Recently, I had a conversation about the casting of a movie based on my books. “Jack Black!” I said. “Jack Black! Jack Black! Jack Black! Jack Black!” There was a pause on the other end of the phone, where several executives and a director were hunched over a speaker. Finally, somebody said, “The cast party would be awesome.”
“Awesome” is indeed the word for Mr. Black, as the word conveys both the grand majesty of his presence, and also, in the word’s 1980s valley-lingo connotation, the wigged-out smirk he brings to all his roles. As a comic actor, he tightropes between honesty and sarcasm and never falls: he does embarrassing things but he doesn’t embarrass the audience; he’s willing to make a fool of himself, but he never looks like a fool; and he mocks people and phenomena for whom mockery is the highest tribute. After his best work, you don’t just want to applaud—you want to wolf-whistle and hold a lighter up in the air.
After some theater work, he debuted playing a star-eyed fan in Tim Robbins’s smart, hilarious, and sadly prescient mockumentary Bob Roberts, standing creepily outside the hospital, gazing unblinkingly at his hero. In Jesus’ Son, he played a junkie you’d want to party with; in High Fidelityhe played a clerk you’d want to work with. And in his creation Tenacious D — an acoustic duo with Kyle Gass that has birthed a TV series, an album, and a stadium tour — he parties with everyone, sending up heavy metal and other 1970s rock tropes through an achingly sincere love. For years, he was a favorite on the drop-dead hilarious Mr. Show — as soon as he stepped onstage, in sweaty overalls or a biblical robe, you knew a song was coming, and coming hard. Now, he’s a bona fide movie star, with School of Rock as perfect a vehicle as one could hope for.
Mr. Black and I spoke on the phone — he was in Los Angeles, mid promotional blitz; I was in San Francisco, packing for a book tour. For reasons now unclear to me, I decided we should talk about wedding etiquette. It just seemed like the thing to do. I had an awesome time.
DANIEL HANDLER: Have you attended a lot of weddings?
JACK BLACK: I have, unfortunately, attended a lot of weddings.
DH: Have you presided over any weddings?
DH: Have you been married yourself?
DH: Have you crashed any weddings?
JB: No. I only go when invited and usually I’m really bored. I haven’t been to many good ones.
DH: What’s the most boring part of a bad wedding?
JB: The ceremony, without a doubt. And the time between the ceremony and when we get to eat. That’s always the most excruciating part. And sometimes between the eating and the waiting for the cake to be cut because that’s commonly understood as the part where you get to leave. Right after the cake is cut, that’s the end. Unless you’re going to wait around for people to get into a car and drive away. I guess that’s when you’re really allowed to leave. I always leave after the cake is cut.
DH: Is there a kind of wedding cake that you prefer?
JB: I prefer chocolate. I don’t like frosting unless it’s the kind that is like pudding. I don’t like the crunchy frosting. I like the pudding cake, with a very moist chocolate center.
DH: Like a white pudding and then the chocolate cake inside?
JB: I guess I don’t like any frosting, period. My favorite cake is a frostingless, moist chocolate cake… my favorite cake is an ice-cream cake, truth be told.
DH: Ice-cream cake is clearly the best. But you never get that at a wedding.
JB: No. There’s too much waiting around for an ice-cream cake to be served.
DH: What kind of finger foods do you appreciate at weddings?
JB: I like things on sticks. I like little things. Like miniature pizzas.
DH: On a stick?
JB: No. I switched gears. I couldn’t think of anything I liked on a stick. I like Swedish meatballs on a stick. This is going to sound grody but I went to this wedding and they were serving sushi, which tasted pretty good to me. I approved.
DH: That doesn’t sound grody to me.
DH: I’m not afraid of sushi.
JB: There was a time when there was a stigma attached to sushi that the only people who ate sushi were yuppie scum. Do you know what I mean?
DH: Yeah. Like they’ve spent far too much money on fancy, raw fish that secretly nobody likes. I believe that was the attitude.
JB: See, those times are gone. Now everyone agrees sushi is the most delicious food and the Japanese are onto something. It won’t be long before McSushi.
DH: I actually was in Australia not so long ago and sushi seemed to be the primary fast food.
JB: I like Australia. I have a good time there. Were you promoting your book?
