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the-state.com

15 Things You Might Not Know About The State

the-state.com
the-state.com

For a little over 18 months in the '90s, Kevin Allison, Michael Ian Black, Ben Garant, Todd Holoubek, Michael Patrick Jann, Kerri Kenney, Thomas Lennon, Joe Lo Truglio, Ken Marino, Michael Showalter and David Wain wrote, directed, produced, and starred in the sketch comedy show The State. After almost 20 years, they're still influencing a new generation of comedians. Members of the sketch group continue to create, directing and acting in movies and television, writing books, and starring on podcasts.

The very latest project from State alums is the romcom spoof They Came Together, the long awaited second Showalter and Wain writing collaboration after Wet Hot American Summer. To celebrate, let's look back at this influential show and the people who made it.

1. THE STATE WAS ORIGINALLY KNOWN AS "THE NEW GROUP."

Todd Holoubek, an NYU sophomore at the time, ditched the sketch comedy group Sterile Yak to start The New Group in 1988. The New Group consisted of the eleven NYU students and performers that would make up the cast of the show and come up with a brand new name: "The State: Full-Frontal Comedy." Of course, that name would later get shortened.

2. THEIR FIRST PAID GIG WAS OPENING FOR DENNIS MILLER.

At first, the troupe performed in campus drama labs and in small downtown New York theaters. They could do what they pleased in the theaters, so long as they could pay the rental fee. In 1990, the group opened for Dennis Miller, and they were paid the equivalent of a weekly theater rental, $1,000, to split evenly amongst themselves.

3. THE GROUP MADE THEIR TV DEBUT ON YOU WROTE IT, YOU WATCH IT.

The State first got MTV's attention by creating demo segments for You Wrote It, You Watch It, a Jon Stewart-hosted show where comedians performed recreations of letters sent in by viewers. Hired by the network to produce 28 sketches, the troupe somehow managed to get full autonomy in all of the aspects of production. The program would only last one season, existing today only as a footnote in Jon Stewart's career.

4. MTV INITIALLY ORDERED SIX EPISODES OF THE STATE, AND HAD AN INTERESTING REQUEST.

Liking what they saw from You Wrote It, You Watch It and a pilot the troupe filmed, MTV picked up The State for six episodes. As part of the deal, the network insisted that the group provide a list of "pre-existing characters" that would come under MTV's control, possibly to star in a spin-off or a movie someday. From the beginning, The State weren't keen on creating recurring characters and the inevitable catch phrases that came along with them.

Only three of the 22 characters on the list—Captain Monteray Jack, Don Law, and James Dixon—ever made appearances on the show. Two characters that weren't conceived from the very beginning as part of the deal with MTV but who nonetheless made repeated appearances were Ken Marino's Louie and Michael Showalter's Doug. Both characters were used to make fun of television shows that featured catch phrases.

5. TO PROMOTE THE SHOW, THEY DESTROYED THE JON STEWART SHOW'S SET.

In its final segment of 1993, The Jon Stewart Show welcomed The State. With the host's permission, they destroyed his set.

6. THE INITIAL REVIEWS FOR THE STATE WERE REALLY, REALLY NEGATIVE.

According to the New York Post, every MTV executive who green lit The State should have been made to take a urine test. However, the show capitalized on negative season one reviews with a "Miserable Crap" promo. Scored to "I Started a Joke," the commercial featured the entire cast in various degrees of anger and depression, unable to enjoy a beautiful afternoon outdoors while the meanest reviews were superimposed.

The reviews would soon improve, but the initial media scorn helped give the show its underdog, cult identity. The back of The State shirts given away with initial DVD purchases in 2009 feature an excerpt form The Daily News review of the show: "It's so terrible it deserves to be studied. Every scene and performance should be examined in detail so that MTV is sure never, ever to produce anything like it again ... a historic mess."

7. THE SHOW WAS CENSORED.

The State quickly discovered that any reference to guns or drugs would be cut in the script or even the shooting stages of production. One call from an animal rights organization permanently edited a cruise sketch so cats were no longer thrown into the water (obviously no cats were actually thrown into a body of water). Michael Showalter recalls that they were unable to do any sketch about an albino and that whenever fun-loving Louie proudly proclaimed he wanted to "dip his balls" into something, he had to be holding a pair of golf balls in his hand.

