It’s been 20 years since the greatest and most unheralded sketch comedy show of the 1990s (and all time) went off the air. In honor of that and the upcoming mini-reunion in Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp, I’ve rounded up 20 of the greatest State skits ever… or at least the ones that didn’t depend on costly music licenses.
When people talk about shocking series finales, you’ll hear the requisite discussion about St. Elsewhere, LOST, and Roseanne, but nobody talks about The State. I remember being floored in the summer of 1995 (Wikipedia notes the run ending on July 1, while Hulu says August 25) when Michael Ian Black nonchalantly mentioned that the just-concluded episode would be The State’s last on MTV, before hitting a highlight reel of the previous four seasons. These 28 episodes and 175-plus skits (all aired within two years), were almost-always filled beginning-to-end with comedic classics. From eminently quotable and subversive comedy to hilarious slapstick, The State revolutionized sketch comedy for a brief period, only to disappear, make a CBS pilot that the network ignored, and then disband with only a few brief reunions. What they left behind some 20 years ago, however, will live forever… even if the music isn’t quite the same.
Around 6 years ago, MTV finally gave fans what they wanted, releasing episodes of The State via streaming and on DVD with a pristine picture quality. After a dozen-plus years of sub-par bootlegs being traded through Usenet, seeing the show without scanning lines and the blurry quality that comes from making a copy of a copy of a copy was a revelation. Unfortunately, due to pricey song rights that nobody knew to negotiate before the advent of streaming and DVD, much of the music on The State had to be redubbed. While The State’s musician Craig Wedren did an excellent job creating soundalikes, much of the allure became tarnished for old-school fans for music-driven skits like “Mouse Problems,” “Pants,” and every Barry & Levon skit (which were synonymous with “November Rain,” “Cannonball,” and “Sexual Healing,” respectively). Fortunately, the vast majority of The State’s skits didn’t lean that heavily on early-90s tunes, and I’ve picked the 20 best skits circulating the internet thanks to the classic sketch comedy series. I disqualified a few old favorites due to soundalike songs sapping most of the nostalgia (sorry, Pants and Captain Monterery Jack). A bigger apology (in advance) is for MTV’s ancient video player, which can’t embed despite having embed code links.
20 – “THE LAUPIN VARIETY PROGRAMME” [MTV LINK]
Okay, so this sketch is a tad too long, drags in parts, and not all of the accents hit. However, it’s extremely important as a pseudo-pilot for Viva Variety and what was likely the biggest role that usual director Michael Patrick Jann ever had in front of the camera. However, the entire Apeman saga is hilarious, from the crowd work asking if he can enter to Mr. Laupin almost cracking during questioning from the Inspector General. I do miss “Uptown Girl” being the theme of The Laupin Teenage Dancers USA, but that single changed tune doesn’t completely betray the skit.
“I’m in your home, covered in lotion. And I’m reading your ledger!”
19 – “MR. MAGINA” [MTV LINK]
If I had to pick The State’s most underrated performer, it would have to be Kevin Allison. His appearance as an unforunately named sex ed teacher shows his range, starting with subtle work to keep his secret under wraps and transitioning into a blubbering fool when the class starts to mock him. The State rarely featured cameos, but the one facing Mr. Magina at the conclusion of this skit was probably my favorite.
BEST QUOTE: “He’s a vagina!”
18 – “THE JEW, THE ITALIAN, AND THE REDHEAD GAY” [MTV LINK]
This is the rare recurring skit that The State did best the first time around. Mocking the hokey sitcoms of the 60s and 70s with exaggerated stereotypes isn’t the most solid of premises, but David Wain, Ken Marino, and Kevin Allison’s ability to deliver sitcom-like patter while rattling off cliches makes the skit worthwhile. That, and “Age of Aquarius” style ending, which is one of my favorite left-turn skit closers.
BEST QUOTE: “I’m gonna go get some bagels, I guess.”