DH: Yeah. I was promoting my book.
JB: I should say I’m a big fan. I really enjoy your books. Are you in fact Lemony Snicket?
DH: That’s what they tell me.
JB: I have enjoyed heartily books one through three.
DH: That’s very nice of you to say.
JB: I look forward to four through six. Are there six?
DH: Yeah, actually the tenth book will be out next month.
JB: Oh, my god. I have really fallen behind.
DH: Don’t put yourself down like that. I think you can focus and stay on message.
JB: Okay. Weddings mainly are for drinkers.
DH: Do you drink at a wedding?
JB: If you don’t drink, or you don’t like getting drunk, there’s really no pleasure there.
DH: Do you like to drink at a wedding?
JB: I don’t drink very much, no. I don’t like being drunk. It’s not a good feeling to me. I get kind of a hot face and then I say some things that I shouldn’t say. It’s not just for drinkers. It’s also for sentimental people who cry when they see something lovely. I’m neither of those things.
DH: What would improve weddings in our nation?
JB: Obviously everyone should be allowed to get married. I’m hearing a lot about it on the radio. In fact, on my way to the last wedding I went to I was listening on the radio about the controversy over the homosexual… priest, was it? It was more than a priest. It was like a first cardinal or something major. And they were voting on whether it should be allowed. That would improve weddings in our country. If everyone was allowed. What else?
DH: I guess I’ll begin with the ceremony. Do you think that an indoor ceremony or an outdoor ceremony is more enjoyable?
JB: Indoor or outdoor ceremony? [contemplative pause] Definitely outdoor.
JB: Yeah. Amongst nature.
DH: Have you been to outdoor weddings?
JB: Yeah, the last one I went to was an outdoor wedding. It was quite nice, actually. The thing that made it good was that they had the best Beatles cover band in the world.
JB: I think they were called the Fab Four. That’s not very original.
DH: [laughs] No.
JB: But they were damn good. They looked just like them, they sounded just like them. They sounded a little bit better than the Beatles, actually.
DH: That’s sort of a brave thing to say, because the Beatles are highly regarded.
JB: Yeah, but they didn’t sound good.
DH: Ah. I was just listening recently to the song “Windmills of Your Mind,” from the motion picture The Thomas Crown Affair, and it was sung by a man named Noel Morrison. He had this great British voice and so I looked him up on that World Wide Web that the kids are crazy about to see what he was up to. It turns out that he was in Beatlemania! for many years.
JB: They probably did a similar thing. But these guys, the Fab Four, they came out as the early Beatles. They played a set, like “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” and a bunch of those early songs. Then they left for an hour and came back as the Sgt. Pepper Beatles and rocked much harder. It was good. You got the whole spectrum of Beatles.
DH: Are you fonder of the later Beatles than the earlier Beatles?
DH: I would’ve suspected that, given your own band.
JB: I don’t think you really need to listen to anything before Revolver.
DH: Do you dance at weddings?
JB: I don’t like to dance but I do end up dancing a little bit. That’s part of the duties. You have to get out there and try to force some merriment. But I always feel self-conscious dancing.
DH: So people grab you on the floor to dance, or you feel self-obliged?
JB: I feel obliged. Whomever I’m dancing with I’m thinking, “Am I doing the right thing?” They’re looking at me to see my moves. When you’re dancing with someone there’s a feeling that you guys should both be doing a similar dance, but I can never really settle on any one dance. It’s this constantly changing, exhausting experience for me. Do you like to dance?
DH: I do, I do. I will enjoy the occasional dance. Have you always felt this way about dancing? Was this your sixth grade, first boy/girl-dance feeling?
JB: Yeah. I feel like whenever I’m dancing that it’s a performance so there’s all kinds of performance anxiety. If it was just moving to the music… but I feel like I’m being judged. [mockingly] “God, Jack’s really doing a boring dance. So much for Mr. Comedy.”
DH: Is that why? Because you feel obliged to be the wackiest dancer on the floor?
JB: I don’t know. It doesn’t come naturally. Let’s just leave it at that.
DH: What about when you’re alone and listening to music? Do you dance or do you just sort of rock out?
JB: Sometimes I will do a little dance when I’m alone. Yeah, I dance pretty well with myself. It’s actually a good kind of exercise. Solo dancercise.
