My 5: Michael Ian Black's Best Pieces of Advice After Many Years of Being the Funny Guy on Set (Exclusive)

Michael Ian Black
Charles Sykes/Bravo/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

One could be forgiven for thinking that Michael Ian Black has already figured out how to be amazing.

After all, the 46-year-old comedian was a member of the comedy troupe and show, Stella, and the beloved comedy group and subsequent MTV series, The State; a mainstay on the various I Love The... series on VH1; and McKinley in the cult Wet Hot American Summer franchise.

But despite a busy acting and comedy writing schedule, Black decided to launch a podcast called How to Be Amazing, where he asks others about this giant concept, kicking off the series by talking to successful folks like Elizabeth Gilbert, Lin-Manuel MirandaKevin Smith and Amy Schumer. Most recently, Black's friend and former co-star, Alyssa Milano, made her podcast debut on his show, and he's also picked the brains of Ina Garten, Laurie Metcalf and Judd Apatow.

But why do a podcast? "Because it seemed like a fun opportunity to just do something different and to have an excuse to talk to people that I might not ordinarily have a chance to talk to," he tells ET.

The beauty of simply talking to these people about how they made it in their respective fields is that there's always a new story to share. "There's really no end to things that I'm interested in. To me, it's not so much the thing, the topic, as it is the person's passion for it," he explains. "For example, if I had a bull rider on, I'd be psyched as hell. I'm never going to ride a bull. I don't watch bull riding. But I would be very curious to speak to somebody who does... Anything where people are invested is what I care about, and the thing that they do is almost secondary."

How to be Amazing podcast art
How to be Amazing

Despite the podcast being an endless treasure trove, with more than 70 episodes under his belt, he has learned one important lesson -- one which some of us may not love hearing. "The bad news is, it seems like a lot of very impressive, amazing people had been very impressive and amazing right from the get-go. There's a lot of people I've spoken to who just are preternaturally gifted at the things that they do, and that's bad news for beings who are not like myself," he reveals. "The good news is there are also a lot of people I've spoken to who've taken circuitous routes to their own success and to discovering their own abilities and talents, and I think far more people will relate to those people."

"You're not going to glean any specific thing from any specific person that's going to unlock the door for you, but the things that come up time and time again are persistence, vision and passion," he adds.

Black has had just as many poignant co-stars onscreen as he has had guests on his podcast. Now, he's sharing the five best pieces of advice he learned from his cohorts over his more than two-decade career -- basically everything "nobody ever teaches you in acting school."

1. Lunch is always six hours after you start.
It doesn’t matter what time of day you begin your shooting day -- lunch is six hours later. If you start at 9 a.m., lunch is at 2 p.m. If you start at 6 p.m., lunch is at midnight. It’s always important to know what time lunch is, because it helps you plan your snacking and, aside from lunch, snacking is the best part about being on set. 

2. Don’t look down to hit your mark.
Marks are the little pieces of tape on the ground that actors have to stand on when they deliver their lines. They’re important because the camera people use those marks to make sure they are in focus. If you’re not on your mark, you may not be in focus, and if you’re not in focus, the shot is unusable, so you have to hit it. But you don’t want to make it obvious that you’re looking for it when you enter a scene, because why would your character be randomly looking at the floor for a second before speaking? They wouldn’t! So, you develop a bag of tricks for hitting the mark. You can use other visual markers, for example. One thing I like to do is miss my mark over and over until somebody yells at me. 

3. Learn everybody’s name.
You’d be surprised how many people work on a set -- often 50 or 60 people, often more. If you’re an actor in the thing, they generally know your name, because so much of the day’s work revolves around the actors. The actors often don’t learn the camera grip’s name or the gaffer’s name or the craft service lady not because they’re not nice people, but because there are just so many of them. (You have to know the craft service lady’s name because she provides the snacks.) Do your best to learn everybody’s name. It makes for far fewer interactions with you going, “Hey, man.” Or “Good to see you, too, person.”

4. Every once in a while, chip in some bucks for a coffee truck or an ice cream truck or a grilled cheese truck.
Actors on set are usually paid better than just about everybody else. The regular actors, that is -- the ones who are the regular cast or the stars of the movie or what have you. Generally, everybody else works a lot harder than the actors. We have trailers and our hours are generally not as long and there’s always some PA going, “Can I get you anything, Mr. Black?” Stuff like that. Every once in a while, it’s a good idea for the actors to chip in together to buy something for the crew, like having a food truck show up around midnight on a Friday when everybody would rather be home with their families instead of waiting for you to figure out how to hit your mark. Good for morale. And it’s actually not that expensive if you go in on it with your castmates. 

5. Don’t be a dick.
Pretty good advice for people in all professions. 


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