8. THE STATE COMPLAINED ABOUT MTV TO THE NEW YORK TIMES.

After getting a 13 episode renewal, the group talked to The New York Times about MTV's insistence on dumbing down the show. They cited rejections of office sketches because the network felt a youthful audience wouldn't relate to the setting, and a dismissal of a Catcher in the Rye reference as too esoteric. The State claimed that they shoehorned Bob Dylan references into many of the shows after the network figured their audience wouldn't know who Bob Dylan was. Showalter was quoted as saying, "It's interesting MTV has a very low opinion of its audience," and the interview caused a public rift between the show and the network. MTV Senior Vice President Doug Herzog was "distraught" [PDF] over the article, saying that talking about the problems in print was "amateurish" and "unprofessional."

9. DESPITE OFFERING A 65-EPISODE RENEWAL, THE STATE LEFT MTV.

Because of frustrations about censorship and rumors of interest from broadcast networks to possibly steal the show so it could compete head-to-head with Saturday Night Live, the group left MTV in the middle of 1995. They soon signed a deal with CBS, leaving an offer of 65 more episodes with MTV on the table. Thomas Lennon claimed that they didn't hear about the offer "until much later," but as Kevin Allison put it, the group wanted to take a big risk anyway. CBS and The State agreed to Halloween and New Year's specials before going to series.

10. SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE SABOTAGED THE STATE'S CBS SPECIAL.

Despite the departure of founder Todd Holoubek, rehearsals for The State's 43rd Anniversary Halloween Special were running relatively smoothly. CBS wanted a "hip" musical guest and suggested Hootie & The Blowfish; the network and group eventually agreed to Blues Traveler. Five days before shooting began, Blues Traveler announced that they couldn't make it—they had been booked at the last minute to perform on the season premiere of Saturday Night Live. Sonic Youth was dispatched to take Blues Traveler's place.

11. PETER DINKLAGE WAS IN THE SPECIAL, PLAYING THE DEVIL.

David Lipsky was with the group throughout the production of the CBS special for a Details Magazine article. He now describes meeting actor Peter Dinklage for the first time during the special's filming:

"I'm the only person around when a very small, handsome man wearing a sweatshirt, leather jacket and jeans walks into the green room—Pete Dinklage, the dwarf. He sits down, reads a copy of The New Yorker, then hurries himself off to wardrobe to find his costume."

Dinklage portrayed Lucifer in the show's opening sketch about how the group must have a death wish for agreeing to do the special in the first place. He had no lines; it was one of Dinklage's first on-screen appearances.

12. THE SPECIAL CAUSED A LOT OF CONTROVERSY MONTHS AFTER IT AIRED.

The Halloween Special notably received a four-star review from Michele Greppi of the New York Post, who gave their MTV series one of its most negative reviews ("That was then, this is wow"). A lack of promotion, to the point where David Wain was receiving e-mails from fans the week of asking if the special was ever going to appear, led to poor ratings and a quick end to the CBS deal. The Halloween Special aired on October 27, 1995. The cast's management got the news from CBS late night chief John Pike that they were canceled four days later, on Halloween.

But that would not be the last anyone heard of Pike. Months later, Pinsky's Details article alleged that Pike made unflattering comments about African-Americans during a meeting with the sketch group while detailing who their potential audience was. Pike denied making the comments, but would resign from his job. The State was in the Bahamas working on their next project when Pike's comments became public, and they were unable to address the controversy.

13. THEY TRIED TO MAKE A MOVIE FOR DISNEY, BUT IT NEVER HAPPENED.

The State had a deal with Disney to develop a movie, but repeatedly found that their artistic tendencies were not compatible. "The Disney thing was a classic example of them telling us that they love us and want to do a State movie, and then every idea we gave them, they were like, 'No, could you make it more of a regular Hollywood movie?" David Wain said. One idea that was eventually rejected was Hello, Puberty!, a comedy set in high school. It featured tons of State-type jokes, like a jealous high school kid marrying a 53-year-old lunch lady.

14. A STATE ALBUM WAS RECORDED, THEN SHELVED FOR OVER A DECADE.

Comedy For Gracious Living was written and recorded in early 1996 in Nassau, Bahamas, intended for release by Warner Brothers. Both the group and the record label had been counting on a CBS series and a Disney movie to promote the album, but when none of those things happened, it was shelved. It took 14 years for Rhino Records to take the initiative to release it, despite some members of the group remembering it not being up to their standards (apparently, the clinking of ice in rum glasses was audible on the CD).

