Just a few short days after moving into my second Brooklyn sublet, while I was still exploring its own rich quirks from the extensive comic book collection to the hodgepodge mix of furniture, my roommates hit me with bombshell news for a potential celebrity sighting that would trump all others so far.
Michael Showalter is a resident of the building. Just two floors down.
In our relatively small building with only four apartments, the chances for intersection on the stairwell and multiple passings of pleasantries were high. But not wanting to cast my lot on happenstance, I immediately began drafting a full-on, creepy to the max, has-to-go-before-a-trial-judge-before-it-stops stalking campaign.
Stalking, but with a very defined, even noble purpose, mind you: Showalter must answer the question once and for all of when I am going to get the goddamned State on DVD.
My roommates saw him occasionally over the months. Not exactly the most outwardly friendly person, they said, though roommate Christine had several discussions with him; roommate Charlie had only exchanged a few words here and there. Roommate Brittany said she sometimes would check whether he was home by reading his blog.
Indeed, when I went downstairs the next day, one of the mailboxes had his name on it, accompanied by a name of another person he is listed as living with on Wikipedia. Wikipedia being the salted cud at which all human knowledge licks, any remaining skepticism weakened.
Then, sifting through the mail one day (completely legit I SWEAR, FEDERAL AUTHORITIES, because all the mail for the building comes in one pile), I found this:
This news came only a few days after watching Wet Hot American Summer again with a group at the home of L. Golfer, who named her cat Coop after Showalter’s character. Her friends recite nearly every line from the movie Rocky Horror-style. I was impressed at their rampant fangirlism.
The State on DVD, as any fan will tell you through gathering tears, is quickly turning into one of the last remaining pop culture unicorns, even as other contemporary improbabilities such as Chinese Democracy somehow stumbled into the world of the tangible. The State for me and others represents everything that was right about Generation X and MTV at its peak in the 90s — absurdism as a means of shaking up boundaries, grunge-fueled wild binges of humor and art, the last vestiges of what it was like to be part of an alternative culture operating below the mainstream radar before the alternative got absorbed by the ever-hungry gaping maw of its parent. They spoofed MTV Sports and spoke as a cast directly to Chelsea Clinton. They lampooned censorship and publicity stunts while never seeming to care that much about the topics beyond the humorous impacts.
And it was retarded funny.These were the years when Saturday Night Live was funny but reeking of staleness and the only competition deemed worthy of a prime spot was the middle-school fart joke known as Mad TV.* Even Kids In the Hall sketches were occasionally over long, and the genre’s sainted king, Monty Python, was often the kind of humor you laughed at more inside your head more than outside on later viewings.
Before the internet created a free market for creativity, with FunnyOrDie and Dr. Horrible challenging the tyranny of the TV network board room, and before Stewart and Colbert provided a nightly sanity check, The State was a vehicle for salvation, though ultimately, a short-lived one. Not to mention the group got its start doing bits for the Jon Stewart show, “You Wrote It, You Watch It.”
The State found humor in juxtaposition, nihilism and octane, from the discussion of what kind of wine goes with Muppet to the classic Louie appearance at the Last Supper, to the cerebral discussion of monkey torture. And I don’t doubt that it was the perfect show for its time and place that probably would not have worked outside the context of the mid-90s.
Most cast members from the show went on to varied comedy projects like Reno 911!, the well-reviewed live show Stella followed by the terrible Comedy Central program of the same name, several movies and, for Michael Ian Black, a thriving career in VH-1 instant nostalgia. Some reunion shows have taken place, and more projects are in talks.
But no sign of the DVDs. The internet says this is because the show was broadcast during a time when MTV had the rights to a vast pantheon of contemporary music. Obtaining the rights to the songs now (“Cannonball” or “Supernova,” for instance) would be too costly. They released the first season of the show on iTunes a few years back with rerecorded, generic versions of the songs in place.
It just wasn’t the same. The problem is: the music is an integral part of the aesthetic of the show. You couldn’t put a DVD together and change the names of “Barry and Levon” to “Burt and Lenny”; you couldn’t change the beards of Space Station 11 to mustaches or put Louie in a bowtie. And you can’t have the Pants sketch without “Cannonball.”
The show was visual grunge — scruffy faced, disaffected slackers scouring the bottom of the Buzz Bin for something new and different for a vastly unsatisfied generation.
Back at my building earlier this month, I passed by Showalter’s room a few days later to see the door open. I craned my neck to peak inside. My heart sank like frozen pudding. The signs of a move in progress were apparent. Later that day, the name tag had been ripped from his mail slot.
Roommate Christine ran into him a few days later. Turns out he moved just down the street. The chances for an encounter still exist. He also frequents local coffee shops and comedy performances, and is working on other shows, including one with Michael Ian Black.
Scour the intertubes and you’ll find most State fans have given up on ever getting the series released on DVD, even as trash like “According to Jim” and “Delta Farce” are replicated for home viewing almost instantly. Fans have for now resigned themselves to coveting deteriorating VHS copies of the show, like one I came across sophomore year of college that was six hours long (with commercials edited out). Sorry, expensive education — I need to watch a grown man in a button-up short-sleeved shirt dip his balls in things.
Only the other day did it hit me that Showalter and I both live on State Street; me only temporarily and him for who knows how long, since he clearly could’ve afforded more lavish digs anywhere else in Brooklyn or Manhattan solely from the income from The Michael Showalter Showalter alone.
Maybe he chose to live on State Street for the same reasons I did: because he remembers what it’s like to be broke and struggling, to be in love with time and place and circumstance and determined to forge even a small path to success through unconventional means. The spirit of Brooklyn is multi-generational but still frenetic, pushed on by music and art and young people of all ages wandering the streets, always scouring the skyline and gutter for something new and exciting before the rest of the world catches on.
Maybe there’s still hope for a State DVD some day. Us bearded men of apartment 5 will still hold out hope.
*I have memories of The Edge being pretty funny,though also short-lived. I don’t entirely trust my memory on this. Other input is welcome.