Even a glimpse at Michael Ian Black’s web site bio makes it clear that this is a man of many talents: co-founder of The State, a sketch comedy troupe, co-creator of a comedy show or two, film actor, writer and director. But wait, there’s more: in 2008 he published My Custom Van (and 50 Other Mind-Blowing Essays That Will Blow Your Mind All Over Face), a collection of comic essays, and in 2009 a children’s book, Chicken Cheeks. And to top it all when he’s not tweeting about going to Pittsburgh, from where I am writing, where he plans on sexually assaulting none other than Ben Roethlisberger he does a little stand-up. And if his latest CD, Very Famous, recorded live at The Trocadero in Philadelphia is any indication, he does it mighty well.
The CD features twelve tracks of very funny material, expertly crafted and delivered with stylish energy. Black knows how to shape a routine. He builds to a climax and when you think he’s finished, he tops it, and sometimes tops it again. He develops a catch phrase and runs it strategically through the set. It moves with purpose. Each individual bit has its own internal rhythm, each plays its part in the greater whole. These are not random observations. His casual delivery which gives the impression that he is speaking off the cuff belies the care with which his act is put together. This is a comic who knows what he’s doing; he knows how to work an audience.
Very Famous has him riffing on a variety of subjects: his kids and their Halloween costumes, his attempt at sky diving, his discovery of blood in his stool, and his visit to a no-kill animal shelter in search of a cat. He does a funny bit on strangers that don’t find him funny which leads into a hilarious bit on ordering a pepperoni pizza which leads to a climactic bit literally on climax (this by the by is the uncensored version). From the very opening where Black lists some of the shows he’s famous for to the last bit where he talks about his medical exam and its results, this is CD that will keep you laughing.
One caveat: through the course of the set Black does a lot of sight gags. Physical humor is great; it’s great if you’re there to see it. On the other hand stretches of silence punctuated by giggles and even worse guffaws and applause from the Philadelphia audience can be irritating. What makes it worse is that you know you’re missing something. Besides if you’re like me, you may even start brooding about it and miss some of the material that comes after. And with material this good, that would be a shame. The answer, it seems to me: Very Famous—The DVD.