself, I could write books at least as shitty as the ones that I’m reading to my children.
Q. Are any of these stories start out as things you told your own children? Did they start out as a workshop that way?
A. No, because I don’t really speak to my own children.
Q. You have somebody else that does that.
A. [laughs] Yes. I have staff that speaks to my children for me.