Michael Ian Black. Very Famous.
The album title says a lot.
The persona Black has chosen for his latest stand-up album is one of smug, arrogant, confidence. He stands tall and proud as if surveying his kingdom and looks down upon the rest of us with a knowing smirk. After all, we can only dream to be the person he is, but to dream that dream is an act of futility. He is, after all, very famous.
But, alas and alack, things don't always go the way Black has planned, and therein lies the humor and genius of his comedy. He has found a pedestal to perch upon that is so high and so precariously constructed, much to our delight when he inevitably falls, he doesn't go down gracefully.
Simply put, Black has found away to do slapstick with words.
Black ensures we delight in his folly whether he is unsuccessfully trying to be funny while ordering a make-your-own pizza, unsuccessfully encouraging his children to be creative with their choice of Halloween costumes, or (very) unsuccessfully trying to maintain his reputation of not being a pussy while skydiving. It all builds up to an embarrassingly candid recount of a trip he took to the doctor's office after making an alarming discovery in the bathroom.
There is more here, however, than just tales of misfortune from a man who may have been asking for it. He's a great storyteller who doesn't skimp on details; details that round out his stories and flesh them out into a complete picture. He has an amazing way of keeping himself entertained on an airplane and when he demonstrates the perfectly-named Banana Noises, the theater falls completely silent as the audience watches in rapt attention.
Black revels in his ability to control what the audience feels. He can make them laugh, pause, cringe, or moan upon command and he flexes his ventriloquist muscles with the maniacal glee of a mad doctor. He knows precisely what buttons to push, and when the audience gasps in response to his admittedly-feminine drink of choice or his introduction of Diet Dr. Pepper into the bedroom or his revenge on an ill-mannered kitten in a no-kill shelter, Black feigns surprise at their shocked reaction.
There's a lot going on here, but you'd be remiss to overlook Black's writing and how he constructs his humor. He has perfected the punchline bait-and-switch. He's even bold enough at times to let you know when the punch is coming and still he manages to pull the rug out from underneath your feet when it's least expected. Through inflection and timing he gives you a quick peek at the cards he is holding, almost daring you to get to the punchline before he does. Trust me, it won't happen.
He intentionally leads you down a well-lit street to give you a feeling of security and familiarity and then pelts you with paint-filled balloons from the rooftops overhead when you least expect it. If he were to make you a salad, your choices for dressing would be French, Italian, and an ottoman.
Despite all of the snarky self-assuredness, Black never comes across as unlikable, another testament to his writing and stage presence. We all know he's in on the joke and as a result, we enjoy spending time with him. When our time with him comes to an end, it's all too soon.
As if you weren't already impressed with how skilled he is as a writer and performer, he wraps up the show with the ultimate callback. When done properly, you never see a callback coming and Black is a master of camouflage. He's Arnold covered in mud waiting to pounce on the Predator.
"Very famous?" Black cites a few examples of why that may or may not be true.
But "very funny?" This album speaks for itself, and the answer is a resounding "yes."