Three guys in suits. That was the idea behind Michael Showalter, David Wain, and Michael Ian Black's comedy group, "Stella." Prior to their first performance, they recorded a short video that they showed later that night when they performed. On stage it sounds like they're just talking and riffing, but really the majority of the material is very carefully scripted. The idea of the videos took off, and before almost every show they would make a new one. The videos feature the three in a number of different situations, including a moustache growing competition, a trip to Santa's house, raking leaves, and an encounter with a beguiling version of Satan, among other things. The group began performing regularly at New York's Fez, filmed a "Comedy Central Presents" special, went on multiple tours, released a DVD, and had a 10 episode run on Comedy Central. Fans may recognize the three from their prior work as members of sketch comedy group "The State," who, back in the early 90s, had their own groundbreaking show on MTV. This interview was conducted in 2004 after one of their performances. For more information, vist their website.
What were your first impressions of each other?
Michael Ian Black: Soft, tender.
Michael Showalter: When I first met Michael Black he was wearing a second-hand army coat from like the revolutionary war, it had a replacement button on it.
David Wain: The first time I saw Michael Black he was playing the guy in “The Breakfast Club”—
MIB: Judd Nelson.
DW: And I was like, “That guy is a dead ringer for Judd Nelson.”
MIB: And now that you see me in person you can see that I look exactly like Judd Nelson.
You've got the cigarette scars too.
MIB: Yeah, that's right.
MS: You look like Judd Nelson from “Suddenly Susan,” that era of Judd Nelson.
What'd you guys think of Michael Showalter?
DW: I thought he did a great job tonight.
MIB: I thought he was a little tired tonight, but I thought he was ok.
No, I meant when you first met.
MIB: I felt the exact same way when I first met him.
DW: Little tired, but ok.
There's a lot of homo-eroticism and simulated sodomy in the sketches—
MIB: You're picking up on something that I'm totally unaware of.
DW: Yeah, the concept that we do sketches.
Is this just a natural extension of your friendship?
DW: Oh, you mean in the shorts.
MIB: In the little movies we do.
MIB: I think we're all just really comfortable with each other to the point where butt fucking is an option.
MS: But it doesn't have to mean anything.
MIB: No, and incidentally it's not the first option.
DW: When people make films that don't have sodomy, they're lying to themselves.
MS: I wouldn't necessarily agree with that.
MIB: Like I personally, I am not interested—personally I am very straight—but the character of Michael Ian Black sometimes will suck a dildo. But I have to distinguish between my personal self and my public persona.
MS: The character of Michael Ian Black.
MIB: My character will take it up the ass, and does a lot.
DW: Very often I have to say, “Who am I talking to right now, Michael or Michael?”
MIB: But I'm a method actor so sometimes I lose myself in my character.
That leads perfectly into the question I had for Michael Showalter. The character you play, also called Michael in the shorts, seems to be pretty obsessed with whether people have performed fellatio on their dogs, and I'm wondering, where does this curiosity come from?
DW: Would you say he's obsessed because he asked it once in one of the shorts?
MS: It's a fair question. I do say in one of them, “Ever suck your dog's dick?”
MIB: You say in a couple of them, “Ever suck your dog's dick?”
MS: Do I say that in more than one?
MS: Ok, sorry, which is the other one I say it in?
MIB: I can't remember, but I think it's because Michael has a genuine intellectual curiosity—he's so curious about the world around him. That's one of my favorite things about him. He's got just this sort of wide-eyed fascination with the world.
DW: And one of his major sort of topics of interest that he's put a lot of time and effort into is whether or not you've sucked your dog's dick.
MIB: Any given person. Have you ever sucked your dog's dick?
I can't say that I have.
MIB: Have you ever sucked your dog's dick? I understand we're on the record.
MS: It's like that thing I always say when you think it's safe to ask the big question. You think it's on everybody's mind, that's what's going on there. He thinks it's on everybody's mind, like that's the normal question to ask, but then you realize, “Oh, it wasn't safe.”
MIB: You ask it in Christmas Caroling and The Woods.
MS: Oh yes, I do.
What's the process you go through for writing the sketches?
MS: I write. First I write the sketch and then—
DW: Then I type it. He writes it in longhand.
MS: I write it on yellow paper and David types it. Then I'll usually do a couple notes on it.
DW: Just on the typing.
MS: And then Mike just comes in and does—Mike's just an actor.
MIB: Yeah, I don't have any relationship with them.
MS: Mike's just auditioned for this.
He's a good fit.
MIB: I wasn't the first choice.
MIB: Ned Beatty originally played my part.
MS: Well no, Ned Beatty did the reading but then when we actually started casting we went out to Jason Bateman first and pushed hard for him. But he couldn't do it.
MIB: And thank God. Thank you Jason Bateman wherever you are because this has been such a blessing to me.
MS: But Michael auditioned and auditioned and we had him do a screen test. He read with David, he read with me.
DW: And at first we were like, “Oh my God, please don't make it so that we have to go to Michael Black.”
