director, pop-culture commentator and self-described "retarded
basic cable comedian" Michael Ian Black has finally tossed his
hat into the author ring. My Custom Van …And 50 Other
Mind-Blowing Essays That Will Blow Your Mind All Over Your Face
short, snappy essays delve into whimsy, absurdity and consistent
hilarity. Vulgarity is oftentimes made adorable, and the table of
contents alone is one of the funniest and most bizarre of its ilk.
Black's wit and abilities as a crafter
of guffaws are given a medium in which they can be adequately
explored and expressed throughout.
Paste caught up with
the modern-day renaissance man and discussed crossing the line, what
hurts his feelings and whether or not he'll fist fight Tucker Max.
You picked an Internet fight with the beloved David Sedaris. Did it
accomplish what you intended?
Ian Black: Well, my intention was to draw attention to my book
and to viciously attack a beloved best-selling memoirist, and I think
I accomplished both those things. Did it draw positive
attention to my book? I can’t say that it did. But it definitely
drew attention to my book.
This kind of humor—the tongue-in-cheek phony feud with a writer
you’ve said you respect—inevitably seems to lose about 50 percent
of the people who come across it. Do you care about that or do you
just kind of accept it and continue onward?
I guess for the most part I accept it, but it hurts my feelings when
people compare me radically unfavorably to whomever I’m feuding
with. So if somebody says, “Oh, you’re not fit to carry David
Sedaris’ shoes,” then it hurts my feelings—I’m very
sensitive—because I’m not being mean to David Sedaris. I like
David Sedaris. I wouldn't say he's not fit to carry my shoes.
Do you think it’s absurd that people don’t catch on to the
fact that it’s all in good fun?
Right—they clearly think I’m being serious and it’s so
obvious to me that I’m not, but sarcasm is often lost in print. And
also if you’ve got a beloved figure in your life, and many people
love David Sedaris, as they should, and somebody even gives you the
appearance of attacking them, that’s going to get some people’s
hackles up. I riled some hackles.
Are you surprised that Tucker Max responded to your blog post
about fighting him?
I was surprised how quickly he responded to it. I mean, I
posted and like within an hour he had accepted my challenge to fist
fight. Now that’s one that people are taking crazy seriously. His
fans are just going bonkers and writing the most hateful things about
me. Calling me just terrible names.
Uh, like douchenozzle. Things like that. Like, I’ve never
thought to put the words “douche” and “nozzle” together
before. But these people do. It’s actually pretty clever; I kind of
like it. Douchenozzle.
Do you intend to pick any more phony fights?
No, I think this is probably it. I think I’ve worn out my
welcome. Well, I mean, I had a literary feud, and I felt like that
was good, and so I felt like I had to raise the ante a little bit,
and actually have a fist fight. So that’s what I did, not thinking
it through to the point where I thought to myself, “Oh, well, he
might read this and accept a fist fight,” so I was surprised at the
alacrity with which he responded. He was almost instantaneous. He
can’t wait to kick my ass. And you know, in fairness to Tucker’s
fans, they’re all saying the same thing, which is that Tucker’s
going to kick your ass, and they’re right, he will, but just how
mean they’re saying it. If they just said it objectively, if they
just [said], look, objectively speaking, Tucker’s going to kick
your ass, I would go, “Well, yeah, that’s probably true.” So
when they say things like, “Hey, Tucker’s going to kick your
douchenozzle ass,” what am I supposed to say?
You’re not going to fight him.
How could I not? ...If I back down—I can’t back down. I’m
just hoping if I draw this out long enough he’ll die of cirrhosis
of the liver before [the fight].
I think that’s the most likely scenario.
It’s not unlikely.
Have you already done book signings and readings?
No, I haven’t. I haven’t started that yet. But I imagine...my
big concern is that people aren’t going to show up and I’ll be
reading to myself. Which I can just do at home, you know what I mean?
How do you anticipate Barnes and Noble dealing with detailed
accounts of coloring your dick yellow and other such things?
I’m not going to censor the words in the stories I read, but
I’ll probably be a little bit selective about what I read. So I
probably won’t read, for example, “A Series of Letters to the
First Girl I Ever Fingered,” because, you know. Maybe there’s
children around. They didn’t bargain for that. They don’t want to
hear about some girl getting fingered. They want to hear about Elmo.
Unfortunately, I don’t have any stories about Elmo. Or even
Back to your blog and fans: You ask them to do things through it,
and they do, such as posting reviews of the book on Amazon.com. How
does it make you feel that they’ll do things you tell them to? Is
Very few of them actually go and do those things. I think there’s
only 10 people who post reviews, but of those 10, I’m very
grateful. It was a very nice thing for them to do. I feel like
they’re my Internet buddies and that they would go and take the
time to do something like that is very flattering. I know you didn’t
do it. What’s your problem?
I’m busy concocting interview questions.
Just fucking get on it, just write a five-star review on Amazon.
I don’t even care if you read the book.
I did read the book.
Right. And that’s as far as you’re willing to go with it. “I
I read it!
Just write a nice review on Amazon!
