The other night as I was walking through the Union Square area of Manhattan, something caught my attention; it was a poster advertising a theater production based on Michael Ian Black’s 2008 collection of essays My Custom Van. Read our review of the book here.
I was surprised first that I hadn’t heard of this thing yet, and second, that in the day of online social media, a small poster on the side of a building is how I learned about it. What, is this 1993?
Anyway, let me get this out of the way. Michael Ian Black is not actually in the production, though he has given the theater company Project: Theater his blessing. “It’s really cool to have the support of someone who knows what it’s like to work his way up from a do-it-yourself program like The State to the ultra-megastardom that Michael now enjoys,” Joe Jung, artistic director tells Punchline Magazine, adding that the show is comprised of 15 of the essays found in Black’s book, acted out by eight performers. “We sent an invite to him to be our guest of honor. It would be great if he came, but he may be too busy delivering baby calves, feeding starving dolphins or hanging out with his numerous celebrity friends at Planet Hollywood to make it, which is understandable.”
But I wanted to know more about this production titled Michael Ian Black’s My Custom Van, which runs April 1 – 24 (get your tickets here!) at the intimate 60-seat Drilling Company Theatre in New York. And Joe was happy to oblige. After the jump, read about how the show came to be.
Here’s what Joe Jung, artistic director, had to say about the genesis of the show:
Theater company members, myself included, have followed Michael’s work since The State. Last year, someone showed up at a party with a copy of My Custom Van and we just started reading it aloud to each other. People were falling off their seats laughing. Last Thanksgiving, we read it again and laughed even harder. There was one moment when we all looked at each other, smiled and said, ‘We’ve got to find a way to get this on the stage.’
I reached out to the publishing house and did not receive a reply, so I called and e-mailed Michael’s agent, Ted Schachter, in L.A. I told him that we wanted to bring some of the Van essays to life onstage. He spoke with Michael, who was enthused with the proposal and gave us the ok to move forward. We already had a space lined up for a spring show, so we wrote up a contract with Ted and Michael, got the cast together and started rehearsing.
In between laughing fits as we read the book aloud, I began to imagine the world where we 30-something men tend to dwell. It can be world of insecurity and self-doubt where we desperately attempt to hold onto our youth while striving for greatness. Our hair starts to thin, our metabolism slows down and we see ourselves as adults but also find ourselves relishing the freedom of playing video games, dwelling on the unfinished projects of our youth (robot building), trying to party like we did in college and planning the inevitable success of our future.
It’s a funny world and we found that Michael’s book captures the hilarity and absurdity that many of us feel but don’t have the ability (or courage) to put into words. I wanted to see these personae come to life. I wanted to find a way for us to conjure these crazy parts of one man’s personality and let them interact with a live crowd.