MIB: Well it was awkward because I'm one of their best friends.
DW: But as it turned out though, it turned out great.
MS: He lobbied for the part. He came in to the auditions always dressed as himself. Like you always got dressed up as yourself.
MIB: The character as written is me, Michael Black.
MS: But Jason Bateman played him so well. I didn't think you'd do a good job playing yourself, but you ended up doing very well.
MIB: We have a very different take on it. Bateman's thing was very like—
MIB: Yeah, almost like hip-hop.
MS: Not almost hip-hop, it was straight up hip-hop.
MIB: And my take on it was what you saw tonight: gay, just gay.
MS: Gay and Jew-y.
MIB: Real Jew-y.
MS: Jew-y gay.
MIB: Like Harvey Fierstein. My take on it was basically Harvey Fierstein.
DW: Meets Jew-y gay.
MIB: If you could imagine like a Jew-y gay Harvey Fierstein, that was my take on it.
MS: Only if you can imagine it.
How do you feel about your cult status?
MIB: Love it.
It seems like the people I know that like you guys, really like you guys.
MS: What about the people who have never heard of us?
DW: Most people have never heard of us, but those who have, many of them, love us. And as—
MS: If you don't say so yourself.
MIB: You're being very arrogant right now.
DW: He's asking about cult status.
MS: You're being very arrogant and like all your arm hair is sticking out of your t-shirt. What? I'm sorry.
DW: Ricky Gervais said in The Onion, “I'd rather be a small group of people's favorite thing than millions of people's ninth favorite thing,” and I echo that sentiment.
MIB: See I'd rather be a slightly larger group's seventh favorite thing than a small group's ninth favorite thing.
So are you happy with where you're at right now or do you want to reach a larger, more mainstream audience?
MIB: I tell you what I'd really like to be able to do: make a living from doing this. That would be better than say, not making a living doing this. But we've got excellent sponsorships. Burton is sponsoring us this year.
MIB: Schwinn and Schwimmer, which is weird because—
MS: Well not Schwimmer, but his production company.
MIB: No, Schwimmer himself.
MS: No, it's his production company. It's his production wing, Pick-Up Stix.
MIB: All that so you could say Pick-Up Stix?
MS: That's the name of his production company.
MIB: Is it really?
MIB: I liked it that it was.
I also wanted to ask about the more mainstream actors you've had in your shorts, like Julie Bowen and Bradley Cooper. How do you get those performances out of them?
DW: Well first we say, “Will you come be in the sketch?” And then when they get there, when we roll the camera and tell them what to do it's too late for them to back out. That's pretty much how it works out.
MIB: Like, “Julie, do you mind rubbing your clit a little?”
DW: “Just rub your clit through your jeans while you're pretending to watch somebody get their ass kicked.”
MIB: They're friends, we like to do stuff with friends.
DW: Whatever that stuff may be. Kissing.
MS: Do you want to be in a video?
I'd be down.
MS: Do those pants come off?
I think they've got a buckle, yeah.
DW: This is a rehearsal. Action. [laughs]
That might have to be off the record.
MIB: Oh it's very much on the record.
DW: Is that a microphone or are you just happy to see us? Is that a condenser mic built into your tape recorder or are you just happy to see us?
Um. What's going on with “The State” DVD?
DW: It seems to have perhaps come out of its bureaucratic quagmire and might actually get released in the next year.
Have you recorded commentaries or anything for it?
MIB: We probably will before it comes out.
MS: Ed Bradley's going to do most of the commentary though.
DW: Seriously we do plan on doing commentaries and we have lots of deleted sketches.
MS: But seriously, it won't be Ed Bradley.
DW: And it really will be Ed Bradley.
I'll be looking forward to that.
DW: So is Ed. He's looking for extra work now that “60 Minutes” is—
MIB: The now defunct “60 Minutes.” It was so surprising when they cancelled that last year.
MS: I know.
DW: People have been watching it a lot too.
MS: It's still doing great in the ratings.
DW: It's not about ratings though. It's about average corduroy.
MS: Well, it's about integrity. It's about journalistic integrity.
Lastly what was the happiest time in your lives?
MIB: Now. Right now, right this second.
DW: Mine was March madness.
MIB: That's really good.
MIB: I haven't really had any happy times in my life yet, but I remain optimistic.
What about when your child was born?
MIB: Nah. I wasn't there. I was like, “Whatever.” I have two kids. I didn't attend either birth.
MS: Why should you?
MIB: Right. What am I going to do? What am I really going to do there other than say, “You're doing great honey”?
MS: You could read. You could catch up on your reading.
MIB: But that's the thing, I can read at home. I'm going to go to a fucking hospital to read?
Showalter, what was your happiest time?
MS: My happiest time was probably when I was a kid, when I was a young kid, before all the bullshit.
DW: What about like when you're getting your dick sucked by some hot foxy chick?
MIB: March madness again.
MS: You're so gross, you are so gross. And you've been sitting there farting this whole interview.
DW: No I haven't.
MS: Yes you have.
DW: I haven't.