Last weekend's 90s party at the Bell House. Allegedly. (Photos by metromix NY)
On the subject of nostalgia, it was recently brought to my attention (by the aforementioned CDR Radio, of all places) that the ushering in of a new decade this year means one terrifying thing: for the next 10 years, will all be subjected to the 50th anniversaries of everything that happened in the 1960s. Everything baby boomer, all over again, this time gilded with the cheap coat of golden paint that comes at the half-century mark. The Beatles and Vietnam, Camelot and The Graduate, The Sound of Music and bell bottoms, paisley and Dylan, Julie Andrews and Mao Zedong, Philip K. Dick and Dr. Seuss. Basically everything that defined our parents’ generation and set them apart from the blocks of clean-cut, button-down 1950s that framed their upbringing and set up what is probably the first truly iconic, identity obsessed, pop culture generation. It’s the same stuff we’ve been hearing about in repetition for the past 25, 15, 10 years, lauding it over again and again with re-releases, Rock Band memorials, commemorative plates and musical collections sold late at night by actors whose faces were last on TV during the space race.
On the news this week that the tragically under-appreciated Dana Carvey Show will be released on DVD this May, here’s one of the classic clips that show just how much of an important step in the evolution of cultural comedy this show represented. Years before any of them had successful solo careers, the show was home to pre-Triumph Robert Smigel, pre-airplane rant Louis C.K, pre-Malkovich Charlie Kaufman (!), and pre-Even Stevens Steve Carell and Stephen Colbert. Other great bits included the guys who pull pranks by paying for gas then driving away without paying, Carell’s German’s Who Say Nice Things, and the ongoing meta joke of a sponsor’s name in front of the show title every week.
That makes one more inhabitant of the smart-but-under-appreciated shows on DVD realm. Are you listening, The State?
Germans Who Say Nice Things, and Waiters Nauseated by Food
1. Ate dinner in a restaurant down the block one table over from Billy Joel and Christie Brinkley’s daughter, Alexa Ray Joel.
2. Might possibly have kinda stumbled up the apartment stairs half drunk and decided to … sort of … borrow … a projector screen that belonged to Michael Ian Black at one point.
1. Roommates Brittany and Christine eyed the adjacent table when the party first sat down and launched into hushed-tones conversation about where they recognized the people from. After many minutes of debate and brain-searching, an epiphany was reached. Christine pulled out a pen, quickly scribbled something onto a napkin and passed it over to my side of the table: “That’s Billy Joel’s daughter,” it said.
How could you possibly know such a thing?, I asked later. We just do, they said. Brittany is apparently an eagle-eyed celebrity scout. Good thing we left when we did too, Brit and Christine said, because another margarita or two and their tendency to spew forth inappropriate comments about adjacent tables would have come out. And I may even have joined in with my opinion about how BJ is only the second-best piano player from my childhood, well behind Rowlf the dog.
2. How could you possibly know such a thing?, you’re asking me as you read this. Two reasons: One, because of previous knowledge of the building’s most notable former tenant. The other reason might have something to do with this:
little edible luggage? yeah, that does sound good!
The projector screen has been sitting up against the wall of the hallway for nigh on two years now (as the baggage claim date shows) and seeing as Showalter has now vacated the building, the consensus in our apartment (by a 2-1 vote, at least) was that it was up for grabs at this point. Much trash is often left out in our building hallway for grabs or until someone finally decides to take it down to the curb, a collection that also includes: a 24 (the TV show) board game, a case of empty bottles of He’Brew, the “chosen beer,” and the sad remnants of what looks like a futon.
for advance screenings of I Love the 80s
There is a purpose to this borrowing of the discarded film equipment, of course. Our apartment has no TV but does have a projector that takes input from DVD players, VHS and laptops, projected onto the living room wall. With a real screen, Christine said, we can finally paint that wall a new color. With a new screen, Brittany said, we can finally hold dinner parties and show interesting film footage as background entertainment. With a screen, I though, finally no one will have an excuse not to watch my hour-long Powerpoint presentation on new revenue models and cost dividend projections for fiscal solvency in the digital age of newspapers.
All this while, a disgustingly overdue reunion of The State is taking place in San Francisco, and Showalter and Black’s new show, Michael and Michael Have Issues, is getting picked up for a full season. So I’m pretty sure they can afford another one if needed.
But if they ever want the screen back, wacky neighbor Michael Ian Black is welcome to knock on the window and ask for it, at which point I’m sure we will be glad to hand it over, if this crazy sideways apartment doesn’t kill us first.
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 allothers so far.
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:
not pictured: return address of Porcupine Racetrack
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.