15. THE LAST TIME THE TROUPE PERFORMED TOGETHER ON TELEVISION, THEY WERE RECITING SHAKESPEARE.

A Norm MacDonald-hosted MTV's Spring Break '96 in Panama City, Florida featured a final performance by all members of The State (not counting Holoubek). The sketch, "Hard On Shakespeare," was a thinly veiled final message about network interference.

The group almost completed a full reunion on the January 28, 2014 episode of @midnight (a show that Thomas Lennon and Ben Garant executive produce), but fell a Kevin Allison and Todd Holoubek short.

The original 11 members would all appear together a few times over the years outside of television: on stage at the 2000 New York Comedy Festival, at the UCB theater in Los Angeles in 2008, and in January 2009 at the San Francisco Sketchfest. In addition, every member has either featured or made a cameo appearance in the films Reno 911! Miami and The Ten.

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Shout! Factory
10 Surprising Facts About Mr. Mom
Shout! Factory
Shout! Factory

John Hughes penned the script for 1983's Mr. Mom, a comedy about a family man named Jack Butler (Micheal Keaton) who loses his job. To ensure their three kids are taken care of, his wife, Caroline (Teri Garr), goes back to work—leaving Jack to fight off a vacuum cleaner and learn why it's never a good idea to feed chili to a baby.

In 1982, Keaton turned in a star-making role in Ron Howard’s Night Shift, but Mr. Mom marked the first time he headlined a movie, and it launched his career. Hughes had written National Lampoon's Vacation, which—oddly enough—was released in theaters the weekend after Mr. Mom. But Hughes himself was still a relative unknown, as it would be another year before he entered the teen flick phase of his career, which would make him iconic.

In the meantime, Mr. Mom hit home for a lot of viewers, as the economy was on the downturn and more and more women were entering (or reentering) the workforce. But some people think that the movie's ending—which sees the couple revert to traditional gender roles—sidelined the movie's message. Still, on the 35th anniversary of its release, Mr. Mom remains an ahead-of-its-time comedy classic.

1. IT'S BASED ON A TRUE STORY.

Mr. Mom producer Lauren Shuler Donner came across a funny article John Hughes had written for National Lampoon. Based on that, she contacted him and the two became friends. “One day, he was telling me that his wife had gone down to Arizona and he was in charge of the two boys and he didn’t know what he was doing,” Donner told IGN. “It was hilarious! I was on the floor laughing. He said, ‘Do you think this would make a good movie?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, this is really funny.’ So he said, ‘Well, I have about 80 pages in a drawer. Would you look at it?’ So I looked at it and I said, ‘This is great! Let’s do it!’ We kind of developed it ourselves.” In the book Movie Moguls Speak, Donner mentioned how Hughes “had never been to a grocery store, he had never operated a vacuum cleaner. John was so ignorant, that in his ignorance, he was hilarious.”

The players involved with the movie told Donner and Hughes they thought it should be a TV movie. Hughes had a TV deal with Aaron Spelling, who came aboard to executive produce. “Then the players involved were upset because John was writing out of Chicago instead of L.A.,” Donner said in Movie Moguls Speak. “They fired John and brought in a group of TV writers. In the end, John and I were muscled out. It was a good movie, but if you ever read John’s original script for Mr. Mom, it’s far better.”

2. JOHN HUGHES REJECTED THE IDEA OF DIRECTING MR. MOM.

Stan Dragoti ended up directing the film, but only after Hughes turned it down, because he preferred to make his movies in Chicago, not Hollywood. “I don’t like being around the people in the movie business,” Hughes told Roger Ebert. “In Hollywood, you spend all of your time having lunch and making deals. Everybody is trying to shoot you down. I like to get my actors out here where we can make our movies in privacy.” Hughes remained in Chicago and filmed his directorial debut, Sixteen Candles, there.

