Thomas Jacob Black was born in Santa Monica, California, and raised in Hermosa Beach, California the son of two satellite engineers, Judith Love (née Cohen), who worked on the Hubble Space Telescope and is also a writer, and Thomas William Black. His mother was born Jewish, while his father converted to Judaism. Black was raised in the Jewish faith, attending Hebrew school and celebrating a Bar Mitzvah. On a guest appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, he said his surname may have come from the occupational name of blacksmith.
Black's parents divorced when he was 10; Black moved to Culver City with his father and frequently visited his mother's home. As a child, Black appeared in a commercial for the Activision game Pitfall! in 1982. This was shown during his later appearances as an adult actor on Jimmy Kimmel Live! and again on The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien.
For high school, Black's parents enrolled him at the Poseidon School, a private secondary school designed specifically for students struggling in the traditional school system. Black also attended the Crossroads School, where he excelled in drama. He later attended UCLA but dropped out during his sophomore year to pursue a career in entertainment. Fellow UCLA student, Tim Robbins, later cast Black in Bob Roberts. Black gained recurring roles on the HBO sketch comedy series, Mr. Show.
In 1982, Black first acted in a television commercial at age 13 for the video game Pitfall!. Black's adult career began with acting on prime time television. He played roles on shows including Life Goes On, Northern Exposure, Mr. Show, Picket Fences, The Golden Palace, and The X-Files. Black appeared in the unaired TV pilot Heat Vision and Jack, directed by Ben Stiller, in which he played an ex-astronaut pursued by actor Ron Silver. He was accompanied by his friend who had merged with a motorcycle, voiced by Owen Wilson.
Black later took on small roles in Airborne (1993), Demolition Man, Waterworld, The Fan, The Cable Guy, Mars Attacks!, Tim Robbins' Dead Man Walking, The Jackal, Enemy of the State, and others. He had a small role in True Romance as a security guard, but the scene was deleted.
In 2000, Black appeared in the movie High Fidelity as a wild employee in John Cusack's record store, a role he considers his breakout. He soon gained leading roles in films such as Shallow Hal, Nacho Libre, Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny, Year One, and Gulliver's Travels. He received particular praise for his starring role in the well-received School of Rock, earning critical acclaim and a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor – Musical or Comedy.
He starred in one of his few dramatic roles as the obsessed filmmaker Carl Denham in Peter Jackson's 2005 remake of King Kong, a performance he based on Orson Welles. He voiced the title role in Kung Fu Panda, which grossed US$20.3 million on its opening day, June 6, 2008, as well as Kung Fu Panda 2 and Kung Fu Panda 3; this is his favorite role and he praises the tutoring of co-star and two-time Academy Award winner Dustin Hoffman. His next film, The Big Year, a competitive birdwatching comedy co-starring Owen Wilson, Steve Martin, and JoBeth Williams, was released in October 2011.
Jack garnered a second Golden Globe Award nomination, this time in the category Best Actor in a Comedy, for his 2011 starring role in Richard Linklater's black comedy, Bernie, as real-life murderer Bernie Tiede, a funeral director in a small East Texas town, who befriends and eventually murders a rich widow, played by Shirley MacLaine. Black's subdued portrayal, authentic East Texas accent, and musical talent – he sings several gospel hymns as well as "Seventy-six Trombones" – had Roger Ebert describing Black's work as "one of the performances of the year."
Black guest-starred on The Office along with Cloris Leachman, and Jessica Alba in a movie within the show. He also guest-starred in iCarly, in the episode "iStart a Fan War".
Black has appeared numerous times on the "untelevised TV network" short film festival Channel 101, created by Dan Harmon and Rob Schrab, starring in the shows Computerman, Timebelt, and Laserfart. He also provided an introduction for the unaired sketch comedy Awesometown, donning a Colonial-era military uniform. In the introduction, he claims to be George Washington (and takes credit for the accomplishments of other American Presidents such as Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln). Black also guest starred in the Cartoon Network's Adult Swim show Tom Goes to the Mayor, as a bear-trap store owner. Black also guest-starred on Dan Harmon's show Community.
Black took part in the Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? celebrity edition along with Denis Leary, Jimmy Kimmel, and others and was handed the prize of US$125,000 in October 2001. On December 14, he hosted the 2008 Spike Video Game Awards. Black has hosted the Nickelodeon Kids' Choice Awards and Acceptable.TV. He presented the tribute to rock legends Led Zeppelin when the band were named as 2012 recipients of Kennedy Center Honors. In 2016, Black joined the climate change documentary show Years of Living Dangerously as one of its celebrity correspondents.
In addition to Kung Fu Panda, Black has voice acted on other occasions, including "Husbands and Knives" from The Simpsons which aired November 18, 2007, portraying Milo, the friendly owner of the rival comic book store. He provided the voice of the main character, roadie Eddie Riggs, in the heavy metal-themed action-adventure video game Brütal Legend. In 2009, at the Spike Video Game Awards, he earned the Best Voice award for the voice of Eddie Riggs in Brütal Legend. In April 2009, Black starred in an episode of Yo Gabba Gabba!, in which he vocalized funny kid songs, such as "It's Not Fun to Get Lost", "Friends", and "The Goodbye Song".
