Comedian Michael Ian Black is aware that the world is descending into a dystopian nightmare of climate catastrophe, wars, pandemics, and reproductive restrictions straight from “The Handmaid’s Tale.” And while he’s not that hopeful for the long-term outlook of humanity, he’s managed to maintain a rosy outlook on the near term, due to some very recent developments in his life.
“Well, Dr. Pepper just came out with new zero calorie drink, and while it doesn’t taste great, the fact that it’s out there makes me pretty damn happy in the near term,” said Black, who will perform five shows over three nights at Cobb’s Comedy Club May 12-14. “Thinking of the medium term, I’m fortunate because my anxiety is almost entirely financial, and when I consider the long term, I’m just devastated for all the obvious reasons. But, very, very long term, I’m optimistic again, because then humanity will all be dead and after that, you know, who cares.”
Deadpan deliveries about the death of the planet and the benefits of crappy tasting colas have been the forte of Black throughout his three-decade career, which dates back to his trailblazing early ‘90s sketch comedy group and TV series The State. Since then, Black has remained a ubiquitous presence in the industry, appearing on countless televisions shows, pop culture programs and movies, all while maintaining a regular stand-up touring schedule. He’s also been an ace guest on numerous podcasts and his Twitter following numbers some 1.8 million people
The last two years, however, have been a little slow for the normally hyper-busy Black (who’s authored more than a dozen books, for both adult and children), due to the pandemic. Ever resourceful, Black found a new way to reach audiences through Cameo, the video app that offers catered messages from celebrities.
“At first, I was super skeptical of Cameo,” said Black. “And then I thought about how excited I would have been as a 12-year-old to see Potsie from Happy Days wish me a happy birthday. Now, I kind of consider myself the Potsie of Cameo. Except Potsie has his own Cameo account, so I guess I can’t really claim that.”
Unable to rely on his steady diet of stand-up gigs, Black acted in a few productions during the quiet times of the pandemic and its aftermath, but even some of his most reliable work ran into trouble. In 2020, he reunited with the original cast members of the cult classic “Reno 911” (a production founded by some of his cohorts from The State) for a reboot of the show, which was set to air on the short-format streaming platform Quibi. Despite the backing of numerous high-powered executives, that company quickly imploded, leaving the new “Reno 911” shows in limbo. (They eventually found a home on the Roku Channel.)
“I’ve definitely been on shows that were cancelled by the network mid-season,” said Black. “But I think that was the first time I was on a show where the network was cancelled.”
It is difficult to understate how Black’s penchant for self-deprecation and the punchy satire of his troupe affected 1990s comedy. Although it lasted just four seasons on MTV, “The State” and its absurdist leanings inspired numerous other sketch comedy endeavors. Cult classics like “Mr. Show with Bob and David” and “Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!” were influenced by “The State,” whose members include directors Michael Showalter and David Wain, and actors such as Ken Marino, Joe Lo Truglio, Kerri Kenney Silver and Thomas Lennon (among others.)
Similarly, shows like “Reno 911” (in which Black played hilarious guest-starring roles) and movies such as “Wet Hot American Summer” (in which Black shared a sizzling and ridiculous sex scene with Bradley Cooper, in the latter’s first movie role) are still revered today. Accolades led to a reboot of “Reno 911” and two Netflix series that followed “Wet Hot American Summer,” which were released more than a decade after the movie and featured a new generation of comic stars (in addition to the numerous actors from The State who took part in the productions).
“I didn’t necessarily think that I would have a long, good career when we started The State, but I did think we would always act in each other’s projects,” said Black. “It is surprising that so many of us have been able to stay in show business and be involved in all these cool projects after all these years, because that’s not how sketch comedy groups fare. It’s usually like one person hits it big and the rest disappear.”
Black, who is acting in two movies set to be released this year, isn’t disappearing anytime soon. So fans can continue to enjoy his mordant humor and appreciation for the small things in life, which of course includes Diet Dr. Pepper.
IF YOU GO:
Michael Ian Black
Where: Cobb’s Comedy Club, 915 Columbus Ave., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. May 12; 7:30 and 9:45 p.m. May 13-14
Tickets: $27.50 – $42.50
Contact: (415) 928-4320, cobbscomedy.com