Saturday, January 24, 2009

The State of my heart

Tomorrow I'm going to see a live reunion tribute show to The State, a sketch comedy program that had quite an impact on my teenage drama nerd days of the mid-90s, and I'm incredibly excited.

I would describe the show as a hybrid of Monty Python and Kids in the Hall--but it was so very original, so brilliant in essence. We used to reenact key sketches and impersonate the characters all the time in my high school drama class. (To this day I get one of those "I'm not so sure I trust or could ever really like you on a personal level" kind of feelings about people whenever they badmouth the show, or the best comedy movie in the world, Wet Hot American Summer).

It was the tail end of the "grunge era," and MTV was still relevant. Liquid Television and all things "indie" were embraced without seeming exploitative. It was fertile soil for an absurd, experimental sketch comedy show like The State to come around. It would never be given a chance in today's jaded, reality-television obsessed youth market, but I do find comfort in the fact that cast members have cropped up in some of the best, most original tv and movie projects available over the past decade: Wet Hot American Summer, Stella, Reno 911, The Ten, et al--all of these were written, directed and/or starring members of The State.

And although, in my own little teenage world, the show went leaps and bounds beyond all predictable, mainstream shows like SNL, the humor never seemed to break into the mainstream. After two years, The State went off the air. I just assumed the humor didn't resonate with the humorless masses and it was canceled. But apparently, as I later discovered, they actually sold out to CBS, where they created a Halloween special featuring Sonic Youth, but then weren't opted for further episodes.

While it's upsetting that the original 11 cast members couldn't keep on performing as a unit, the ways in which they manage to crop up in various projects is always a surprise and pure joy for me. And as a testament to their timeless originality and cult appeal, they are working on a State movie for Comedy Central. There is also a DVD of all the of the episodes that may be released one day, however, MTV shelved it for unknown reasons and won't release it--yet.

Here's one of my favorite sketches, one that me and some friends recreated in drama class (ah the good old days, when everyone thought they were going to grow up to be a movie star):

Michael Ian Black and Thomas Lennon performing "Monkey Torture"

Rolling Stone
recently interviewed a few of the cast members about their upcoming reunion in my fair city:

What does the Great Recession of '09 mean to comedy and the State?

Black: It's good for comedy. I mean, people are miserable, they want to laugh.

Lennon: We actually have a really wonderful sketch in the SF show called "The Great Depression" and it's really sort of a charming, Hallmark Hall of Fame scene about a family that's trying to decide whether or not they should eat their baby.


Nine members of the cast did a dress rehearsal of this new show in March 2008. How has time affected your writing and delivery?

Marino: I'm happy to say that our material has not matured at all. It's the same stupid fun stuff I hope.

Black: It really comes down to "are we making each other laugh?" and if we are doing that, then it goes on the show. To me it's just a really personal voice, in the way that retarded monkeys are personal.

Well, retarded monkeys are hilarious.

Black: I agree. I've made my career on that very premise.

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