17 – “HORMONES” [MTV LINK]
This was one of the first large-scale physical skits to air on The State that showcased that the show was more about just snappy writing. A simple but funny conceit — hormones acting up — is taken to a hilarious level thanks to Lo Truglio’s fantastic dialogue delivery and the masterful pantomiming led up by Marino.
BEST QUOTE: “They’re away… for the weekend…”
16 – “MIND MATCH” [MTV LINK]
This skit is far better than it has any right to be, thanks to a few inspired choices. I love the fact that they use old-timey orphans in the kind of rags you’d expect in Oliver Twist. Then there’s the blatant attempts that Kerri Kenney and Tom Lennon’s characters make at sandbagging the game once they know they’re playing for orphans instead of cash and prizes. Last, but not least, there’s the death stare that Lennon gives Kenney after she throws him under the bus and wins them both orphans during the final round.
BEST QUOTE: “Hold the phone… a car could be blue… a car could be blue! You’ve just doubled your orphans!”
15 – “THE CRACKERS” [MTV LINK]
There’s an SNL skit called “Fecal Matters” that I rank amongst the most underrated sketches in the show’s history; the gag of a person with an odd name and then the double-fake-out that reveals they actually live up to said name makes for a great premise. The Crackers works even better since it allows Kevin Allion, Michael Ian Black, and Todd Holoubek to eat crackers like a bunch of animals. Bonus points go to the two “children” in the sketch, with Ben Garant playing the frumpiest girl in the show’s history and Holoubek playing the sad sack like only he can.
BEST QUOTE: “I hate the Crackers. I hate all of the Crackers! Especially you, Joey Cracker!”
14 – “KABUKI DOUG” [MTV LINK]
MTV mandated that The State incorporate reoccurring characters, but rats off to the troupe for only doing so with increasingly weird situations. The best example of this is “Kabuki Doug,” which rounds up most of the show’s biggest characters (and Barry Toink) into a kabuki performance of a tragic Japanese love story. Mixing the stoic performances you expect in a kabuki show with each established character’s speech pattern probably took a lot of rehearsing, but it makes for one of the show’s most surreal skits.
BEST QUOTE: [In Japanese] “Please do not ask me to dip my balls in something. My heart grieves for the young lovers. Here they come now.”
13- “HOT PURSUITS” [MTV LINK]
I watched a lot of Silk Stalkings when I was in my early teens; partly because it aired shortly after WWF Monday Night Raw, but mostly because I was a teenager with a functioning wiener. Hot Pursuits is one of my favorite parodies because it nails how trashy and softcore porn-feeling the programs were at their core. Actually, seeing Ken Marino use awful innuendos to seduce a procession of increasingly strange members of the criminal justice system makes for a great skit on its own, even if you’re not as educated as erotic cop dramas as me.
BEST QUOTE: “I’m aware of my… pants.”
12 – “BLUEBERRY JOHNSON” [MTV LINK]
I know the members of The State were averse to creating reoccurring characters, but I never understood why Blueberry Johnson never grew into more of a character. Michael Showalter’s performance as a high-pitched blue-haired children’s show pitchman is great, and seeing him get increasingly exasperated about his denied chances at stardom is hilarious. I love this skit. I love it I love it I love it I love it I love it!
BEST QUOTE: “I have a decade of experience in showbiz television, I’m a tireless worker, kids love me, and to top it all off, I look like a fucking blueberry!”
11 – “TAPE PEOPLE” [MTV LINK]
People had been putting tape on their face for decades before The State ever aired, but why is it that nobody ever made a comedy skit about the subject before this one? I know why it hasn’t really been done since; The State nailed it with this one. In addition to nailing the insincere tone college RAs always had and always will have, Kerri Kenney, Michael Ian Black, and Michael Showalter’s taped up faces never ceases to make me chuckle. This skit is tremendous.
BEST QUOTE: “Dancing, okay? Don’t get out of hand. Because last year I was in a mosh pit, things got a little rough, now I have tape all over my face, okay?”
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