Comedian, actor and author of comedy books Michael Ian Black is 40, has a wife and two kids, and once played a bowling alley proprietor on the canceled NBC series ‘Ed.’ His memoir, titled “You’re Not Doing It Right,” came out three months ago. I missed it but Kirkus’s Review says he is “consistently funny and maintains his slightly detached, absurdist persona in his prose; there is authentic pain and moral confusion in his descriptions of marriage-counseling sessions, bitter arguments and threats of divorce.” His career prospects look bright, but he must feel pretty desperate for exposure.
That’s the only reason I can think of why a person with 1,754,014 Twitter followers went on a month-long cross country road trip with Meghan McCain, a person he barely knew. (In fairness to them both, there are few people I would be willing to accompany on a road trip across the country, including my husband. No matter how big the book advance or how badly I needed a gimmick, to me only summer camp, war, freshman year, Americorps and reality television are situations where prolonged close and personal cohabitation in tiny spaces is warranted.)
Although the flap jacket of the resulting tome, “America, You Sexy Bitch” makes much of their kooky ideological pairing, they don’t seem that far apart to me. Both are young, ambitious and attractive, willing to push boundaries and like to smoke grass. He’s a post-Jewish Democrat with a libertarian streak, who had a show on Comedy Central, and she’s a Christian millennial Republican scion who supports gay marriage and reproductive freedom and has a contract with MSNBC.
The odd couple exchanged tweets on a sleepless night last year playing with the idea and negotiation between their representatives and the publisher, DaCapo, quickly cinched a book deal for the two. (Five agents and the United Talent Agency are acknowledged in the end piece.) “Michael and I sold the book before we actually met in person.” McCain writes in the co-authored hardback released this week. Although the publishing industry is reinventing itself as backlists become downloads, authors with platforms have always gotten contracts.
After all, what could go wrong?
The book, for one thing. The tagline on the title is “A Love Letter To Freedom,” but it doesn’t know what it wants to be. Is it political commentary or notes for stand-up? DeTocqueville or Graham Greene? It is written in alternating first person diary entries and, though they may have been having a nice long confession fest with each other on the long drive, in this format they are having two different conversations with their readers and keep interrupting each other.
Meghan writes that her “love affair with the Republican Party and its doctrines began the first day I stepped foot on my father’s presidential campaign,” but as a senator’s daughter her doctrine indoctrination was more politics than policy.
“My mother was pregnant with me at the 1984 Reagan convention,” she writes.
Black is not someone I’d choose to “find out what Americans are thinking about,” as the jacket copy promises. For one thing, he doesn’t seem like a very good listener. Prior to this mini-bus campaign tour Black’s patriotism was sincere but shallow. “America was fine, sure, but a free small fries was better,” he writes.
She is funny and uncensored, and he is witty and sharply observational, but at 309 pages, the book is too much of a mildly engaging thing.
What the two have produced is essentially a month-long series of overlong Twitter status updates. We follow the new BFFs from San Diego to Las Vegas to Meghan McCain’s parents’ house in Sedona where they hang out with the senior McCains and her sibs, shoot guns and trade stereotypes. (Guess what? They don't see eye to eye on guns!) At the end of the trip the weary travelers go to a party with his wife and friends in Redding, Conn., where more clichés collect.
The two are currently hawking their hearts out to sell the book in media interviews.
My advice, for a more genuine portrait of each, save the $26, and tune in to the real time promo feed.
Bonnie Goldstein is a writer in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter at @KickedByAnAngel.