DH: Have you ever heard “White Wedding” played at a wedding?
JB: Yeah, they actually played it at the last wedding I went to.
DH: Really? The Beatles cover band played “White Wedding”?
JB: No. The Beatles cover band didn’t happen until the dinner after the wedding. At the ceremony itself there was a five-piece stringed orchestra and they played Stevie Wonder’s “I Believe When I Fall in Love with You It Will Be Forever” or whatever that’s called, and as they were leaving, as they kissed, they played “White Wedding.”
DH: Was that good or cringe-worthy?
JB: It was good, just because you didn’t know what it was for a while. Whenever the orchestra is playing the tunes, it’s funny to me because it’s never cringe-worthy.
DH: I have a really great album called Mancini Rocks the Pops, which has Henry Mancini conducting an orchestra through songs like “Walk Like an Egyptian.”
JB: [laughing] I saw the best thing. Do you have cable?
JB: Well if you did I would recommend that you get this channel called “Trio.” It’s the best station. They have that show, I think it used to be on PBS, “Sessions at West 54th.” Do you know what I’m talking about?
JB: It’s hosted by David Byrne, the guy from Talking Heads. Different people do concerts in front of small audiences, and I was just watching the Kronos Quartet. They did this great cover of Jimi Hendrix…
DH: “Purple Haze.”
JB: You saw it!
DH: No. The Kronos Quartet is from San Francisco, and when I was in high school I saw them a few times and they would often close their concerts with “Purple Haze.”
JB: It was pretty rad. They were passionate about it.
DH: What’s your idea of somebody who would be a really good officiant at a wedding?
JB: Who would be a good officiant at a wedding? Okay. Yeah. I can answer this. I think it would be cool if it was someone like… is Kurt Vonnegut still alive?
DH: Yes. Kurt Vonnegut is still alive.
JB: I’d want Kurt Vonnegut Jr. to officiate at my wedding. I’d want someone who was kind of funny and existential at the helm to say some pissy things about how meaningless everything is but then could maybe still see…
DH: So someone to sort of take you into the dark hole that exists within weddings and then lead you out?
JB: Yeah. Exactly. Someone who acknowledges the darkness but then also sees just a little shining light of something. Who else would be good? I think George Foreman would be good. Just because he’d be funny. And he’s so positive. I like his positive message. [laughs]
JB: And then we could all eat off the Foreman grill. A giant, two-ton Foreman grill.
DH: I was thinking more of people with good speaking voices. Not that your answers aren’t completely valid.
JB: Oh I see.
DH: Like a James Earl Jones. I mean, if you were a guest and you were sitting in one of those tiny white folding chairs kind of spacing out…
JB: Let’s see. Who has a great voice? Searching the memory banks. I don’t know. Whom would you pick?
DH: I don’t know. Maybe Tom Waits.
JB: Tom Waits. Yeah. He’d be great.
DH: He’d probably be good at leading you into the darkness, too.
JB: That’s true. I saw the most amazing play. Do you ever go to the theater?
JB: Okay, this was really pretentious and I dragged some friends to it and they were like, “What the hell are you doing?” but I enjoyed it. I guess I have kind of a soft side for the super-pretentious sometimes. There was this opera [The Black Rider] based on the old play Der Freischuts.
DH: Oh right. That Tom Waits did.
DH: I have the album from that but I never saw it.
JB: Robert Wilson directed it and he’s the super elitist opera guru or whatever.
DH: I love Robert Wilson.
JB: Have you seen any of his productions?
DH: You know, I’ve only seen one. It was Four Saints in Three Acts, this Gertrude Stein opera.
JB: Who did the music?
DH: Virgil Thompson. There were, like, giant pears lowered from the ceiling and houses caught on fire and everything was crazy. And I read about this seven-day theater event that he did somewhere in rural Italy. You would just go and it was happening everywhere, all over the countryside, and so you’d bring a picnic lunch and sometimes you’d stay up late to see stuff and sometimes you’d go back to wherever you were sleeping and that sounded really cool.
JB: I guess he and Tom Waits are tight. Tight buddies. Because it’s not the first time they’ve collaborated.
DH: I think it’s maybe the third or fourth time.