The interview for Paste isn’t enough?
No. Because nobody reads Paste. Nobody reads your stupid
magazine. But millions of people read Amazon. In fact...
They have to be looking for you on Amazon, though.
They have to seek you out on Amazon, whereas on Paste
they’re just going to see it.
Right, I guess that’s true.
I probably won’t write a review. I’m sorry.
Look, it would be great. It would be a good opportunity for you,
to use your writing skills.
Yeah, it would be like a clip.
If you want to be a writer.
It’ll be a clip I can send to future employers.
That’s right, you can say, “I was published on Amazon.com.”
To what extent did comments that you received on these blog posts
that ended up making it into your book determine whether or not you
used a particular essay in the book?
Um, not so much. Not so much. I mean, there were a few that just
went over like a light bulb, and so those were instructive that I
didn’t use those at all. I used my own opinion about whether or not
they were good enough. I set the bar pretty low. So pretty much if I
wrote it, I put it in the book.
Were you ever concerned about what effect essentially posting the
entire book’s contents for free online prior to releasing it would
have on sales?
No, not really, because at the time that I was writing, my blog
readership was so little that I didn’t think it would really impact
sales one way or another. Now that I’m a bona fide Internet
celebrity, I’m going to have to be a little more cautious about
releasing my material for free. And when I say “bona fide Internet
celebrity,” that means 53 people read my blog every day.
Fifty-three every day? Consistently?
Anywhere from 51 to 53 people.
That’s pretty incredible.
Yes. I suspect a lot of that is me looking at my own site, and
hitting refresh. It might be slightly lower than that.
A lot of your humor revolves around you being some kind of
dunce—it’s a special kind of self-deprecation unique to you.
What’s the deal with that?
Well, I think the deal with it is a lot of self-loathing, that
manifests itself into a wonderful brand of comedy. It’s like I put
my self-loathing into a food processor, and turn it on purée,
and what comes out is a delicious smoothie of comedy. All you need to
do is add a little mango.
I have a couple of favorite images in the book. The one where you
and John Steinbeck are kittens playing with the same ball of yarn is
Thanks. I feel pretty good about that, too.
Do you have any favorite moments or essays of the 50?
Nah, I kind of like... A huge celebrity just walked by.
A pitcher for the New York Yankees just walked by. Very sort of a
That’s no big deal. I met Robert DeNiro.
I’ve met Bob DeNiro before. I call him “Bob.” What was the
question? Any favorite essays? Nah, I don’t care. They’re all
Do you relate in particular to any of them or are they all based
in the fantastical and the absurd?
No, some of them are more true than others. I mean, I really did
get a perm when I was in sixth grade, and so I did write an open
letter to the hair stylist who somehow convinced me to get a perm
when I was in sixth grade. That’s based in truth.
Was it as devastating as you made it out to be?
it was pretty horrible. That’s probably the only one in the book
that’s taken directly from my life. Although
I think I really would be thinking that if I were Billy Joel on my
way to a holiday party where I knew there was going to be a piano.
I do think that would be my thought process.
I like that one.
You’re welcome. There are a number of jokes that recur in your
blog postings. Does this mean you care about people who have bothered
to follow them, or is it just for fun?
Wait, like what?
That your children are named Suri and Maddux.
Oh right, right. There’s that. I’m creating a mythology. A
wonderful mythology that will rival the Greeks.
What kind of audience do you anticipate this book appealing to?
I’m going for primarily people who can read. That’s who I
think can get the most out of the book. And people who love to laugh.
If they love to laugh,
I think they’ll really enjoy this material.
How do you suggest I type out laugh to translate?
Ah-ah-l-a-h—g-h? Laaahff? I don’t know.
That’s no help. I’ll figure it out. Going back to your Billy Joel
essay, I kind of detected shades of Dorothy Parker. Do you count any
writers or comics as influences?
Sure, if you want to say Dorothy Parker’s an influence, absolutely.
Who am I to argue with Dorothy Parker?
It isn’t that I want to, it’s that I’m curious.
I’ve never read any Dorothy Parker.
Well, look, I haven’t spent a lot of time at The Algonquin, I
don’t know. You know, I want literate people to read the book, but
that doesn’t mean I’m literate.
Are questions about your influences your favorite?
Yeah, well, if they’re sort of... I never know how to answer
them. Because I don’t actually know the answer.
So you don’t read?
Well, I read, but I don’t read funny books. I read, you know, I
read a lot of non-fiction. I read like a lot about presidential
Most of the essays in your book are short and fairly consistent
in length. How do you imagine your writing will evolve from this
I imagine in the future I’ll write less, and longer. So less of
them, but longer. So instead of 50, maybe there’ll be 25 next time.
And then after that, maybe 12 and a half.
Is that three-page format what you naturally are filling up right
Yeah, right now that seems to be where my comfort level is. I
wish I could write longer. But I’m not that, you know, like I said,
I’m not that literate. A lot of people can’t even string two
I don’t know. Certain Amazonian tribes.
They’ve got their own languages they string together.
Well, they don’t have written language, it’s an oral