3. MICHAEL KEATON GOT THE ROLE BECAUSE OF NIGHT SHIFT.

In 1982’s Night Shift, Keaton’s character works at a morgue and starts a prostitution ring with co-worker Henry Winkler. Donner had an agent friend, Laurie Perlman, who represented the not-yet-famous actor. She contacted Donner and pitched Keaton to her. “’Look, I represent this guy who is really funny. Would you meet with him?’" Donner recalled of the conversation. "So I met with him. Usually I don’t like to do this unless we’re casting, but I met with him because she was my friend. And then she said, ‘You have to see this movie Night Shift that he’s in.’ So I went to see Night Shift, and midway through I couldn’t wait to get out of that theater to give Mr. Mom to Michael Keaton. Fortunately, he liked it."

Keaton told Grantland that he turned down one of the main roles in Splash to play Jack Butler. “I just remember at the time thinking I wanted to get away from what I’d just done on Night Shift,” he said. “I thought if I do it again, I might get myself stuck. So then Mr. Mom came along. So I said no [to Splash] so I could set up this framework right away where I could do different things.”

4. THE FILM BROKE NEW GROUND.

Teri Garr, Michael Keaton, Taliesin Jaffe, Frederick Koehler, and Martin Mull in Mr. Mom (1983)
Shout! Factory

In 1983, more women stayed at home than worked, so it was a novelty for a man to be a stay-at-home dad. Today, an estimated 1.4 million men are stay-at-home dads, and 7 million men are their children's primary caregiver. “Mr. Mom became part of the vernacular,” Donner told Newsweek. “Mr. Mom represented a segment of men who were at home dealing with the kids who, up until then, really hadn’t been heard from. That’s what really told me about the power of film, because it spoke for a lot of men. It also helped women, because I think that women sometimes, if you’re a housewife, you’re not really appreciated for what you do. This sort of made women feel better about what they did because they knew that men were understanding it.”

5. TODAY, “MR. MOM” IS CONSIDERED A PEJORATIVE TERM.

More than 30 years after the film’s release, stay-at-home dads feel the term “Mr. Mom” should die. The National At-Home Dad Network launched a campaign to terminate the phrase and instead have people refer to men as “Dad.” In 2014 Lake Superior State University voted to banish “Mr. Mom” from the lexicon.

“At least, the pop-culture image of the inept dad who wouldn’t know a diaper genie from a garbage disposal has begun to fade,” wrote The Wall Street Journal, after declaring “Mr. Mom is dead.”

6. TERI GARR DIDN’T KNOW IT WAS A MESSAGE MOVIE.

The movie redefined gender roles, but when the producers pitched the premise to Garr, they hid the plot reversal. “They just told me it was about a guy who does the work that a woman does, because it’s so easy,” she told The A.V. Club. “And I went, ‘Oh, yeah. Ha ha.’ It’s so easy. All the women I know who stay home and take care of their kids, they go, ‘Oh yeah, this is easy.’ Hmm.”

7. MARTIN MULL IMPROVISED THE “220, 221” LINE.

The quote everyone remembers from the movie comes from Jack, holding a chainsaw, standing next to Ron Richardson (Martin Mull) and discussing what kind of wiring Jack will use in renovating the house: “220, 221, whatever it takes,” Jack says.

“We’re doing the scene and it was okay,” Keaton told Esquire. “And I remember saying to the prop guy, ‘Go find me a chainsaw.’ When he comes back with it, he says, ‘You wanna wear these?’ And he holds up some goggles. I go, ‘Yeah.’ You know, they make me look crazy. And when Martin shows up, I know I should look under control, I’m not sweating it. I’m a dude. So we’re standing there, Martin pulls me aside and says, ‘You know what you ought to say? When I ask about the wiring, you oughta just deadpan: ‘220, 221.’ I died. It was perfect. I may have added ‘whatever it takes.’ But it was his.”

“That was a little ad-lib that we just threw in, but every carpenter or construction person I’ve ever worked with, they’re always quoting that line from Mr. Mom,” Mull told The A.V. Club.

8. MR. MOM OUTGROSSED HUGHES’S OTHER 1983 SUMMER MOVIE—VACATION.

Mr. Mom only opened on 126 screens on July 22, 1983, but managed to gross $947,197 during its opening weekend. Once the film went wide a month later to 1235 screens, it hit number one at the box office and spent five weeks at the top. By the end of its run, the film had grossed just shy of $65 million, making it the ninth highest-grossing film of 1983 (just between Staying Alive and Risky Business). National Lampoon’s Vacation, Hughes’s other film that summer, came out July 29 and ended its theatrical run with $61,399,552 (at its height, it showed on 1248 screens). Vacation finished the year in 11th place.

