EXCLUSIVE: Comedian Michael Ian Black on Writing ‘Run, Fatboy, Run’

The actor talks about giving his script over to the team of Simon Pegg and David Schwimmer.
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Michael Ian Black

The actor talks about giving his script over to the team of Simon Pegg and David Schwimmer

This week sees the release of David Schwimmer's directorial debut Run, Fat Boy, Run, a film starring Shaun of the Dead's Simon Pegg and Crash's Thandie Newton. The story centers around a slightly overweight loser that attempts to run a marathon in order to get his ex-girlfriend back. The catch is that he left her pregnant at the alter five years ago. The film is a heartwarming and very humorous look at one desperate man and the lengths he will go to for true love.

While the screenplay was rewritten by Pegg, a superior scribe in his own write (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, Paul), the original story came from fellow comedic actor and longtime Sprit spokesman Michael Ian Black. Black got his start with the improvisational group The State and has since gone on to create indelible characters for both screen and television in projects likes Stella, Ed, and the upcoming Kids in America.

Black originally wrote the screenplay for Run, Fat Boy, Run with the intentions of directing it himself. Instead he sold the screenplay, and was quite happy that the film wound up in the hands of Schwimmer and Pegg. I recently met up with Michael to discuss the origins of his work and how his New York-based script wound up in the very British hands of the guy responsible for Shaun of the Dead.

While they put us together in a room with a queen-size bed, I opted to conduct the interview from two chairs near the outside balcony...

I don't think we should do this from the bed. The last time I did that, it was a little awkward.

Michael Ian Black: I bet. Who was it with?

Joy Bryant from Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins.

Michael Ian Black: Pants on or off?

She had her pants off. She was just wearing a skirt.

Michael Ian Black: What about you?

My pants stayed on. I was sitting on the floor.

Michael Ian Black: Balls in or out?

Balls in.

Michael Ian Black: Yeah, I guess that is more professional.

You actually think so?

Michael Ian Black: Ah, it depends. Everything depends on the situation.

I guess. Now, I recently saw you walking up to the front of the Sutton Place.

Michael Ian Black: Ah, you were in Vancouver recently. I was with Ken Marino. We were working on Reaper, which shoots up there in Canada. It's a CW show. We play gay demons. Yeah. We have recurring characters on that show.

Do you guys get bugged a lot up their in Canada?

Michael Ian Black: No. No one knows who I am.

I thought maybe you guys got mobbed a lot. You looked at me like, "Oh, God! Not this guy. We don't want to talk to him." Like you'd been fighting off fans all day.

Michael Ian Black: We probably just didn't want to talk to you. If you looked at us like, "Oh, I recognize those guys." That is probably how we looked at you. My look was probably, "Oh, God. Not someone that knows me."

I'd just interview Ken Marino for The Ten. I figured he recognized me and didn't want anything to do with me.

Michael Ian Black: I'm sorry if we made you feel bad. But that was our intention.

I was like, "It's those comedy geniuses!" And then you snubbed me. Now, can you tell me a little bit about how you came up with the idea for this script?

Michael Ian Black: I had just written a couple of screenplays that were a little less commercial. I thought to myself, purely as a writing exercise, that I should write something that was a more mainstream Hollywood movie. As a genre, the romantic comedy just sort of presented itself readily to me. Then in terms of plots, I was thinking of opposites. Because opposites are good for comedy. "Fat guy runs marathon" was the first thing I thought of. Those were two things that would play well against each other. Both conflict and comedy would spring effortlessly from that. "Fat guy runs marathon" seemed like an easy thing. So I just sat down and started writing it.

Did you willingly give this script up to Schwimmer and Pegg? I know Pegg came in and did some rewrites.

Michael Ian Black: My intent was to either direct it or to sell it for a lot of money. And I did neither. It was not an easy thing to give up. There were many times along the way were I regretted giving it up. I was very nervous about reading Simon's rewrite when he did rewrite it. Because it was set in London, and I didn't know what he would keep and what he would get rid of. But then I was delighted when I read it. I thought he did a really great job. Story wise it is identical. He changed one character from Italian to Indian. And the relationship was different. In the original, the Italian guy had a much younger wife. Now, in this one, it is his daughter. He changed the ending a tiny bit, which I thought was for the better. He Anglo-sized it. For the most part, I thought he made it better.

So you never had any problems with him coming in and changing it up a bit?

Michael Ian Black: No. I think he is a great writer. I had no issues with him or his rewrite. I was happy that he got cast, and I was happy that he reworked it.

Did you have anything at all to do with it once it went into his hands?

Michael Ian Black: Not really. They invited me out to the set for a week. And I hung out. I saw some dingy parts of London. And I hung out with David Schwimmer a little bit. They treated me like a distant uncle that had come from across the pond to visit. And that is essentially what I was.

How do you think the change in location changed what you were initially trying to get across with your draft of the screenplay?

Michael Ian Black: It changed it very little, if at all. London is one of the four cities I thought it could take place in when I wrote it. The other cities being Chicago, Boston, and New York. Each of those cities has prominent marathons. But in terms of the story, in terms of the themes, and everything about it, it made no difference that the location changed to London.

