The State was a sketch comedy series on MTV in the ’90s, which was pretty much required viewing if you were a teenager during that time period. If you were one of the cool ones, anyway. The impressive eleven member troupe featured Thomas Lennon, Kerri Kenney-Silver, Robert Ben Garant, Joe Lo Truglio, Ken Marino, Michael Showalter, Michael Ian Black, David Wain, Todd Holoubek, Michael Patrick Jann, and Kevin Allison — most of whom are actively working today, both in front of and behind the camera.
Given a platform on a cable network with not a whole lot of network interference, the then early 20-something members of The State pulled off a sketch comedy show with punk rock attitude fueled by manic energy. A lot of the sketches tended to be absurd and abstract, but thanks to the incredible chemistry of the cast viewers still felt like they were in on the joke.
Of course, the thing about The State that was so unique, is that most of the troupe members have continued to actively collaborate with each other in the nearly twenty years since the show went off the air. Whereas other comedy troupes such as, say, Kids in the Hall, might get together every few years, write some new material and go on tour — the members of The State are always collaborating on new projects together. Just some of the examples over the years have been Reno 911!, Wet Hot American Summer, Stella, Viva Variety, The Ten, and Michael & Michael Have Issues, to name a few. It’s a testament to how much these people really, really like working with each other.
So whether or not you’ve been a fan since their MTV days or more familiar with the members through their more recent projects, here are some little known facts about one of the greatest comedy troupes of our generation.
They Originally Went By “The New Group”
Founded by Todd Holoubek at NYU in the late ’80s, Holoubek wanted to create a “free form,” collective sketch comedy group, unlike the structure of other local comedy groups he had encountered. Holoubek pitched the idea to potential members as a sketch comedy group where everybody “had their own window.” After a few iterations of adding and dropping members, the name changed and they settled into the group that we know today.
Thomas Lennon and Kerri Kenney-Silver Met At Theater Camp At Age 16
Before joining NYU, Thomas Lennon and Kerri Kenney-Silver met as kids, which means they’ve actually known each other for going on thirty years, now.
Kerri and I met at theater camp when were 16 years old, which is pretty lame. The rest of us met when we founded The State at New York University in 1988. Most of our adult lives have been spent bickering with these people. (Via)
Additionally, Ken Marino and David Wain were introduced as college roommates.
Before The State, The Group Worked On Another MTV Series With Jon Stewart
Before being handed The State, the troupe members briefly worked on another short-lived MTV series called You Wrote It, You Watch It in 1992. The concept was that viewers would write in stories and comedians would act them out in sketches. You Wrote It, You Watch It was not a particularly good show due mostly to the poor source material of teenagers and college kids writing in dumb stories, and was canceled after one season. Stewart, who was given The Jon Stewart Show on MTV shortly after, said this about the series:
The State Jumped Ship From MTV To CBS, Although It Didn’t Pan Out
After three successful seasons on MTV, CBS lured The State over to network TV with the promise of a series of prime time specials that would eventually lead to a regular series if they performed well. In 1995 CBS aired the 43rd Annual All-Star Halloween Special to little fanfare — due largely in part that CBS did a crappy job promoting it.
This wasn’t the best decision on the cast’s part, since MTV dangled a pretty enticing contract for a guaranteed 65 episodes if they would have stayed, which they turned down. I guess overall it was for the best, because it gave the members creative license to move forward with other projects.
David Wain And Michael Patrick Jann Directed Almost Every Episode
This should come as no surprise to anyone, as David Wain has gone on to make films like Wet Hot American Summer, Wanderlust and They Came Together. While Jann has only one feature film under his belt — the criminally underrated Drop Dead Gorgeous — he’s done a lot of work in television on series such as Community, Childrens Hospital, and Happy Endings.
Kerri Kenney: “The Only Girl We Need”
Being that it was an eleven member troupe that only contained one woman, The State was not the most diverse of comedy troupes. Having only one woman didn’t hurt them in the long run, however, as Kerri Kenney-Silver was a high energy performer with enough of a range that she could play a wide variety of characters — leading the rest of the cast to describe her as “the only girl we need.” In scenes that required more than one female character, Kenney-Silver would typically — although not always — play the most feminine character. Sometimes she wouldn’t even appear in a scene that needed a female, though, and instead one of the guys would just go in drag.
The Group Were Not A Fan Of Recurring Characters, But Bent To Pressure From MTV
Due to their free form and absurdest style, members of The State were very reluctant to write for recurring characters. MTV wanted the show to be more like Saturday Night Live, however, so they pushed them into including a recurring character with a catchphrase. Ken Marino’s “Louie” character whose famous catchphrase proclaimed “I wanna dip my balls in it!” was The State’s way of giving the middle finger to MTV — although they did go on to feature a few more recurring characters such as Doug and Barry and Levon (the pudding guys).
Here’s a grainy YouTube clip of Louie interrupting The Last Supper:
The State Produced A Comedy CD That Went Unreleased For 14 Years
In January of 1996 the group headed to the Bahamas, where they holed up for two weeks recording an album for Warner Bros., Comedy For Gracious Living. For some reason it was never released until 2010. You can currently purchase the album on Amazon or listen to it on Grooveshark.
The Complete Series Of The State Was Released On DVD In 2009
After many years of fan pressure, it seemed like a DVD release might never see the light of day, however on July 14th, 2009, The State finally came out on DVD. As with other television series like Freaks and Geeks and The Wonder Years, most of the holdup revolved around music rights, as messaging in the DVD set reads: “Back in the free-wheeling 1990s, we had access to a huge library of popular songs to use as a soundtrack for the show . . .” To get around this, since they would have never been able to afford most of the music rights to some of the more expensive songs, the cast worked with a composer to recreate the feeling of some of the originals.