The 10 Best Sketches from The State

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?Over the years MTV has had a history of innovative sketch comedy shows that has included everything from The Idiot Box to Human Giant. Of these, The State remains the most enduringly popular. The 11 members of the eponymous sketch comedy troupe originally collaborated with the network on the short-lived Jon Stewart comedy show You Wrote It, You Watch It. They wowed the suits with their work on that program enough to get a development deal, and The State soon followed. At first, audiences didn’t know what to make of the series’ offbeat humor, what with it including jokes about eating Muppets and shoes with piggies on them and all. The critical reaction was so negative that eventually the troupe mocked their viciously bad reviews in a memorable promo that was accompanied by The Bee Gees’ “I Started a Joke.”

Fortunately, MTV remained committed to the show and through word of mouth it eventually earned the success it so rightly deserved. While The State left the airwaves following an ill-fated leap to CBS in 1995, it helped spawn such shows as Viva Variety and Reno 911! as well as the Stella comedy troupe/series and the feature Wet Hot American Summer. As any self-respecting comedy nerd will be eager to point out, the group’s members — Thomas Lennon, Michael Ian Black, Michael Showalter, David Wain, Kerri Kenney, Kevin Allison, Ben Garant, Michael Patrick Jann, Joe Lo Truglio and Todd Holoubek — are still heavily active in the entertainment industry. But what of the show that launched them all? Nearly 20 years later do you still wanna dip your balls in The State’s comedy? Of course you do, so start off by checking out this list of the show’s ten finest moments.

A quick note before we begin, due to Viacom removing most of the clips of the show from YouTube, the embedded videos featured in today’s Daily List aren’t up to the usual quality standards of what you expect from Topless Robot. So if you like what you see, be sure to buy the official DVD set to experience the series in all of it’s A/V glory.

10) Capt. Monterey Jack

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?With their unhappy grunge music and nihilistic attitudes, kids of the 1990s needed some guidance. Unfortunately for them, Captain Monterey Jack was on the case. As portrayed by Michael Ian Black, Jack was a motivation speaker who presented tough talk about what he felt were the big issues of the day (the character only made limited appearances on The State, slightly predating Chris Farley’s Matt Foley on Saturday Night Live). In his greatest sketch, Jack taught a group of teens the importance of having properly tied shoes. Think that is an inconsequential problem? Tell that to the grieving families of anyone killed in a shoelace-related escalator accident. This one gets bonus points for the Doug cameo, easily The State‘s most popular character. More on him in a bit.

9) The Barry Lutz Show

At the risk of incurring the wrath of Ingrid Newkirk, let me just clarify something here: real-life monkey torture isn’t funny. That said, this sketch featuring Michael Ian Black as a talk show host who is pitch perfect in his cluelessness and Thomas Lennon as an animal researcher who is all about mindfucking simians is totally hilarious. From Black’s Barry Lutz character showcasing his narcissism by introducing himself to a chimp to Michael Patrick Jann’s brief appearance as Lennon’s smarmy accomplice, this bit is crammed with nuances that reward repeat viewings. If nothing else, it serves as a nice warm-up to a Planet of the Apes movie marathon.

8) Superfriends

As this sketch illustrates, not even superheroes are immune to the bullying epidemic that is sweeping our nation. While his colleagues in the Justice League are given tasks that are vital to maintaining the safety of mankind, Aquaman is mocked relentlessly. Still though, you’ve got to kind of side with Superman here, no?

7) Sea Monkeys

About a decade ago, I decided on a whim to buy one of those elaborate Sea Monkey aquariums. Even though I intellectually knew that they were nothing more than brine shrimp, I kept hoping for the fun that was promised by the packaging. Instead, all I got were some gross-looking creatures that swam around their little tank until I accidentally knocked it over, spilling the little fuckers and the rancid water that had become their home all over my computer desk. When this occurred, the first thing I thought of was the above sketch and how terrifying (and just awful smelling) human-sized Sea Monkeys would actually be. Shudder.

6) Doug and Dad

Though it was a toss-up between what you see above and the insane Kabuki-themed Doug sketch from the series’ third season, this one has an advantage due to Michael Showalter’s tremendous performance as the disaffected teen who is always seeking a way “outtta heeeeeeeerrrrreeeee.” Surrounded by his equally sullen pals, Doug finds himself dealing with a “too cool” dad. Along the way, he discovers that Bob Dylan is his uncle and throws out a truly impressive Manimal reference. That’s right, Manimal folks. The only way this sketch could have been funnier would be if it name-checked Automan somehow.


5) The Jew, the Italian and the Red-Head Gay

Stereotypes come alive in this remarkable skit from the third season which, after exaggerating aspects of David Wain, Ken Marino and Kevin Allison’s real-life backgrounds, suddenly (and for no good reason, making it even more awesome) turns into an “Age of Aquarius”-styled musical number straight out of Hair. Overly PC folks were probably offended by this, but the rest of us were too busy laughing. Pointless State-themed trivia: In this sketch, Michael Showalter can be seen dressed as Jesus from Godspell — a musical that was also heavily referenced in Wet Hot American Summer.

4) Pants

When The State was finally released to DVD in 2009 after years of false starts, one of the biggest gripes was that the original music was removed from the episodes (blame MTV not wanting to pony up for the licensing fees). The problem was that often these songs had become such an integral part of the sketches that their removal was jarring. Which brings us to the “Pants” sketch. Originally, The Breeders’ “Cannonball” provided the soundtrack to Michael Ian Black’s revelatory discovery of the joys of trousers. It was replaced on the DVD with a sound-alike that alters the mood of the piece. The good news is that Black’s performance is still manic enough to make the humor work regardless. The original version of the sketch can be found on the Skits and Stickers compilation, so track that down, find someone with a VHS to DVD converter and you’re all set.

3) Louie and the Last Supper

With apologies to fans of “nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition” and “I’m crushing your head,” “I wanna dip my balls in it” remains the greatest sketch comedy catchphrase ever uttered. It almost didn’t turn out this way though. The Louie character — and his penchant for shouting about his balls — was originally created as a deconstruction of catchphrase humor. But it caught on massively, and the members of the troupe were encouraged to bring Louie back. Eventually, he found himself at the Last Supper, where he has the unique honor of upstaging a disgusted Jesus (who moans that Louie’s recurring gag is nothing more than a cheap joke). Religious satire and lowbrow humor hasn’t been this funny since Life of Brian, and Louie continues to comedically teabag new fans to this day.

2) $240 Worth of Pudding

Thomas Lennon and Michael Ian Black made food fetishes pimpalicious with their Barry and Levon characters. Why were they so into pudding? How many boxes of the stuff can you get for $240? We never learned the answers to this question. But really, who cares? All that matters is that these guys knew how to work that sweet sweet pudding. Aww yeah! Like the aforementioned “Pants” sketch, the DVD version of “$240 Worth of Pudding” excises the original music track (in this case Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing”) for a generic bit of somewhat bland musical sexiness. The same solution to this problem as mentioned above applies here as well.

1) Porcupine Racetrack

“I know that I’m a sinner, but I really need a winner or the orphanage will close” is just one of the overly dramatic lines in this Thomas Lennon-penned skewering of musical theater. Not only does it deflate Andrew Lloyd Webber-style self-important musicals, but it also is the perfect realization of the surreal flourishes that the troupe loved infusing their sketches with. Yet, like the songs of This Is Spinal Tap and Walk Hard, it also works as a legitimate tune (okay, a very goofy one, but still). Easily the most ambitious sketch that aired on The State, “Porcupine Racetrack” remains the group’s masterpiece.