How to Be Amazing with Michael Ian Black ★★★★
How to Be Amazing is a thoughtful, provocative interview show hosted by comedian Michael Ian Black. The notable “Amazing” people have achieved a very high level of success in their given (typically entertainment/arts-related) profession and Black masterfully guides the subjects to open up and extract for the audience what path has led them to success. In the episodes I have listened to, all of the guests have been the most humble, gracious, and likable personalities, which I think is really enabled because of who is interviewing them: this guy.
If you don’t recognize the name Michael Ian Black, you definitely recognize this guy, right? This sexy picture is actually Black in costume for the movie Wet Hot American Summer, a slightly campy rom-com from 2001. Black is more well-known for his appearances on VH1 specials such as “I Love the 80s.” His humor is subtle and often self-deprecating, and in addition to the acting and comedy writing he does, he also writes children’s books. When I looked up whether my library had one of his children’s books, Chicken Cheeks, at my local branch, the abstract says “Illustrations and simple text describe the back ends of various animals.” The subject was listed as Buttocks — juvenile fiction. My inner 7-year-old is already giggling. Definitely borrowing that book the next time I go to the library with my kids.
But let’s get back to the show. Other interview shows sometimes leave me feeling like both the host and the subject are totally full of themselves, are having a prescribed, forced interaction, and aren’t necessarily talking about anything meaningful or genuine. This is especially true when the host is an entertainer themselves. How to Be Amazing is not that show. Black isn’t doing comedy when he’s interviewing his guests, but he is really funny but still zeroes in on the perfect moments for poignancy. It’s almost like I’m right there in the room listening in on this conversation, and I can feel the intimacy sizzling. The guests definitely deserve some of the credit for being willing to open up, but Black is truly an excellent interviewer.
My favorite episode by far was an interview with Audra McDonald, a decorated actress and singer who is currently starring on Broadway in Shuffle Along. McDonald was so honest, open, humble, self-conscious, and real, and Black spoke so delicately with her, gently encouraging her to take credit for her success and to examine her perfectionist needs. It’s really, really good tape. Such a subtle dance around the steps McDonald took in her career, all adding up to a tremendous professional life … and yet something seems unfulfilled for her. Black helps her see her own success, almost like a mini therapy session, and I felt like there was a collective deep breath at the end of the episode: we figured out together that McDonald truly is amazing.
I’m intrigued by Black’s guest list and can’t wait to see who else he has the opportunity to interview in the next few months. It’s a great show that I definitely want to continue listening to.
What do you think of this podcast? Leave a comment below and let’s discuss!
Audible Feast Ratings
Educational Value (3 / 5)
Pop Culture Value (5 / 5)
Black has interviewed, among others: Lin-Manuel Miranda, Amy Schumer, John Leguizamo, Audra McDonald (my favorite episode), Jim Gaffigan, Bob Odenkirk, and Kevin Smith. And this show is only 30 episodes old. Love it.
Host Listen-ability (5 / 5)
Flow & Production Value (4 / 5)
The flow is good but I do get distracted by the ads.
Humor (5 / 5)
One of the few podcasts I can truly give a 5-star rating for in the humor section. Black’s comedy and timing may not be for everyone, but I find him incredibly charming and hilarious.
Investigation (3 / 5)
Storytelling (4 / 5)
I feel like I’m along for the ride when I’m listening to HTBA, and I don’t feel like the hour-long episodes are long at all because the flow is pretty good. Though a story isn’t necessarily being told from start to finish, I still feel like I am following the arc of someone’s career and ending often with so much hope for what’s to come net for these fine artists.
Makes Me a Better Person (3 / 5)
Overall Audible Feast Rating: (4 / 5)
You May Also Like …
Fresh Air, Death, Sex & Money, StarTalk Radio, Doug Loves Movies, WTF with Marc Maron, The Nerdist, Here’s the Thing with Alec Baldwin