In his new comedy special Noted Expert, Michael Ian Black has a certain humility about his day job, which is playing supporting roles on cable comedies.
“Sometimes I feel like I’m just a vessel,” Black says early in his stand-up routine. “You know what I mean? Like God is cancelling television shows through me.”
It’s a good bit, but it’s not true—at least not lately.
Black plays Peepers the butler on Comedy Central’s Another Period, which premieres its second season on June 15, and the wife’s best friend on TV Land’s The Jim Gaffigan Show, which premieres its second season on June 19. He will also be back for Netflix’s recently announced Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later, which is essentially Season 2 of Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp.
We caught up with Black earlier this week to talk about his career, his interview podcast How to Be Amazing, and the darker ground he covers in Noted Expert.
The stories in this special tend to take dark, absurdist turns. Where does that come from?
I like to tread the line between what’s real and what isn’t. Some things that I say obviously aren’t real, and some things must be real. In between, I find it kind of fun to have the audience wondering what’s real and what isn’t and playing it all as straight as I can.
You got a particularly interesting response from a guy who had stopped a plane from taking off when you asked people in the audience about things they’ve been arrested for doing. Did you always get responses like that?
That one was particularly interesting. I know there’s people in the audience who have done far worse shit than they’ll admit to.
When you do crowd work, you’re biting off the idea that you’ll have to respond to it and say something funny. Is that more unnerving when you’re taping a show for a special?
It is and it isn’t. I don’t approach it like I need to say something hilariously funny in this moment. It’s more that I follow my genuine curiosity, and funny things tend to happen. It’s always interesting to hear why people get arrested. I never get tired of that.
Another Period and The Jim Gaffigan Show are both starting back in mid-June, and you’ll have Debate Wars for Seeso this summer. What’s it like seeing those things reflected back to you all at the same time?
The landscape and the business have changed so much in the last 10 or 15 years. It used to be that you would get on a network show and your life would revolve around that show. You’d do 20-22 episodes a year, and there would be very tight contracts about what else you could or couldn’t do. There are so many more channels now and the seasons tend to be shorter, so the networks have a harder time locking you into contracts that take you out of the game.
So you’re still working a lot. It’s just on multiple shows now.
It’s been great in a way. I’ve gotten the chance to do different things. I like this better than I would being stuck on Law and Order all year solving crimes. I have more fun bouncing from show to show. Because there’s so many channels and they’re not incredibly high-profile shows, I don’t feel like I’m getting overexposed.
Do you have the sense that the same core group of people see you over and over on different platforms or that you’re being seen by a lot of different people?
I don’t have a sense of that, really. With The Jim Gaffigan Show, his fan base tends to be different than my fan base. I assume there are people who have never heard of me watching that show on TV Land vs. people who are probably more familiar with me watching Another Period on Comedy Central.
What’s format for Debate Wars? Is that a political show?
No, it’s two teams of two people each debating topics like Dogs vs. Cats, Night vs. Day—silly topics that we’re doing in as serious a way as possible. I’m the moderator, and I take it very, very seriously.
Kind of like what you did on Burning Love?
Burning Love was very specifically a parody of The Bachelor, and this isn’t a parody of anything. I’m an equally if not more serious host on Debate Wars.
Netflix announced a new season of Wet Hot American Summer a few weeks ago, and you said on Twitter that you didn’t know anything about it. You were just playing around?
No. I really don’t know much about it at all.
Does that mean you don’t know if you’re in it or not?
That I do know. I am in it.
Was it contingent on getting to make more sweet love to Bradley Cooper in the tool shed?
[laughs] I’m just happy to be included. They certainly don’t need me. Whatever love-making they need me to make, I’m open and available. And I mean open in every sense of the word.
I was a fairly early adopter on your How to Be Amazing podcast, and one of the first episodes you did was an interview with Lin-Manuel Miranda. That was first thing I ever remember hearing about Hamilton.
That was before it had opened at The Public Theater.
What was it like watching Hamilton blow up with it already on your radar?
I kid with him in the interview—when he says it’s a hip-hop musical about Alexander Hamilton—that it sounds like either a genius idea or the worst idea I’ve ever heard. I saw a clip of it from when he workshopped it and suspected it would be successful. I had no idea it was going to be a cultural phenomenon. He’s such a lovely guy, and it’s been awesome watching him succeed.
Where does the podcast fit into your work life? Something you do because you get to talk to interesting people?
I don’t make much money off of it. It’s an opportunity to talk to cool people about what they’re doing. I like to learn about people’s creative processes and why they do what they do. From a selfish point of view, it allows me to flex muscles that I don’t normally get to use. I don’t normally get to do the kind of research that I get to do for these interviews, so it’s another creative outlet for me.
You’re on the East Coast, so you’re not really in that L.A.-based comedy podcast world, but do you see podcasts still growing in terms of listeners and influence?
I think it’s still growing. For comedians, podcasts have been great as a way of getting yourself out there. The problem is that there’s so much out there, and people don’t know what to listen to.
You’re seeing that with TV too. It’s like a library with no card catalog.
It’s hard. There’s so much content across so many platforms and so much of it is good that you’re going to miss out on something amazing and have to be OK with that. I’m OK with that. There are many, many shows that I know are fantastic that I don’t watch. I want to get around to them at some point, but then something else comes out. But I’m OK with not being hip.
Black’s stand-up special, Michael Ian Black: Noted Expert, airs Friday at 10 p.m. ET/PT on the Epix premium channel and apps for iOS, Roku and other streaming platforms. Epix is available through Sunday without a subscription as part of its free preview weekend.