Michael and Michael Have Issues, Animals and a New Show
By Brooke Tarnoff Posted Jul 1st 2009 03:30PM
We've been fans of Michael Showalter and Michael Ian Black since they starred on 'The State' - MTV's cult sketch comedy hit of the '90s - and we've followed them through umpteen appearances on VH1's 'I Love the __'s' series, a few hilariously nonsensical films and their ill-fated Comedy Central series 'Stella.' The show, featuring both Michaels and their fellow 'State' alum David Wain, was a perfect specimen of surrealist humor that proved a little too quirky for a mainstream audience. Despite a loyal following - a loyal, extremely small following - 'Stella' lasted just one season. Now Michaels Showalter and Black are back on Comedy Central with 'Michael and Michael Have Issues,' premiering July 15, 2009. We'll be there with bells on, and in preparation, we spoke to the guys about what they have planned.
PopEater: 'Michael and Michael Have Issues' is a show about the lives of comedy sketch writers - which, obviously, you are. Is this your 'Studio 60'?
Michael Ian Black: "Hopefully not. If we could be half as successful as 'Studio 60'..."
PE: You'd be off the air really soon?
Michael Showalter: "Actually, if we were half as successful as 'Studio 60' on Comedy Central, we'd be a smash hit."
Black: "That's actually true."
PE: Well, yes. I meant more in a thematic sense. How similar is this to 'Stella?'
Black: "Totally not similar at all. It's more grounded."
Showalter: "It's not really meta in the way that you describe. I suppose it's meta in the way that it's a show within a show. But it will feel, in terms of the formula, familiar - in the way that any show would feel familiar. 'Larry Sanders' or 'Curb Your Enthusiasm' or something like that. We're really just playing ourselves in every sense, in that we're playing two guys who make sketch comedy for a living."
PE: You're back on Comedy Central, which gave 'Stella' very little time to grow - was that an issue for you, returning?
Black: "No. They were aggressive marketing 'Stella', you'd be surprised."
Showalter: "For Comedy Central, they were pretty aggressive. I wouldn't blame Comedy Central at all for what happened to 'Stella.' There's no mistakes, you know what I mean? The reason that 'Stella' didn't do well is that no one watched it. It wasn't, in my opinion, Comedy Central's fault - they worked really hard on it. If there was one thing that hurt us, it may have been what you said, that it didn't have a lot of time to find an audience, and that's something they could have done differently. They could have given us a second run in the fall, for example. There was only the first cycle in the summer and that was it. But they put their whole machine behind the show and the audience just wasn't there."
PE: It makes a little sense - I loved 'Stella' but admittedly, it was pretty weird - and yet I think our culture is getting weirder. Some executive gave a thumbs-up to the Burger King king, for example -
Showalter: "He's like a creepy old man?"
PE: He's really unsettling.
Black: "He's grown on me."
PE: Really? You like him?
Black: "A lot. I was very anti- the Burger King for the first year of his existence. They just wore me down with it. You know what the turning point was for me? When I saw that Burger King had released the 'Angry Whopper.' And then I said to myself, 'Okay, Burger King, you got me.'"
Showalter: "They're going for broke."
Black: "'You got me.'"
PE: Because they've anthropomorphized their food...?
Black: "Two things - one, because they've anthropomorphized their food, and two - because it came with Angry Sauce, which I thought was hilarious. Everything about that Angry Whopper - it's just f**king furious."
PE: You would hang out with the Burger King king?
Black: "I definitely wouldn't go that far. I admire him from a safe and distant distance."
PE: To get back to my point - weirdness is on the rise. The BK King, for one, and the popularity of guys like Zach Galifianakis. What's going on?
Black: "We live in apocalyptic times. The economy's tanking, North Korea has nukes - there's extremism everywhere, and people are willing to check out from reality a little bit."
PE: Do you think a show like 'Stella' - or your more surreal moments on 'The State' - might play better now, considering?
Showalter: "I think I'm very out of touch with culture and what people like, and stuff. I don't think I have my finger on the pulse."
Black: "That's a good thing to say when we're about to launch a television show."
Showalter: "It's just true."
Black: "But I agree with you. I'm the same way. One of the things I think we've found is that we can only do what makes us laugh, and hope that other people find it funny too. And if we try to program ourselves to make the larger culture laugh, inevitably we'll just end up falling on our faces."
PE: I'll tell you - I've convinced people to go out with me on the basis of my fondness for your work.
Showalter: "Really? I was on the street yesterday - and you know how sometimes in New York, you'll be walking around and there will be a model photo shoot going on? I stopped to watch it, and one of the models said, 'Did you make 'The Baxter'? That's my favorite movie, I've seen it three times.' And I felt kind of great about that. She was six million feet tall, blonde hair."
PE: Blonde people like 'The Baxter'!
Showalter: "All of her snobby photographers and stuff looked at me. I felt kinda good about it. She saw it three times."
PE: Is there anything else you'd like to say about 'Michael and Michael Have Issues'?
Black: "It's really geared toward the Internet generation. If you've ever been on a computer, you'll probably like this show. It has nothing to do with computers, but I figure this article will be read online."
PE: It will. And people like the computers.
Black: "Yes, and they also like pandering, which is what I'm doing right now."
Showalter: "Also, there are horses in the show. Frogs. Bunnies. There's the frequent mention of cats. You never see one, but they are frequently referred to."
Black: "A unicorn is referenced."
Showalter: "Before you go, I feel that it's necessary to tell you one other animal that's in the show."
PE: I insist on it.
Showalter: "I just need a second to think of it. Um. Okay. I have it. A sheep."
PE: Will this sheep be depicted in the show, or merely referenced?
Showalter: "Spoken of."
PE: One last thing - I have been known to quote 'The State,' probably more than I should. Who do you quote when you're not being personally hilarious?
PE: As in Rainer Maria?
Black: "Yes. I'm glad you knew his first name, because I had no idea what it was."
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