Michael Ian Black is a funny guy. He was a writer and performer on MTV's legendary sketch comedy show The State and Comedy Central's Stella. He also infrequently contributed to McSweeney's and appeared in some genuinely humorous Sierra Mist ads, not to mention a memorable buttfucking scene in Wet Hot American Summer. He's a celebrity making the most of the 21st century's explosion of cultural mediums, whoring his fame through television, comedy albums, live appearances, movies, and the internet.
With his first book, My Custom Van, Black makes the foray into hardbound publication, with mixed results. It's a collection of short essays that often feel like blog posts; some of the pieces—such as "Hey, David Sedaris—Why Don't You Go Ahead and Suck It?" or "A Series of Letters to the First Girl I Ever Fingered"—are vaguely grounded in reality, while others are completely fanciful. Whether the narrator is Black or a fictional character that he's created, though, the first-person voice in every essay is insensitive, lacking in self-awareness, and often criminal. Most of the time, it's funny.
There's ludicrous erotic fiction and some self-help pieces; "How to Approach the Sensitive Question: Anal?" is one of the funniest bits: "Here's what you do: Order dessert. When [it] arrives, spoon some of that gooey concoction into her mouth and say, 'I wish this gooey concoction was my wang, and I wish your mouth was your butt.' If she says, 'I wish that, too,' you'll know where you stand. If she says, 'That's disgusting,' you can easily say, 'I was just kidding.' Or, less convincingly, you could try, 'I think you misunderstood me.'"
It's all pretty crude, and most of the time it feels like Black is merely flexing. There's no real content to any of the pieces and absolutely no personal insight. It may be unfair to criticize a book comprised of four-page extended jokes of lacking a human touch, but after reading the whole book, I feel like I know nothing about Black, his personality, or his worldview; all I know is that I doubt he's as much of a jerk as he seems on the page, and I really wish they would finally release The State on DVD.