As I read the profile of director David Wain in The New York Times, I couldn’t help but feel some personal pride for his success. Wain, for all of you who aren’t a comedy nerd like me, is one of the founding members of the sketch group The State. It’s been almost two decades from when the show first aired on MTV. I was thirteen and I could not get enough of it. I guess my previous sketch experience was with In Living Color, where reoccurring characters and one-liners were king.
The State was different. Some of the sketches has no punchlines. In fact, some of the sketches weren’t jokes. Some of the sketches didn’t go anywhere, and had odd concepts like “An Italian family throws pasta sauce around their white living room” or “guy learns how to wear pants”. The best sketch ever, in my opinion, was “Porcupine Racetrack”.
So why do I personally feel proud? It’s now been about two decades since The State premiered, and the members of the troupe have gone on to do amazing comedy– some of it failed, some of it didn’t. But it’s exciting to me to see that they all have contributed to the comedy world and throughout these two decades, I’ve followed almost everything an alumni has done. It’s also great to see that the members still love working together- often their projects will always include some combination of the original members. In show business, it’s amazing to see people have a long career based on quality of their work, not necessarily on the appeal to the masses. And lots of their projects have failed. Lots. But they’ll just dust themselves off and start a new project.
I’ve even nerded out even more and drawn a handy dandy chart of a brief history of projects done by The State alum, i.e., any project that included two or more of the original members (lots of the group have had successful careers in and outside of comedy on their own merits. )
Here’s some highlights of some of the better projects.
Wet Hot American Summer
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It’s an understatement to say this is one of their better projects. When, in fact, this is probably my all-time favorite movie, ever. Yes, I am prepared to make that statement. David Wain directed and co-wrote (with Michael Showalter) the low-budget, now cult classic film that starred several state alum, including Ken Marino, Joe LaTruglio and Michael Ian Black. The film also features Paul Rudd, who has since starred in many future projects with State alum, thus making him an honorary member.
This film had a very limited in release, and to my amazement, has not gotten the recognition it deserves. Also directed and written by David Wain, it features most of the cast of WHAS and is split into individual stories, resembling a sketch show. Fun fact: Ken Marino’s doctor character was spun off as a character on Childrens Hospital.
Directed by David Wain, but not written by any state alum. However, it’s worth mentioning, because Paul Rudd is in it, along with several short appearances by State alum. Plus, this is a great movie that doesn’t get too much attention.
This is about as mainstream as it gets. Paul Rudd? Jennifer Aniston? Written by Wain and Ken Marino, I have high hopes for it. And hopefully more mainstream releases will be from such great comedy creators.
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Kerry Kenney (the lone female of the State), Thomas Lennon, Ben Garant and Michael Ian Black headed up this bizarre parody of European Variety shows. I never got to really get into it, but I’m surprised it actually lasted as long as it did. I was lucky enough, however, to see a live reunion of the characters from the show at SF Sketch Fest last year.
The same alum as Viva Variety (minus Michael Ian Black, who guest starred several times) developed one of the funniest shows of all time, chronicling the imcompetent Reno Sherriff’s department. Almost all of the rest of the state alum have guest starred at some point, along with every other “alternative” comedian. It’s even more brilliant when you learn that most of it is improvised. Alas, not every idea can stay fresh forever- it was canceled after six seasons. Which was probably the right move,
While the foursome listed above were on Reno 911, David Wain, Michael Ian Black and Michael Showalter created a three-person cabaret act called STELLA. After some popularity of live performances, they did a show on Comedy Central. I’ll be honest, this wasn’t for me. I don’t think it translated well to television. it barely lasted a season.
Michael & Michael Have Issues
Whereas I didn’t care for Stella, here’s a show that deserved to last more than the season than it did. While David Wain turned to directing movies, Michael Ian Black and Michael Showalter play parodies of themselves as hosts of a talk show. The bizarre dynamic of their interactions were the highlight of the show, rather than any sort of cohesive narrative. ‘Tis shame it was canceled.
This adult swim show is the genius creation of Rob Corrdry, but also stars Ken Marino and has several episodes written and directed by David Wain. Other alum have appeared on the show (in fact, it seems that EVERY person currently working in the alternative comedy scene has appeared on this show.) This parody of hospital-based shows has the same feel as The State-favoring bizarre situations over straight up jokes.
Along with their other side projects, Robert Ben Garrant and Thomas lennon have authored several big-budget screenplays, including Herbie: Fully Loaded, Taxi, and the Night At the Museum movies. Surprising, considering the quality of the movies as compared to their other comedy. However, they recently released a book on screen writing, which gives a lot of insight into
David Wain also wrote and filmed a web series called Wainy days which appeared on My Damn Channel, when web series were just starting to be a “thing.” it’s endearing but not necessarily a must-see.
Kevin Allison, the red-headed gay of “The Italian, The Jew, and the Red headed Gay” sketch, has not been in the limelight as much as the other alum, but has become well-known teacher and producer of storytelling shows, such as RISK!, a live show and podcast that features people telling embarrassing stories from their lives.
The members of the State met while undergrads at NYU, and immediately after were signed to write and act in the short-lived You Wrote it, You Watch It on MTV (hosted by Jon Stewart!) and then produced The State, and have been working in comedy almost twenty years since then. Is that living the dream, or is that living the dream?