Black voiced Darth Vader in Bad Lip Reading's parodies of the Star Wars original trilogy on YouTube. In 2015, Black not only played a fictional version of real-life author R. L. Stine for Goosebumps, but he also provided the voices of two R.L. Stine's creations, Slappy the Dummy and The Invisible Boy.
Black, also known as JB or Jables, is the lead singer for the comedy rock/hard rock band Tenacious D. Along with Kyle Gass, they have released three albums, a self-titled debut, the follow-up, The Pick of Destiny, and Rize of the Fenix. One of their songs from their album The Pick of Destiny, titled "The Metal", was used in the music video games Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock and Brütal Legend. "Rock Your Socks" from the album Tenacious D was played in the music video game Rock Band Unplugged as well, and "Master Exploder" from The Pick Of Destiny went on to be used in music video games Guitar Hero Van Halen, Rock Band 2, and Brütal Legend along with their song "Tribute" from Tenacious D. "Master Exploder" and "The Metal" featured in the comedic film Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny.
The film, directed by Tenacious D veteran Liam Lynch, featured recurring characters from Black's comedy such as Lee the super-fan and the Sasquatch. Several celebrities had roles in the film; actor Tim Robbins cameos as does Dave Grohl as Satan. Ben Stiller also makes an appearance as a worker at a Guitar Center, also having a role in the music video for "Tribute".
Tenacious D helped the United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation to raise awareness of these diseases and funds for the organization in Los Angeles on December 20, 2001, and in San Diego, California on June 16, 2007. Tenacious D can be seen performing in the 90s-era Pauly Shore film Bio-Dome where the duo is performing its song "The Five Needs" at a "Save the Environment" party. Black was also a guest star on an episode of The Ellen DeGeneres Show entitled "Ellen the Musical", alongside Broadway star Kristin Chenoweth and teenage singer-actress Olivia Olson. On the show, besides singing, he discussed his then-upcoming film Nacho Libre with the host.
In 2000, Jack Black (along with Kyle Gass) provided backing vocals to punk rock band The Vandals' song "Fourteen", which appears on their album Look What I Almost Stepped In.... Black has also appeared on Dave Grohl's Probot album, providing vocals for the hidden song "I Am The Warlock", and Lynch's Fake Songs album, providing vocals for the song "Rock and Roll Whore". Black performed a cover of Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On" in the last sequence of High Fidelity. He lent his musical abilities to the Queens of the Stone Age song "Burn the Witch" with rhythmic stomps and claps, some performed with his eyes closed. He also provided vocals for two tracks on the 2006 album Death by Sexy by Eagles of Death Metal and on The Lonely Island's track "Sax Man" from the album Incredibad.
Black also recorded a duet on Meat Loaf's album Hang Cool Teddy Bear, on the song "Like a Rose". Meat Loaf also played Black's father in the Pick of Destiny movie.
Black has appeared in music videos of Beck "Sexx Laws"; Foo Fighters "Learn To Fly", "Low", and "The One"; The Eagles of Death Metal's "I Want You So Hard (Boy's Bad News)"; Sum 41's "Things I Want"; Dio's "Push"; Weezer's "Photograph"; The Mooney Suzuki's "In a Young Man's Mind"; and "Weird Al" Yankovic's "Tacky." In October 2010, Tenacious D appeared at BlizzCon 2010, a convention hosted by the game designers, Blizzard Entertainment. In 2012, Jack Black joined up with other celebrities to record "Book People Unite", a song sponsored by the Library of Congress, and RIF.
Black did guest vocals and appears on the Dethklok soundtrack album The Doomstar Requiem. He sings the parts for Dethklok's original band manager as well as a fat blogger.
Black, as a member of Tenacious D, won the award for Best Metal Performance at the 57th Grammy Awards. The award was won for the song "The Last in Line", a cover of the song of the same name by Dio that appeared on the tribute album This Is Your Life.
At the age of 14, Black struggled with drugs, saying "I was having a lot of troubles with cocaine... I was hanging out with some pretty rough characters. I was scared to go to school (because) one of them wanted to kill me. I wanted to get out of there."
His 31-year-old brother Howard died of AIDS in 1989.
In January 2006, Black became engaged to Tanya Haden, daughter of jazz double bassist Charlie Haden. Both attended Crossroads School and met again 15 years after graduating, at a friend's birthday party. Black proposed around Christmas 2005, and they married on March 14, 2006, in Big Sur, California.
Black's first son, Samuel Jason "Sammy" Black, was born on June 10, 2006, at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. On May 23, 2008, Black and his wife had their second son, Thomas David Black.
Black described himself as an atheist; but now that he is a father, he has decided to raise his children in the Jewish faith and has also started going to a synagogue with them.
Black endorsed Barack Obama's re-election campaign in 2012.
In 2015, Black visited Kampala in Uganda, Africa as part of Comic Relief USA's Red Nose Day.