In my impressionable teen years of the 90’s I discovered The State on MTV. A show I shouldn’t have been watching on a channel forbidden in my house (my mom would later block MTV but all that did in 1996 was scramble the channel, with the audio totally clear, so I would sit in front of our fuzzed up TV just listening). When The State ended I transitioned over to Viva Variety on Comedy Central, a show I liked vastly more because it had killer musical guests that made a long lasting impact on my musical tastes (Fishbone (their performance blew my head right off my body), Reel Big Fish, Royal Crown Revue, Toots & The Maytals, Mighty Mighty Bosstones, etc). I became completely obsessed with Michael Ian Black’s Johnny Blue Jeans character, with his huge pompadour, terrible fake European accent, vinyl denim outfits, sexual ambiguity, and overall goofiness. There was just something about him I loved, and have made it a point to follow his career ever since.
Over the last 20 years (!) I’ve followed Black through Stella, Wet Hot American Summer, Ed, Run Fat Boy Run, Michael & Michael Have Issues, VH1’s I Love The… series and most recently by way of he and Tom Cavanagh’s podcast, Mike and Tom Eat Snacks (which is insanely funny, fantastical, and only semi-focused on snacks). Black is also prolific on Twitter, you should absolutely follow him if you aren’t already (I got a tweet back from him about the podcast in 2012 and am still elated about it). And if this preamble wasn’t long enough, I also just want to mention two current/upcoming things Michael is doing that I’m thrilled about! #1) The How To Be Amazing podcast – Simply, Michael interviews interesting people about how they got where they are in life. The first four episodes are free right now on Audible and feature Elizabeth Gilbert, Bob Odenkirk, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Tavi Gevinson (I know right!!). #2) The Wet Hot American Summer reboot debuting on Netflix in July. ‘Nuff said!
And finally, the book review! (sorry, I love MIB and I can get carried away)…John got me You’re Not Doing It Right: Tales of Marriage, Sex, Death, and Other Humiliations for Christmas this year. I started it immediately but soon realized it was one of those books that I wanted to read slowly, and savor, even though I could have blazed through it in one afternoon.
The book starts with Black, in the present day, ruminating about how his life got to its current state. I love that he grabs the reader right away with this thesis: “I wonder if, like me, there are people who occasionally experience the curious, disembodying sensation of not recognizing their present life as their own.” Yes, all the time.
Black then trips on his nostalgia, spending the next several chapters recounting how he met his wife, their interesting courtship, remembering all their firsts, and their early newlywed years. These chapters are sweet, sentimental, personal. They also foreshadow what is to come and what we already know about Black – that he is a guy who can be selfish, dickish, and childish. I’ve always thought he came across as someone like this, so it doesn’t surprise me or turn me off of him. I actually quite like the candor. I did find it interesting though that he finds himself, then, scratching his head a few chapters later about why, after years of marriage and two kids, he and his wife fight so much and decide to go to therapy. I can tell from reading the book: he doesn’t listen to her and he puts himself first, always. This is relatable and frustrating to me but adds to the marriage-is-hard theme of the book. So true.
Ultimately I can see that he loves his life, wife, and children. The thing is – life is hard and stupid and boring and confusing and random. Black just has the decency to be honest about it. The whole book is such a refreshing breath of frankness. It made me laugh, cry, and wince but because I can relate, not because I was offended or couldn’t handle the truth. I truly enjoyed how loud and clear Michael Ian Black’s voice comes through in this book. It’s his trademark suffering sarcasm and sharp wit about how shitty it is to be an adult. If you can’t laugh about it, you will surely drown in it, you know?
Lately I’ve been trying to find inspiration in the world that comes from authenticity. I’ve started looking more toward role models that are real people, however unsexy, uncelebrity, or offbeat. While this book was brutally straightforward at times (and awkward and cringeworthy, as those often go hand in hand with honesty), it’s that realness that made me enjoy it so much. As I get older, those are the best kinds of role models. The ones that normalize what it is to be an adult, a simple human, someone with purpose, but doing it imperfectly. It’s hard and it’s easy to screw up. To argue that Black, or anyone of us, are doing it wrong would be to dismiss and invalidate the experiences we’re having along the way as we try to do it right. Even the title of the book is a subtle mockery of the doubts we have when we feel like impostors in a world where, if we’re not perfectly sticking the landing, we’ve failed outright.
I’m not sure if this book is for everyone, since there is a lot of mocking his wife, resentment towards his kids, and general loathing of any person or animal who demands his attention, but I really enjoyed it. If you’re already a fan of Michael Ian Black, this is a must read. I think if you’re a 30 something person, like me, trying to (still) figure life and work and marriage and money out, it’s worth the time. If anything I wrote above offends you, skip this one! (also, we can no longer be friends) Happy reading!