When you were writing the screenplay, did you have a concept of who you wanted to see in this?

Michael Ian Black: Not really. Jack Black was an obvious casting choice from the very beginning. But I didn't write it with him in mind. Another guy that I thought would do a great job was Phillip Seymour Hoffman. But once Simon came on, I thought, "Oh, this is great!"

Did you have an trepidations about him coming on, since he isn't particularly overweight?

Michael Ian Black: Not really. It was never meant to be, literally, a fat guy. A guy who you would fear for his safety if he were to run a marathon. They put a little belly on Simon. He is British, so he is naturally doughy.

Did they ever approach you to be in the film?

Michael Ian Black: No, no. They didn't really approach me about anything. They just took it and ran with it.

You said that initially you had thought about directing this. Is that something you are currently looking to do? Do you plan to direct a film in the near future?

Michael Ian Black: I wouldn't say that I am headed there exclusively. But I am headed in that direction. Yes.

Are you and David Wain, and those guys currently working on a new project?

Michael Ian Black: I am working with Michael Showalter on a pilot for Comedy Central. And The State is reuniting for a special. Then I am working, maybe, with Ken Marino on something for the Internet.

When you write something like "Run, Fatboy, Run", is it easy for you to empathize with the main character?

Michael Ian Black: I think, as a writer, you have to empathize with all of your characters. No just the main guy, but with all of the supporting characters as well. You have to see things from everyone's point of view.

What was it about Dennis that made you want to flesh out his story and tell it to the world?

Michael Ian Black: I definitely empathize with the guy that has a hard time finishing the things he has set out to do. That is a challenge that everyone faces. It's that feeling of having fucked up time and time again, and then hoping that this time you will succeed. It is that struggle to constantly pull yourself up after you have failed numerous times. I think everyone can identify with that. I also liked Dennis' relationship with his son. I have a son. I have two kids, actually. But when I started writing this, I only had a son. And it was important for me to convey the type of relationship I would like to have with my kid.

Have you seen this type of behavior that Dennis exhibits at the beginning of the film? The guy that takes off when faced with commitment? It seems like it is coming form a very real place. Like you know this guy.

Michael Ian Black: Sure. I think everyone experiences this type of panic. Especially men before getting married. Rarely do we jump out the window and run down the street. But its that panic that I think everyone can empathize with. Myself? In terms of commitments, I have never had to struggle. At least not when it comes to a romantic commitment. I have always been a monogamous sort of guy. That has never been an issue for me. But I know that type of panic. Definitely. When I got married, I felt that.

Did you ever experience the fleeing scenario with any of your close friends?

Michael Ian Black: Yeah. One in particular comes to mind. But that idea wasn't based on anything that I knew of. It wasn't anything from my own life or one of my friend's lives. It came more from a place where I needed a reason for him to want to run this marathon. The idea of him running away, and then running towards something is the theme of the film. When you are running away from something, you are aimlessly running towards something else. That's what it was about. He'd been running away from things his whole life. In doing that, he has been running towards this new life. He just didn't know it.

Did you see the idea of running this marathon as sort of a metaphor for finishing this script itself?

Michael Ian Black: No question. Finishing a script is one of the hardest things, as a writer, that you can do. It is very daunting to sit down and churn out a hundred and twenty pages that are coherent, have a story, makes sense, has jokes, and does all of the things it needs to do. It is a very daunting challenge for anybody. And it is definitely akin to running a marathon.

Do you have anybody you are able to bounce jokes off while you are writing?

Michael Ian Black: I guess. But I don't usually do that. I think I am too insecure. If someone didn't like something, I don't think I would trust myself anymore. If I asked someone if they thought a joke was funny, and they said, "No." I would turn around and start trashing everything I had written up to that point. So, I just tend to write in isolation. I actually think I need to get better about sharing my material. I think there is value in that. I need to get better at it.

Do you ever get distracting when writing some of the secondary characters? Does that ever take you out of the experience of writing solely for the main character?

Michael Ian Black: There are times when I feel like I am spending too much time on supporting characters. That happened with my first screenplay. It is a struggle, because you fall in love with all of them. You want them all to be fully fleshed out and realized human beings. They become people that have their own goals. With this one, it wasn't as hard. I sort of knew where everyone fit into the puzzle. I knew what their job was. The challenge was to try and give them all some personality, and make them all people.

After this experience, are you more willing to let your scripts go out into the hands of other people?

Michael Ian Black: I am less willing to give my scripts up. I am more protective now. It would really depend on the project. It is far more satisfying to be involved with something from beginning to end than to write something, hand it off, and show up four years later to talk about it. For the most part, everything I have written, I have been involved in. This is the first time I have let someone take one of my projects.

Run, Fat Boy, Run opens this Friday, March 28th, 2008.

Run, Fat Boy, Run was released March 28th, 2008.

Sources: Paulington James Christensen III

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  • mindscape • 7 years ago

    simon pegg is great... should be an interesting dynamic between him and american actor schwimmer.