JB: I actually saw the show first in Italy because I was there doing a couple days on a movie with Ben Stiller. And I saw in the paper that it was happening and I went out and got a ticket. It was the worst seat in the house. It didn’t matter. I was transfixed.
DH: I’m always under the impression that people who go to a place to work for a couple days never have any time to do anything.
JB: There shouldn’t have been time, but I forced it to happen. I didn’t get enough sleep for the next day of shooting. But then I came back to the States and that’s when I saw it again in New York and dragged some people to it.
DH: Would you ever be in a pretentious production of something?
JB: I feel like I’ve done my time in some pretty highbrow stuff early on. I did a play about Brecht that was just basically a bunch of his poems that he wrote while he was in Los Angeles. We sang songs and did little scenes of him trying to make it in Hollywood. I don’t know if that really counts.
DH: That sounds fairly highbrow.
JB: Yeah, it was pretty pretentious. But I had a great time doing it. I like the absurd. I would be into doing some Ionesco or something.
DH: That’s something that I could see you doing.
JB: I did this play, this production of Farewell to the King, which is an Ionesco play, and it was fucking great. I could get into that.
DH: What if someone asked you to be an officiant at a wedding? Would you do that?
JB: No. I’d have to respectfully decline. Well, maybe. If they begged me hard enough.
DH: [laughing] I’m not asking this as a prelude to asking you.
JB: [laughs] If they would heed my warnings about how I loathe weddings, then I could be a fan of that.
DH: Have you ever given a toast at a wedding?
JB: I think I did at a friend’s wedding. I think I did tell a story.
DH: Because that’s the part that I often find the most painful.
JB: The toast?
JB: It’s only painful if the people aren’t creative or they don’t have a good story.
DH: I’ve been to a few where it’s worked magnificently even with a lot of people because everybody’s nice or they have a good story or they have a shtick or somehow it works. But then there’re some of them where everybody begins to feel like they have to give a speech, because there’ve been so many, and it goes on and on and on.
JB: I went to this one wedding that was an Orthodox Jewish wedding that was the most excruciating. But then, someone gave a toast afterwards and he basically gave a brief history of the toast itself. That was kind of interesting. I can’t remember it at all. But it was interesting.
DH: You were interested.
JB: I was.
DH: You were interested and not drunk.
JB: I was momentarily interested. [laughs] Do you like to get drunk? Do you put the hammer down?
DH: Ummmm, I occasionally indulge, yes. I like alcohol. I actually enjoy very much to have a martini or some bourbon. I don’t really like to howl at the moon.
JB: Right. I like a good red wine, but that’s about it.
DH: I guess I’m definitely in the camp that will have eight people over for dinner and everybody gets really loud and laughs and then everybody gets really quiet. That kind of alcohol experience.
JB: Do you cook?
DH: Yeah. How about you?
JB: I don’t cook. But I do like going to dinners. A dinner party is always the right-sized party. Any bigger than one table of dining guests is too big a party. I say twelve, maybe thirteen people max. I leave if there’s more.
DH: [laughs] That must go over well.
JB: I’m a little claustrophobic. I don’t like people I don’t know and I’m bound to meet some at a party. Gatherings. Not parties.
DH: So you prefer the buffet?
JB: Yeah. Big, fat bowls of delicious food. Just scoop it onto your plate.
DH: I often have trouble with the buffet because early on I’ll see salad and I’ll put a lot of salad and then I’m at the end and I’m desperately balancing a meatball someplace.
DH: So proper buffet planning can be tough.
JB: Now, do you say that the toasts are the most painful because that’s when a close family member will get too drunk and say something horrible like, “You did it, you asshole. You stole the woman that I love,” or something like that?
DH: My family is Jewish and one of my cousins married into an Irish family and the Irish dad was sort of a walking stereotype of a whiskey-drinkin’ guy. He stood up and gave an endless speech about every Jew he’d ever met and how they were all nice.
JB: [laughing] That is rich.
DH: Also I hate when I go to a wedding of someone I don’t know that well and there are eighteen people telling stories from fraternity parties.
JB: Yeah. That’s bad.
DH: What about the sort of wedding-reception traditions like the bride and groom feeding each other cake, or the bouquet-tossing?
