Michael Showalter: Interview

    Michael Showalter is a busy guy. He’s written, directed, and starred in The State, Stella, Wet Hot American Summer, and The Baxter. He’s appeared in Reno 911! Miami, Cheap Seats without Ron Parker, Law & Order, and M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs. He has a show on Collegehumor.com and a band — the Doilies — and he does stand-up all around the country. He’s also just released a comedy album called Sandwiches & Cats, which we talks about below.

    What made you want to do a comedy album?

    I just liked the idea of it. I liked the idea of having different media — different formats — to work with. Having done television and a movie and Internet stuff and performing live, I thought, Hey, how about a record?


    You have an enviable resume as far as television and film roles. What made you want to try stand-up?

    I’ve always wanted to do stand-up. I just never had time because I was always doing other things. Really, it is just about performing. Performing stand-up is really unlike any other type of performance. For me it’s very freeing. It’s cathartic. It’s a very good outlet.


    As far as?
    My mind. My brain. Just getting up there and ranting.


    If you weren’t doing stand up, what would you be doing to clear your mind?


    So this is cheaper.
    I actually get paid. It’s the opposite. It is sort of hard to describe. It is just a very good way to connect. To relate directly with the audience. It’s very interactive.


    Do you like the interactivity?
    Yeah, I love it.


    Do you ever get heckled?


    Do you like that too?
    Yes. It is just an adventurous experience to just go on stage with a microphone and an audience and just see what happens. It’s a real experience. Right?


    I don’t have it in me.
    But I don’t have any loftier ambition than that. I like performing. It’s not the same as acting. It’s much more — it is performance. It’s much more real.


    Would you do it at a comedy club?
    I would.


    Like at the Laugh Factory?
    I wouldn’t seek it out, but I’m not opposed to it. I wouldn’t turn it down, but I wouldn’t go look for it. It doesn’t feel organically like it best suits me. ‘Cause I tend not to tell jokes. I just sort of rant.


    Did you listen to any of the classic comedy albums before you started?

    I kind of just went for it. I have listened to a lot of the comedy records, but I am not a student of the form so much as I know a lot of other comedians are. That’s why I don’t necessarily see myself as a stand-up comedian. I see it just as another form of comedy. I’m a comedian, and there are a bunch of ways I try to be funny. Stand-up is one of them.


    You are touring in support of Sandwiches & Cats. Do you perform the material from the album at your shows?
    There are certain things I do the same every time. There are certain bits that I do that I know are funny and that I can always go to. But I try to do as much new stuff or non-sequitur stuff as I can. A lot of it is improvisational. I try to do as much improv as possible and talk about whatever is on my mind. Just see what happens. And work with the audience. I think of it as a live experience. I want each show to feel like “you had to be there” and for each show to feel like that it has to be spontaneous.

    What about your show on Collegehumor.com, The Michael Showalter Showalter? Is that all scripted?
    That is all improv. Like I’ll say, Here’s the idea: I’m going to ask you for money. And let’s turn the cameras on and see what happens.


    You’ve got some amazing people on the show. Are they volunteers? Or friends?
    I just ask people and they say yes.


    Would you let MTV’s Human Giant on the show after that confrontational interview in Radar Magazine?
    They filmed already. I have some new episodes, and they were guests. Theirs was very funny. I did Michael Cera, Human Giant, Jack McBrayer from 30 Rock.


    How is life on the road? Do you have groupies?
    You mean do I have a different girl in every city?


    Um, no. More like do you have fans who come out to each show wherever you are?
    Like the Dead? No. But there are definitely fans in each city who come and see us every time we play in that city. But there is no one following us.


    That you’re aware of.


    Do you always tour with Michael Ian Black?
    No. But I have for the last few years. But I have toured with Eugene Mirman and Leo Allen. And Janeane Garofalo.


    I always thought that if I met her on the street or something we would hit it off.
    Yeah. Like you would be friends with her. She is wonderful. I toured with her twice. She’s really nice.


    Do you have a roadie?
    Um, no. But when I toured with Eugene and Leo, Zac Orth, who is the Doilies guy, he came on tour with us and we did a bunch of that. But when it’s me and Michael Black it’s just us. Two guys and a guitar. It’s pretty simple.


    Two on a match in a Geo Prism?
    You got it.


    Do you hav eany plans to tour with the Doilies?

    No! And I want too.