    • err2005 • 8 years ago

      yeah thats not a comment, thats a copyright infringement.

      this movie was released like a year ago in england, and was thus posted at 66stage dot com, and i watched the first half hour or so. i was skeptical since the schwimmer directed it, but it has a great cast. it also has a chick flick storyline, but the parts i saw were still pretty funny.

      not a theatre flick but definitely worth 2 or 3 bucks to rent.


      • sxers2k1 • 8 years ago

        first comment, way too long


        • marcusx • 8 years ago

          love simon pegg, hate david schwimmer. o well this still looks good


          • marvineaster • 8 years ago

            Director David Wain discovered dead in luxury Manhattan highrise


            's News releases Directed "The Ten," "Wet Hot American Summer," "Almie's Egg"

            New York, New York - Comedian and oft-nominated film director David Wain was found dead last night in a blood-spattered 22nd floor suite of a celebrity high-rise apartment building in Manhattan's famed Midtown East neighborhood.

            The cause of death was massive bleeding from the anus, which had been stretched to three times its normal size, according to one police witness.

            Police are investigating the case as a possible murder, but say that suicide has not been ruled out.

            Among the celebrities residing in the high-rent high-rise are Mandy Patinkin, Connie Chung, Bob Newhart, Tony Danza, Alan Greenspan, Andre 5000, Andre Leon Talley, and Anderson Cooper. Some of the luxury units rent for as much as $30,000 a month.

            Although it's early in the case, police say they are baffled and tenants contacted expressed shock and outrage at the brutality of the death.

            "I can't imagine who would have wanted to rape or harm in any way that cute little white boy," said Talley, an editor at large at Vogue magazine who lives in the 23rd floor apartment immediately above where the body was found. "No sir. No sir. I mean, come to think of it, I don't really know if he's white or not, understand? Don't know why I said 'white.' Never seen him myself so I have no way of knowing that. He could have been any color really. In death, 'black' and 'white' have no meaning. Not to me at least. And I know I speak for others. But some of them white boys can be juicy little morsels. Quite juicy. We all know this. I like the Jews myself. But this dead one, him I never met. Nuh uh. That's for sure. Never met him, not even in the elevator. Not going up. And certainly not going down. "

            Contacted at her home in White Plains, a baffled and griefstricken Bella Wain said of her son's death that she was "baffled" and "griefstricken," adding that her son, "a beautiful boychick still single at age 38," was known to "sleep around."

            With numerous projects in the works, Wain was cut off seemingly in the prime of this filmic manhood. Wain's full length feature film, "The Ten" -- which, to avoid paying royalties, featured a protagonist named "Jeff" instead of the story's more traditional protagonist, "Moses" -- had just gone to DVD, and prospects were rising for his other creative endeavors, which included an upcoming line of "Wainy Day" greeting cards.

            Friends and co-workers remembered Wain for his professionalism and compassion. "In this highly competitive field where yesterday's best friend can overnight become today's cold stale pile of soiled bologna luncheon meat lingerie whose calls you no longer have the slightest desire to return even if you could remember which button on that little f#ck%r is the 'on' button and which is the button you need to push to take secret photos of hot naughty chicks perched haughtily astride the gleaming chrome exercise machines of your local New York Health and Fitness Club, David shone through like an untarnished beacon of purity," said longtime friend Michael Ian Black.

            Friend and collaborator Michael Showalter added: "What will be remembered about David was his love of cowboys, his obsessive hoarding of South African gold Kruegerrands, the skin-tight titey-whiteys that he loved to show off in for the neighborhood boys attending Bar Mitzvah classes across the street, his nifty crushed ice machine, his apartment had outdoor space, and his friendship, again obsessive, with a local squirrel named Bob."

            But most recently, Wain had become embroiled in a major scandal when he was discovered making nude video recordings of 17-year-old supermodel model Bea Shaffer, daughter of Vogue editor in chief Anna Wintour, and electronically intercepting Shaffer's personal and highly sexy phone calls and racy emails. Wain and "Human Giant" co-producer Jason Woliner later sold those racy photos for an estimated $250,000 to the West Germany glossy celebrity magazine, "Das Welt," which caused Shaffer's career to skyrocket. But the scandal eventually caused Wain's eviction in disgrace from his swank Greenwich Village penthouse because of numerous lease violations.

            "At the time -- and this was the consensus arrived at by our special MTV Think Tank here and also by a focus group composed mainly of hairy male MTV mailroom workers named Guido and Anthony -- we did think Bea should be free to stand in front of her bedroom window nude or even scantily clad -- although we preferred her nude -- if she so pleased because that's what makes America great," said Woliner. "We are a free country here and let's all remember we do not live in Spyria or Molvia or even Maroon 5."

            "Human Giant" made waves this television season when a monkey on the program accidentally shot three mattress salesmen for real, causing ratings to soar. In a later episode, Jenna Bush appeared.

            Under Anna Wintour's leadership, Vogue's ad pages have increased 22% from the previous year.


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