The sloppy demise of the mid ’90s most promising sketch comedy
brigade, “The State” came all too soon. The 11-person, New York
University-incubated crew of writers, performers and directors was
a desperately needed gasp of fresh air for anyone frustrated by the
stale, predictability of Jay Mohr-era Saturday Night Live. “The
State”‘s smart silliness fit in perfectly with MTV’s groundbreaking
original programming, including the Frisco edition of “Real World”
and the landmark social-commentary-as-poorly-drawn-cartoon “Beavis
But when the troupe attempted to make the jump from then-still
low-budget basic cable to the big time of network TV, they found
their progressive absurdity wasn’t quite as easy to sell to the
masses or the suits as they’d predicted.
The group splintered after a poorly rated CBS Halloween special
in ’95, but three members, Michael Ian Black, David Wain and
Michael Showalter, (the driving force behind cult favorite “Wet,
Hot American Summer” and regulars on VH1’s “I Love” shows) have
been gradually inching their way back to sketch comedy the last few
years with their underground shows in Manhattan under the singular
name of Stella.
Stella, whose lo-fi video segments are currently on display at
www.stellacomedy.com, really create anti-sketches, flogging
deconstructions of the dead horse of American comedy. Perhaps as
revenge for their bitter experiences with “The State”‘s fall, the
trio steer clear of cliched characters and forced punchlines,
opting to simply play dimwitted caricatures of themselves. Think of
slightly calmer versions of the Three Stooges as always suited,
sex-crazed urbanite dweebs with a habit for annoying people and
working dildos into almost every situation.
After the labored premises and unfunny reoccurring characters of
MAD TV and last season’s SNL, Stella scenes seem delightfully,
almost radically underwritten. “Turkey Hunting” and “Whiffleball”
are pretty much just the boys doing what the title suggests, trying
to hunt and play whiffleball in the park.
Most scenes break down into random violence or group sex, like a
16-year-old’s video-project outtakes. But the threesome’s
straight-faced, tongue-in-cheek delivery and cheap anarchism
intentionally hide how clever Black, Wain and Showalter are and how
much thought they are investing in something as ridiculous as
“Searching for Santa” or “Dickfish.”
Stella are currently planning to tape a Comedy Central special
at the end of the month in New York.