Black Aims to Shock Audience in Stand-Up Show

Matt Sprung, Staff Writer

Michael Ian Black strolled onto the stage of Finney Chapel Wednesday night and started off with the obvi­ous question: “What the fuck is going on outside with this weather?” This was immediately followed by, “This is the worst thing that’s ever happened to me.” Black, a comedian, actor and writer native to New Jersey, attend­ed NYU’s Tisch Institute of Performing Arts before drop­ping out. He’s most recognized for his role as McKinley Dozen in the comedy Wet Hot American Summer and his appearances on VH1’s nostalgia mash-up series I Love the… As might be expected of a comedian on his first visit to a small liberal arts school, Black started off his performance with a discussion of his preconceptions of Oberlin. One of his initial questions was about the sexual orientation of students: “So do you have to be gay to go here?” he asked coyly.

Black’s questions naturally led to the organ behind him: he asked if anyone could actually play it and ex­pressed his desire for an organ accompaniment to his act. A student in the audience named Parker said he played the organ often. Black’s dream turned into a reality as an older couple appeared from the back of the building and, after a few brief words with Parker, gave the OK for what might have been the first impromptu organ performance in Finney. Black’s first song request, “Royals” by Lorde, was not in Parker’s repertoire. After Parker performed what Black referred to as “perfect Phantom of the Opera music,” the show continued in a more traditional manner.

Like most comedians, Black was self-centered and self-abasing. His self-deprecation took center stage as he spoke about his “recreational” use of Ambien, a pre­scription drug used to treat insomnia. He joked with the audience, asking, “You guys know what Ambien racing is, right?” It turns out Ambien racing is one of Black’s favor­ite games. “As you’re driving on your way home at night, you take an Ambien fifteen or twenty minutes before you’ll be home and see if you can beat it. It’s a lot of fun,” he explained.

The dark, sardonic humor continued as Black, who lives with his wife and two young kids in Connecticut, moved on to his family life. His wife, he said, “as far as wives go, is the worst person in the world.” Black target­ed a variety of political stances widely held by Oberlin students, who responded with laughs of discomfort — at least at first, as the laughs subsided into occasional groans throughout the act. Black’s overall effect was positive; he made the most of his comedic edge to cut through oft-avoided topics on campus.

One particularly groan-inducing moment was Black’s description of lessons learned during his wife’s pregnan­cy, which segued into some off-color jokes about abor­tion. For example, Black advised the audience to never go up to a pregnant woman, put your hand on her stomach and say, “‘I don’t think it’s going to make it.’ Don’t do that, guys, they hate it.” It was his “internalized fear of having kids,” he explained, that he took out on his wife by “be­ing an asshole.” A friendlier bit involved Black explaining how he would simply eat tuna fish in front of his wife while she had morning sickness. When she asked him to stop, he responded, “Oh, so you’re going to take that away from me like everything else?”

Many of his anecdotes gave the audience a glimpse into his natural anxiety and continuous search for ma­terial. When Black smoked marijuana for the first time on his honeymoon in Amsterdam, for example, he woke up the next morning still believing he was a panda bear, resulting in his abstinence from the drug. However, after three of such stories, they began to feel like the same dish served with slightly different ingredients, peppered with amplified gender stereotypes for shock value, which he played off with a sympathetic smile of self-awareness.

The funniest moments of the night came in his physi­cal comedy, as he exaggeratingly bent over to show how he tentatively took off his underpants after a doctor did not specify if only the pants were to be removed. Black reminisced, “This was an awkward situation, but I saw it as an opportunity for a hilarious moment.” Black mim­icked the doctor’s subsequent rectal examination, raising his arm up to the sky as he declared, “The fist hurt, but once he was past the elbow I didn’t feel anything, because it’s all nerves up there.” This story culminated in the fun­niest line of the night, as Black began twirling his wrist methodically in circles, saying, “It was like the doctor was making cotton candy in my asshole.”

Ending the night, Black asked the audience what they were going to do and expressed his disgust and distrust about the fact that one could get such a large amount of beer for such a low price at Splitchers. Before leaving Finney to go back to the Oberlin Inn, Black looked to the future and said with a muted tone that limped toward op­timism, “Well, Paul Rudd is going to be on my new pod­cast next week. That’s exciting.”