JB: Yeah, the bouquet-tossing is pretty ridiculous. People jumping and fighting for it. I’m not a fan of that part. That seems to be from a time when getting married was the greatest thing that could happen to you.
DH: And what do you think is the greatest thing that can happen to you now?
JB: Not getting married. [laughs] Yeah, now no one wants to catch that thing. It just falls straight to the floor…. I don’t like anything superstitious.
JB: No. I think it’s all crap. And ooga-booga. I don’t believe in any of that astrology crap, either.
DH: You don’t even check your horoscope for fun when leafing through the paper?
JB: It has been read to me.
JB: And then I’ll say, “Okay, there were some things that sound right to me. Now read me Leo or any of them,” and I’m going to say the same thing. It’s all really general bogusity. I don’t know. Have you ever been hit with some astrology? Have you ever said, “Whoa. That is right on the money?”
DH: No. Never. I also like when it’s my birthday and you look up who else was born on your birthday and it seems like that’s the strongest disproof of astrology. I don’t even remember who was born at the same time as me but it’s probably someone like Phyllis Diller and it’s like, “What do I have in common with Phyllis Diller?”
JB: I can’t remember whom I share my birthday with. No one of note. I’m coming up on my thirty-fourth.
DH: I’m also thirty-three.
JB: Oh really?
JB: See, I say thirty-three is the landmark.
DH: Of what?
JB: It’s the landmark year. I’m a Jew. Thirty-three is when Christ died. So though I’m a Jew, in the back of my mind I still think that I gotta get it done before I’m thirty-four because well, I don’t know why. He got it done before He was thirty-four.
DH: It seems like he had plans to do a few other things.
JB: Oh really? [laughs] Is there evidence of that?
DH: He just seems like the kind of guy bent on remaking the world.
JB: He had superpowers and that’s the main reason I like Him. Anyone who can float, has power of levitation, or can shoot lasers out of his eyes…
DH: I don’t remember hearing about the laser thing with Jesus.
JB: Well, how do you think he turned the water into wine? With His eye-lasers.
DH: [laughing] I see. I think your Jewish education is shining right through. I don’t feel like I’m talking to a well-versed Christian.
JB: It would be cool if Jesus were a comic book character and could fight against other superheroes like Superman or Aquaman.
JB: They did do that thing on South Park. Their pilot episode was Jesus vs. Santa Claus. That was pretty good.
DH: You sort of made fun of Jesus in a Mr. Show episode…
JB: Oh. Jeepers Creepers Semi-Star?
JB: Kind of. Yeah.
DH: Did you receive any flack for your religious…
JB: Zero flack. Me personally, I don’t have anything against Jesus any more than I do any of the religious icons. I think they’re all pretty funny. Buddha is pretty funny. Buddha is the coolest, though. If I had to go with one, I’d probably party with the Buddha.
DH: Have you noticed that, more and more, next to the Bible in hotels is the book of Buddha?
DH: Yeah. Next time you’re put up in a fancy-pants hotel someplace, particularly a slick, modern one… like the Mondrian.
JB: Well, of course the Mondrian.
DH: It’s pretty interesting because you assume that the Bible is left in the hotel room for the three a.m. of the soul. Like the, “Someone help me.” Whenever I’ve opened a Bible at random it’s just sort of gobbledygook, but when I’ve opened the Buddha book at random it’s actually incredibly soothing, sort of general remarks.
JB: Yeah, they definitely win in the contest of soothing the soul.
DH: And in terms of making you feel good about your own body, I think Buddha is good for that, too.
JB: Yeah, it’s true. He’s happy; he’s very comfortable with his body. Jesus was obviously on the Atkins diet.
JB: Very intimidating. Chiseled muscles, tight abs.
DH: Right. Although He gave out bread and wafers and things so it wasn’t a strict Atkins diet.
JB: He gave them out, but did He ever eat them himself?
DH: I don’t think so because it represented His own body.
JB: Right. You know, you only ever see Him on the cross. Maybe He was heavier earlier on. Yeah. I think what would improve weddings would be just shorter ones. And cheaper ones. I always feel bad for people getting married and spending upwards of a hundred thousand dollars. It just seems so absurd to me.
DH: Yeah, that’s a lot of money.
