For longtime fans of Michael Ian Black, it may be difficult to accept him as a stand-up comedian. Obviously, he’s revered most for his skills as a comedic performer and writer on an assortment of short-lived but beloved shows like “The State,” “Viva Variety,” “Stella” and “Michael and Michael Have Issues,” but those shows mostly allowed him to try out slight variations on a character that is probably not much like him at all. In fact, it’s likely that Black has never been strictly personal in his twenty years as a reasonably popular performer. Stand-up comedy doesn’t necessarily have to change that, but Ian Black’s second album, Very Famous, shows that he’s making the effort to be less of a caricature and more of a person.
That progression has its benefits and detriments. In the latter department, it’s occasionally awkward to hear Black transfer back and forth between his old, familiar persona (that of a smarmy, oblivious goon) and his real, insecure, frequently awkward self. On the other hand, it’s nice to finally get a glimpse of Black’s genuine mindset and hear him display some vulnerability. Black has established himself as a comedic actor first and foremost, and stand-up requires a similar but not entirely identical skill set. He may not have complete command of the tools needed to be a top-notch comedian, but he’s certainly improving, especially when one compares Very Famous to his disappointing previous stand-up outing, I Am A Wonderful Man. And while he’s developing, he can rely on some of his old tricks to carry him through the rough patches.
That affected superciliousness shows up a lot on Very Famous, most memorably when Ian Black corrects a common literary mistake his son makes when dressing up as Frankenstein for Halloween. But it’s probably not an accident that the longest track on the album is devoted to a skydiving story that allows Black to wrestle with his distinctly not macho personality. Similarly, “Blood in My Stool” finds Black tackling his mortality, although the nature of the story and its conclusion keep the proceedings from anything approaching grimness.
For now, Black resides in an uncomfortable area between multiple styles of comedy; he’s most comfortable in absurdity, but does seem eager to move into a marginally more confessional area from time to time. Finding your voice as a comedian is a time-intensive process, and Black’s been making considerable strides. I have no doubt he’ll be even sharper should he decide to put out another album, but here’s an easy tip to ensure the next go round will be better: try and cut down on the material that requires a visual element in an exclusively audio format. Otherwise, to quote Black from this very album: “nice job, friend.”