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Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Michael Ian Black is very famous

click to enlarge WRY MARTINI: Michael Ian Black - COURTESY THE ARTIST

Irony is the stock-in-trade of actor/comedian Michael Ian Black, who bills himself as "Very Famous Celebrity" and attracts nicknames such as "The Marm of Smarm." Black emerged in the mid-'90s as a member of the sketch comedy team "The State" with a well-honed skillset for playing sarcastic, hipper-than-thou douchebags. Performing at Georgia Tech's Ferst Center on Thurs., Sept. 8, Black could be Bill Paxton's city slicker cousin, only with the arch demeanor of Craig Kilborn or a young Chevy Chase.

But Black isn't just another insincerely grinning face. In his stand-up he'll undercut his faux-arrogance with moments of nonsense or self-awareness. On his new live album, Very Famous, he initially presents himself as a wiseass who enjoys pranking hapless bystanders. When Black describes ways to bedevil your seatmate on an airplane, the audience both laughs and sympathizes with his dupe.

At times he launches on absurdist tangents: What would be it like if, instead of semen, men produced Diet Dr. Pepper? Or a single pinecone? Black demonstrates an extreme-close-up form of observational humor, such as his breakdown of the annoying quality of lip smacking "banana noises."

Black brings his hyperanalystic skills and improv gifts to his podcast "Mike and Tom Eat Snacks," when he teams with his "Ed" co-star Tom Cavanagh. The show partly presents an in-depth discussion of snack foods. More often, Black and Cavanagh take off-the-cuff tangents, like envisioning a workaholic Häagen-Dasz employee who gradually learns to cut loose.

"Needy" would never be suitable description of Black's stage presence, but his stand-up delivery proves more personable. He sets himself up as a self-important public nuisance, and then recounts self-deprecating anecdotes about rectal examinations and skydiving mishaps. The stand-up comedy that comes across in Very Famous suggests that in the future he should emulate Steve Coogan or Ricky Gervais, and explore the inner life of a pompous ass.

$30. 8 p.m. Thurs., Sept. 8. Georgia Tech's Ferst Center for the Arts, 349 Ferst Drive. 404-894-9600. www.ferstcenter.gatech.edu.

MORE COMEDY HIGHLIGHTS

Kevin Pollak at the Punchline, Sept. 9-10
Pollak's stand-up might be best known for his Captain Kirk impression, as he even wrote a how-to chapter on imitating Shatner for the "Star Trek" actor's book Get a Life! Pollak also impersonates familiar subjects such as Jack Nicholson and Christopher Walken, and generally delivers the kind of old-school rat-a-tat joke patter that's barely changed since the days of vaudeville and 1970s variety shows. He's also found success as character actor, playing the U.S. president in the political drama Deterrence and famously portraying one of the five titular con men of The Usual Suspects.

Eddie Ifft at the Laughing Skull Lounge, Sept. 8-11
Globetrotting American comedian Eddie Ifft specializes in cheerful obliviousness, such as his discovery that three strippers are named "Mercedes, Lexus and Porsche." "What a coincidence!" Co-host of the podcast "Jim Jefferies and Eddie Ifft Talk Shit," he has appeared on such shows as "Chelsea Lately," "Premium Blend" and his own 30-minute Comedy Central special.

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