New Jersey Monthly: The title of your new book of essays refers to your mother’s struggle with ovarian cancer—she no longer has a navel to gaze at because it was removed—as well as your own struggle with the indignities of aging. How is your mom?
Michael Ian Black: Her health is stable, but it’s always in some state of terrible. She’s in San Diego now.
NJM: That’s far away from where she raised you and your siblings, in Hillsborough. But you probably don’t mind because you’re not a big fan of New Jersey. In fact, I think you declare a hatred for New Jersey in Navel Gazing.
MIB: It’s true. But it wasn’t the state that was necessarily responsible for my unhappiness there. It was kind of the culture I grew up in, which was just not conducive to straight boys who were into musical theater. It was much more centered around jock culture and Bon Jovi and a lot of mid-’80s things I didn’t relate to.
NJM: You live in Connecticut now. That’s also pretty suburban.
MIB: I live in the woods. It’s quiet, and property taxes are reasonable. Hillsborough was a lot different. Last time I drove through there, it was like a bustling metropolis. I didn’t even recognize it. It looked like a strip mall had fallen from the sky.
NJM: A lot of kids who are into musical theater take advantage of New Jersey’s proximity to Broadway.
MIB: Where I grew up, New York was a place you might go to once a year on a school trip. But I have friends who grew up in New Jersey who had much different experiences. Like I have a friend who grew up in Princeton, and he was a preppy and into ska. That wouldn’t have been a possibility for me in Hillsborough.
NJM: Health and how to hang on to it is a running theme in the book. You want to get to the gym regularly, but like a lot of people you keep crapping out. Have you been going lately?
MIB: I was going fairly regularly not that long ago, and then something incredible happened: The gym shut down. So I felt like I won.
NJM: What do you recommend we do here in New Jersey to be healthier?
MIB: In New Jersey specifically I would say my best health advice is, don’t take any cues from your governor.
NJM: In Navel Gazing, you describe your efforts to start a literary feud with fellow comedian and writer David Sedaris so you can generate the kind of publicity that might knock his latest book from the top of the best-seller list. But you didn’t even talk about the feud when you had him on the podcast. Why not?
MIB: I never told him about it, and he never knew. I probably should have told him about it because he would have thought it was funny. But he just agreed to come on the show because he likes it. He’s a lovely guy.
NJM: Do you feel bad now about the idea of picking a fight with him?
MIB: No. F–k him.
NJM: Ha. Any final shout-outs to the state you hate, New Jersey?
MIB: Sure. Shout out to New Jersey for its pizza. As much as I give it a hard time, the pizza is incredible. In Connecticut it’s different. And it’s not as good.