JB: They should just go do it at a bar for really cheap. Then it’s actually more meaningful. But I’ll tell you what I do like that’s an improvement. This whole being registered at such-and-such.com.
DH: That was one of my questions. You approve of that?
JB: I love it. It just makes it so easy. You go and take care of it lick, splat, bling, bling. Are you against it?
DH: No, I’m not against it. But I feel that if you’re going to get married and have a wedding and not just have a large dinner party with your friends but actually go all out, you ought to receive some useless items. Or essentially useless. So I like to go all out. I don’t aim to offend. The large, ornate silver vase, I think that’s good.
JB: It’s definitely the classier move to go out of your way, get the thing, put it in a box, wrap it up, bring it under your arm, put it on the gift table…. Yeah. You’re right.
DH: Have you been at a wedding where you’ve disapproved of the union?
JB: Where I didn’t think they should be getting married?
JB: That’s a tender subject. If I give away too many details, they’ll know.
DH: Ahh, right. But so, “yes”?
JB: Yeah, there was some stuff that looked a little impulsive to me. That can’t be good. You don’t want to get married on an impulse.
DH: Did you feel that vibe going around the wedding?
JB: Yeah. Parents looked a little worried. Everyone was a little on edge. But still a nice wedding.
DH: It was a wedding that you disapproved of as strongly as prison rape?
JB: Never. No. I’m all for people making a decision. If they want to do it, so be it. But my feeling is, if they get divorced, part of the deal is that they should give back the gifts.
DH: But what do you want with your two table settings?
JB: I never did the table settings.
JB: But I could do something with a full set of silverware. I could do something with those sheets. King-size, one-thousand-thread-count sheets. You know what I’m saying though?
JB: You put everybody through that, renting a tux… ugh.
DH: You don’t own a tux?
JB: No. Do you?
DH: Yeah. I started owning a tux in high school because I had a gig playing cocktail piano.
JB: Wow. And you kept it going after high school? You got another tux when you grew out of that one?
JB: Are you on your third tux now?
DH: I think I am. I think I’m on my third tux.
JB: I’m impressed. Where did you get it?
DH: Actually this most recent one is from Armani.
JB: Ooooh… I think I look pretty good in my rented tux.
DH: I bet you do. Do you get the full ruffles?
JB: No, I don’t go with the tails and I didn’t go with ruffles this last time.
DH: So you don’t go for the sort of Italian mobster prom tux?
JB: No. I don’t want to make a mockery of the proceedings. I just want to look sharp. It would probably be better if I got my own tux, but I’m afraid my fluctuating weight would become a problem. I’ll gain or drop twenty pounds in a matter of months.
DH: It’s nice to have a tux because sometimes you can just put it on and wear it. It sort of shocks the hell out of people.
JB: [laughing] Do you do that?
DH: Yeah, I just wore it to someone’s birthday party. If you really go all out and it’s not a sarcastic-looking tux they just don’t know what to do with you. Plus it might give you that extra boost of confidence you’ve been looking for in these gatherings where there are strangers present.
JB: That’s true. I like a tux but then I like a splash of blue, some color in there somewhere.
DH: Like a silk hanky?
JB: No. Like a blue vest.
DH: Like something shiny? Like something Prince might wear at his wedding?
JB: Yeah. But just a splash of it, though. The pants and coat should be black.
DH: Are you secretly envious of the bridesmaids’ matching outfits that they have going on?
JB: No. No I’m not. I feel bad for the people that have to do the extra stuff and go to the rehearsal.
DH: Are you a fan of love in general, or are you sort of a cynic about it?
JB: I’m a little bit of a cynic about it. I have a girlfriend and we’ve been together for seven years…
DH: That sounds like love.
JB: Yeah. We have a good relationship. I remember not having anyone and being crushed by loneliness…
DH: And so you’re sympathetic.
JB: Yeah. I just don’t know about this whole making-it-official thing with documents and putting all your friends through the thing where they have to buy stuff. I guess because it’s a party; it’s a big party with too many people in it, so I just don’t like the idea of it. That’s the thing. I think if I ever get married I think only twelve people will be invited. Then everyone will be mad. No one’s invited. It’s just a good, old-fashioned elope.
DH: I promise you I won’t be mad. Frankly, I didn’t even think I would be invited.