Michael Ian Black's cynical, self-effacing performances in the sketch-comedy show The State and the subsequent college-dormitory hit Wet Hot American Summer generated a cult following. But the comedian is probably most recognizable as a snarky commentator on VH1's I Love the '80s nostalgia series. His latest endeavor is the Comedy Central show Michael and Michael Have Issues, which debuts July 15 and co-stars fellow State alum Michael Showalter. TIME talked to Black about his career, tacos and whether or not he really loves the '80s.
Tell me about your new show, Michael and Michael Have Issues.
It's about the lives of sketch-comedy writers, but I'd say it's more specific than that. It's really sort of about the relationship between my partner Michael Showalter and me, rather than the fact that we make sketch comedy.
Which Michael has more issues?
What's wrong with him?
Paranoia. Hypochondria. Body dysmorphia. Egomania. He's anorexic. Also a terrible overeater. He's a recovering alcoholic and an insomniac, but he made up for that by becoming a very serious drug addict. He's agoraphobic and argyle-phobic, which means he's afraid of argyle socks.
That's an incredibly specific fear.
I know. It's terrible. It's very debilitating for him.
So basically, this show is going to be about his neuroses and your attempts to calm him down.
Well, not really. As a result of his neuroses, I'm incredibly neurotic.
You've referred to yourself before as being associated "almost exclusively with failed projects" over the course of your career. Do you really feel that way?
Well, you know there's that expression about people sleeping their way to the top? I've been failing myself laterally for about 15 years now. My career is going in an almost perfectly sideways direction. Flying under the radar gives you a little more freedom. But at the same time, fame and popularity allow you to do what you want to do. It's a little bit paradoxical. I actually don't know anyone who wants to be famous for fame's sake, at least not anyone I respect. But you need to have a certain amount of power in order to be able to do what you want.
Do you have that power?
Oh no. Not yet, and not for the foreseeable future.
You're on TV and in movies, though, so you probably get recognized a lot.
People recognize me, but they don't know where from. Today I was in the elevator and somebody asked me if I worked for his company.
Are you ever tempted to say, "Yes, I do work with you"?
No, but I do lie about some things. Whenever anyone asks me if I'm from a TV show, I say yes no matter whether I've ever been on it. It just makes the conversation that much easier.
You started something on Twitter called the "F___ It List," a series of things you don't want to do before you die. What's on it?
Well, I almost broke one of them, which was, "See the reunited Phish." I went to Bonnaroo and they were performing, but I was fortunate not to have to see them play.
Why do they book comedy acts at music festivals?
There's this misconception that comedy and music go together. They don't. Comedians can't compete with rock stars; they're just not on the same level. Rock stars will always be cooler. They will always get more girls. We'll always be the ugly stepchildren in the entertainment industry. And that's probably as it should be. If comedians were ever supersuccessful or cool, it would sort of destroy our credibility. Our job is to speak for the losers of the world.
I read your essay "Taco Party" in your book My Custom Van and 50 Other Mind-Blowing Essays. When I went back to try to find it, I discovered an entire rant you'd written about taco-flavored Doritos. Apparently you really love tacos and write about them a lot.
Tacos run through my work. Tacos are essential to my oeuvre. A taco done right has pretty much your recommended daily allowance of everything. It's God's perfect creation.
Do you really love the '80s or is it all just a sham?
I'm rather indifferent to any 10-year period as an arbitrary measure of my own happiness. There were certainly some good moments in the '80s, like when Michael Jackson moonwalked. There were also some not-so-good moments, like when the space shuttle exploded. Coincidentally, they both involved space.
There's a series called I Love the New Millennium, but the decade isn't over yet. Do we really need a TV show that helps us remember 2005?
You're living in a bizarro universe where time folds back on itself and nostalgia is something you reminisce about before it even happens. In fact, we're shooting I Love the 2020s right now.
What happens in the 2020s?
I can't tell you about it because it would change the course of history. Then we'd have to reshoot the entire episode.