9. THE MOVIE LED TO HUGHES BEING CALLED “A PURVEYOR OF HORNY SEX COMEDIES.”

During a 1986 interview with Seventeen magazine, Molly Ringwald asked the writer-director why he never showed teen sex in Sixteen Candles or The Breakfast Club. “In Sixteen Candles, I figured it would only be gratuitous to show Samantha and Jake in anything more than a kiss,” he said. “The kiss is the most beautiful moment. I was really amused when someone once called me a ‘purveyor of horny sex comedies.’ He listed The Breakfast Club and Mr. Mom in parentheses. I thought, ‘What kind of sex?’ Yes, in Mr. Mom there’s a baby in a bathtub and you see its bare butt.”

10. MR. MOM WAS MADE INTO A TV MOVIE AFTER ALL.

In the beginning, producers wanted Mr. Mom to be a TV movie, not a feature film. But a year after the film came out in theaters, ABC produced a TV movie called Mr. Mom, with the same characters and premise. Barry Van Dyke played Jack and Rebecca York played Caroline. A People magazine review of the movie stated: “They and their three kids are immediately likable … But it goes downhill from there as the script lobotomizes all its characters. Here’s a textbook case in how TV takes a cute idea—and a script that does have some good lines—and leeches the wit out of it.”

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Ernest Hemingway’s Guide to Life, In 20 Quotes
Central Press/Getty Images
Central Press/Getty Images

Though he made his living as a writer, Ernest Hemingway was just as famous for his lust for adventure. Whether he was running with the bulls in Pamplona, fishing for marlin in Bimini, throwing back rum cocktails in Havana, or hanging out with his six-toed cats in Key West, the Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winning author never did anything halfway. And he used his adventures as fodder for the unparalleled collection of novels, short stories, and nonfiction books he left behind, The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, Death in the Afternoon, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and The Old Man and the Sea among them.

On what would be his 119th birthday—he was born in Oak Park, Illinois on July 21, 1899—here are 20 memorable quotes that offer a keen perspective into Hemingway’s way of life.

ON THE IMPORTANCE OF LISTENING

"I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen."

ON TRUST

"The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them."

ON DECIDING WHAT TO WRITE ABOUT

"I never had to choose a subject—my subject rather chose me."

ON TRAVEL

"Never go on trips with anyone you do not love."


Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston. [1], Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

ON THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN INTELLIGENCE AND HAPPINESS

"Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know."

ON TRUTH

"There's no one thing that is true. They're all true."

ON THE DOWNSIDE OF PEOPLE

"The only thing that could spoil a day was people. People were always the limiters of happiness, except for the very few that were as good as spring itself."

ON SUFFERING FOR YOUR ART

"There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed."

ON TAKING ACTION

"Never mistake motion for action."

ON GETTING WORDS OUT

"I wake up in the morning and my mind starts making sentences, and I have to get rid of them fast—talk them or write them down."


Photograph by Mary Hemingway, in the Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston., Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

ON THE BENEFITS OF SLEEP

"I love sleep. My life has the tendency to fall apart when I'm awake, you know?"

ON FINDING STRENGTH 

"The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places."

ON THE TRUE NATURE OF WICKEDNESS

"All things truly wicked start from innocence."

ON WRITING WHAT YOU KNOW

"If a writer knows enough about what he is writing about, he may omit things that he knows. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one ninth of it being above water."

ON THE DEFINITION OF COURAGE

"Courage is grace under pressure."

ON THE PAINFULNESS OF BEING FUNNY

"A man's got to take a lot of punishment to write a really funny book."


By Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston. - JFK Library, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

ON KEEPING PROMISES

"Always do sober what you said you'd do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut."

ON GOOD VS. EVIL

"About morals, I know only that what is moral is what you feel good after and what is immoral is what you feel bad after."

ON REACHING FOR THE UNATTAINABLE

"For a true writer, each book should be a new beginning where he tries again for something that is beyond attainment. He should always try for something that has never been done or that others have tried and failed. Then sometimes, with great luck, he will succeed."

ON HAPPY ENDINGS

"There is no lonelier man in death, except the suicide, than that man who has lived many years with a good wife and then outlived her. If two people love each other there can be no happy end to it."

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