    You should do CMJ.
    Yeah, I want to, but we have to get together and actually write songs. We have to do that and we haven’t done it.


    Have you done much songwriting in the past?


    Do you play any instruments?


    So you do the vocals.


    Did you take any singing lessons or anything?
    No. But I was in choir when I was in high school. I can sing. I really want to do a Doilies record. Like a real record.


    What would that sound like?
    That would sound like the songs on the album.


    Which are mostly spoken word.
    Right. Spoken word songs.


    Kind of like Laurie Anderson without the props?
    Exactly. Exactly.


    So if you were going to play at CMJ or some other concert, who would you want to play with? Your ultimate showcase lineup?
    Oh my god. Such a tantalizing opportunity. I would have to say Bjork.


    Well, yeah, if you were going to open for someone, why not Bjork?
    Just for the intense contrast. Bjork. Or David Bowie. I’m just shooting for the stars here. Bjork or David Bowie. Aiming not as high? Billy Joel.


    Does he still perform?
    I have no idea.


    You’ve been friends with the guys from Shudder to Think for a long time, and they did the soundtracks for your movies. Now that you have your own band, are you going to take over that role?
    Craig Wedren did the soundtrack for The Baxter; he did the soundtrack for Wet Hot American Summer. He produced my record. He worked on The State.


    Right, so are you going to kick him out and start doing it all yourself?
    Not at all. If the Doilies ever did a record, he would be a major collaborator.


    How long have you actually known him?
    Since 1988, my freshman year at college.


    Wow, that’s a long time. This is good coffee. I think it is Gorilla coffee.
    Yes, it is good. And exactly, it’s Gorilla.


    I’m from Portland and drink a lot of coffee. My favorite is Stumptown. Actually every time you go to a coffee shop in Portland you get Stumptown. It’s impossible to avoid.
    I like Portland. It’s a nice city.


    Are you going to tour in Portland?
    I was just there.


    Where did you perform?
    It was a sit-down theater.


    The Aladdin?


    Did you go up to Seattle too?
    Yes. We always go Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles. That’s the West Coast tour.


    There aren’t that many other cities to go to.
    You could go to Eugene. I’ve performed in Eugene.


    Yes, that is on the West Coast.
    You could go to San Diego. I’ve done that. Performed there.


    But that’s it. There’s nowhere else. Well. You could start in Vancouver. In fact you could go to Anchorage. You could even do Anchorage, Juneau, Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, Eugene, San Francisco.


    That would be the ultimate West Coast tour.
    You could go to San Luis Obispo. People do. Because it’s between San Francisco and L.A.


    If you are driving, you might as well stop.


    I saw a video clip of you talking about how you hide all the music on your iPod. For example, Journey is hidden under Sufjan Stevens. What about Sheryl Crow?
    I don’t really hide Journey. I don’t actually hide anything on my iPod. And I actually own Sheryl Crow. And I put Sheryl Crow under Sheryl Crow.


    Are you a big Sheryl Crow fan?
    One or two songs here or there.


    Would you go see her in concert?
    No. I’m not big on concerts. I don’t like concerts. I don’t like live music per se. I get bored.  


    What was the last good concert you went to?
    Um, let me see. Well, I just said I don’t like concerts, so you’re kind of asking a weird question here.


    Oh. Sorry.
    Oh, I know. The Sasquatch Music Festival. I saw Bjork live, which was unbelievable. I saw Arcade Fire live which was unbelievable. I saw this band St. Vincent, which I love. She’s kind of new. It’s basically a chick. I saw a lot of good stuff that I loved.


    So you are willing to go to the all-day camp-out music fest, but you get bored at other concerts?
    I’m not willing to go. I was performing.


    Oh. So you were there for a reason.
    Right. I was hosting.


    ‘Cause even I get bored at those all-day events.

    Yeah they’re terrible. I mean, if I were eighteen or nineteen and smoking tons of pot and all that stuff, I would love it. But I’m not. I’m almost forty. I don’t drink and I don’t do drugs. It’s not my spot. And I hate heat. I would rather be in the shade.


    I totally agree. You did a blog tour in support of the release of your album. How did you like that?
    It was okay. I don’t have all that much to say. So in a sense it was like I was squeezing my brain like it was a grapefruit.


    How come blogging isn’t cleansing for you like ranting is?
    Because I don’t have that much to say.


