Michael Ian Black bares soul, makes us laugh with memoir

Katie Stroh

Michael Ian Black's book “You're Not Doing It Right: Tales of Marriage, Sex, Death, and Other Humiliations” is a harshly honest, moving new memoir from the seasoned comedian, actor and writer.

“You're Not Doing It Right” is a collection of short essays based on Black's intensely personal memories of his childhood, marriage and fatherhood. Although Black does sometimes mine these familial experiences for stand-up material, this is the first time he's ever written in such a frank, confessional style — it's more of an emotionally raw memoir that just happens to be incredibly witty than a straight comedy book.

For those not embedded in the comedy-nerd renaissance that pop culture is currently experiencing, Black's face might be most familiar from his creepy, deadpan appearances on various VH1 nostalgia clip shows like “I Love the ’80s.” This over-the-top, faux-serious intensity, apart from becoming the best part of an otherwise hit-or-miss series of wacky, rapid-fire jokes, has become a trademark of Black’s delivery over the course of his career.

However, Black is far more than just a sardonic, blank-face pop culture TV pundit. He's also an entertainment jack-of-all-trades, and as it turns out, an incredibly gifted writer. His ultra-ironic tone has bled over into his writing in “You're Not Doing It Right” with great success. Black's talents lie in the juxtaposition of abrasiveness and poignancy, evident in his recollections of his mother's transition into a lesbian lifestyle following his parents' divorce, the sudden death of his father and his antagonistic marriage to his wife, Martha.

In typical Michael Ian Black style, “You're Not Doing It Right” is refreshingly blunt and caustically self-conscious: the book opens on Black's recent bout of professional ennui, as he proclaims to his wife that he'd like to retire. Black is fearful that he'll end up like FKF (Fat Kevin Federline), with whom he's become obsessed: “a guy who does not know who he is, what he is supposed to be doing or how he wound up in the unexpected circumstances of his own life.”

For a man who went to acting school in New York and once prided himself on his brilliantly arty group of friends, Black is constantly grappling with this bafflement at his own life, especially regarding his eventual metamorphosis into a domestic suburban “every-dad” — except that not many dads are as delightfully sharp, scathing and insightful as him.

Black's repeated expressions of his contempt, boredom and frustration with his wife and young children are actually strangely charming in their honesty. Readers are used to schlocky, super-treacly memoirs glorifying the beauty, wonder and preciousness of marriage and parenthood. Black seems to deliberately subvert this sub-genre by directing his acidic mockery at his family, even while he begrudgingly acknowledges his love for them.

Of course, the near-constant snark Black applies to everyone around him, including his loved ones, make his few lapses into sentimentality all the more affecting. In a particularly moving passage at the very end of the novel, Black even tackles the subject of faith and his marriage to his Catholic wife in a thoughtful and tender way (especially as Black considers himself an atheist): “So yes, I would do it again. I would do it, because as confused as I am about matters of the heart (and pretty much everything else), I do have my small earthly faith in this life I chose, this ‘deja who’ life I sometimes do not recognize as my own.”

Printed on Wednesday, February 29, 2012 as: Comedian's distinct style reflected in memoir