    But you filled up an entire album?
    Yeah, but I don’t have that much to say. I need the response. I need a reaction.


    So it’s the monologue nature of blogging that you don’t like? It’s not as much of a challenge?
    Yeah, it’s the performance. I like the challenge. If it’s not there, I get bored.
    I get bored.


    Do you get bored a lot?
    Yes. I am very easily distracted. I have a very short attention span.


    Are you bored now?
    I wouldn’t say that I’m bored. No. I’m not bored.

    Good. I would hate that. We can talk about whatever you want.
    We’ve already talked about most of what I want to talk about, which is your weird psychosexual relationship with your brothers. That is the main topic I wanted to cover.


    Well, yes we did cover that, and I am going to edit it out. So now that that’s done I did have another question: Since most of the work you do is ad-libbed and you seem to enjoy improv so much, what is it like stepping onto the set of a scripted show or movie?
    I have already had an enormous amount of difficulty being funny when doing other people’s work when it’s not one of the guys I have worked with my whole life. So if it’s the other State guys and some other people, when I feel strongly connected to their writing, it is good. But if it’s just a random script that someone else wrote, I have a hard time connecting to it comedically. And I tend to suck. A little bit.


    So your roles on Law & Order and Sex and the City?
    I was stiff and uncomfortable. I wasn’t free.


    How many people were in The State?
    There were eleven total. I think.


    So there is a good diaspora now. You’re all spread out working on things.
    Yeah, but we’re all working together, too.


    Are you actively working on the movie?
    We are actively discussing it, but not writing it.


    Of course. When do you think something is going to come out of it?
    As soon as the strike is over.


    When do you think the strike will be over?
    I have no idea. Are you in the Guild?


    You can come with me, but I need to go soon. Someone is painting my house and I have to pay them.


    What color are you painting your house?
    Red, yellow, and blue.


    Like the Guatemalan flag?
    They are the primary colors.


    And the colors of the Guatemalan flag.
    Or the primary colors. All my rooms are red, yellow, and blue. Those are my colors.


    You’re wearing orange, green, and black.
    Yeah, I don’t wear red or yellow. Too bright.


    On Sandwiches and Cats, your discussion of the finer points of DVR was interrupted. What do you have on your DVR right now?
    Well, Project Runway. I’ve been taping a lot of the CNN presidential campaign coverage.


    That makes me too anxious. I can’t watch it.
    I love it. I love it. I watch it nonstop. I’ve also been taping Dominick Dunne Power Privilege and Justice. I tape The Investigators. Those are both Court TV shows. Or Tru TV. I’ll be taping Lost when it starts. I’m taping that new show Make Me a Super Model.


    Would you ever be on a reality show?
    No. I think you get famous in the wrong way. If you do a reality show you get famous for being on the reality show. But take the people in that Tila Tequila show [A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila]. They are now famous. And it’s like, so what? Their celebrity has only made their lives more difficult. Because they haven’t done anything but they are celebrities now. It’s a weird thing. Being famous is a double-edged sword. And I don’t say that from personal experience. I say that from watching these reality stars who get a little taste of the spotlight and it fucks up their lives.


    But you are already famous. So would you be on one for famous people?
    Give me an example.


    Celebrity Apprentice. It’s for charity.


    What about The Amazing Race?
    No. I would be a judge on a reality show. I would love to be a judge on Project Runway or Top Chef.


    What about Last Comic Standing?
    No. Only because I’m not qualified to judge.


    You’re not qualified to judge stand-up?


    Who do they have judging on that? Carrot Top?
    I have no idea. If there was a reality show involving sketch comedy, I could do that. I would love to be a judge on Project Runway. I don’t think they would ever ask me to do that but I am very opinionated about the garments. There was a show my girlfriend was really into — I think it was Tila Tequila — that I just could not believe the level of artifice.


    Have you seen Rock of Love?
    I have. That’s another one. She loves that show.


    Yeah, I would flip through the channels, and I could not believe it but I always ended up there.
    Do you watch the Real Housewives of the OC?


    I do occasionally but I don’t watch it often enough to know who all the people are or what their relationships are.
    Yeah, and now that Joe’s gone it’s not as good. Now that Joe and what’s her name — Shane or something. It’s not as good. I primarily watch reality shows. I like reality and I like Lost.



    Artist: http://www.michaelshowalter.net

    Label: http://www.jdubrecords.org