From SF Weekly
January 26, 2009
By Oscar Pascual
Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 24 and 25, 2009
Eureka Theatre and Herbst Theatre
Better than: the Beatles, Jesus, and Pamela Anderson
I’m going to jump to the conclusion that you’re just like me — a productive member of society in their mid-to-late 20s, raised on watching a man who triumphantly proclaimed, “I wanna dip my balls in it!” with a set of ping-pong balls in hand. And I’m going to make that snap judgment based on the fact that tickets for the 90’s sketch comedy troupe The State sold out in a matter of minutes. Our generation eagerly enlightened and/or sullied our impressionable adolescent minds each week with scenes of men planning to visit the zoo to watch the monkeys make love, and Lotharios investing in 240 dollars worth of pudding for auto-erotic purposes.
For a brief couple of years in the mid-90s, The State was our religion — a lot like The Grateful Dead, Zep, or Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young for prior generations — only preaching absurdist comedy instead of guitars and beards. Unless you count the Bearded Men of Space Station 11. Of our great generation, a few hundred of us trekked the pilgrimage to SF’s annual Sketchfest to witness the reunion of our pop-culture Gods at the intimate Eureka Theatre.
Imagine, if you will, if the Eagles made a Hell Freezes Over tour stop at your local elementary school auditorium. There you have the makings of last Saturday’s double bill of performances at this ridiculously intimate venue. The evening began with a dance routine reintroducing all 11 original cast members — Joe Lo Truglio, Ken Marino, Michael Patrick Jann, Thomas Lennon, Kerri Kenney-Silver, Michael Ian Black, Robert Ben Garant, Todd Holoubek, Kevin Allison, Michael Showalter, and David Wain — playfully lip syncing to an upbeat Jackson 5 tune dressed up in paint-stained art smocks. The innocent, light-hearted intro would serve as a very wrong juxtaposition to what would be the State’s raunchy interpretation of the history of the world.
Todd Holoubek then took the stage as an amalgamation of Mark Twain, Colonel Sanders, and Thomas Lennon’s Old-Fashioned Guy. Inviting the small crowd to “take a trip back in time to see the brave men who shaped this nation,” the first sketch took us back to Spain in 1492 with Michael Ian Black as Christopher Columbus showing two fellow conquistadors his three newly named ships: the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Vagina.
Columbus states he named the final ship after “the part of the woman that smells like the sea.” When his counterparts (Showalter and Wain) urge Columbus to change the name of the Santa Vagina to the Santa Maria, Black argues, “Why would I name my pussy wagon after a virgin?” What would follow would be a series of all-new sketches portraying historic moments in a very inaccurate and hilarious manner. Joe LoTruglio became a Civil War amputee who mistakes his doctor and general (Lennon and Garant) as his family in his dying hallucination, making them act out their odd family tradition of deep kissing and “a good thumbing,” in the most comedic of all orifices. Black and Showalter would then be in a video projection of the “American History of Fucking,” a timeline sketch with Black as a pilgrim thrusting his pelvis and moaning, “Dost thou like it? Dost thou?” and Showalter as someone in the 1920’s proclaiming, “Hey, it’s the 20’s! Women now have the right to vote…for my dick!”
History went on to JFK (Lo Truglio) addressing the nation to counter Russia’s first gay in space by landing the first racist on the moon, the first successful sex-change patient (Kenney-Silver) disgruntled by the size of his/her penis only to be impressed by the fact that his/her right testicle has a button that plays R. Kelly’s “Chocolate Factory,” and a 1983 La Cosa Nostra meeting gone awry when the gangsters murder each other over a Carvell Cookypuss ice cream cake.
Their performance was just as good as any episode of their legendary MTV program, and they didn’t even do a single sketch from the old days. The only nostalgia offered were a few quickly uttered references (“I’m outta heeeeere,” and “I wanna dip my balls in it”) and the final song and dance number, “Porcupine Racetrack” from season 3. The State followed up Saturday’s performance with Sunday’s tribute conversation at the classy Herbst Theatre moderated by Janeane Garofalo, who starred alongside State members in Wet Hot American Summer.
While the prior night barely revisited their past, the State went through their own timeline of history this time around. The entire cast sat down to provide more insight to their decades of existence, from their formative years as drama and film students at NYU all the way to their various projects after the show ended in 1995. Thomas Lennon told a story about Kevin Allison’s attempts to join the group, not by auditioning, but by running around naked with a “fire engine bush” and yelling, “Don’t mind my gerbil penis!” They also filled in details on their departure from MTV, as they were never canceled, but left to flirt with the possibility of a prime time slot on a major network. Talks with ABC never quite panned out, and a tentative deal with CBS would give way to more geriatric programming. Most of them admitted to being “arrogant assholes back then”, with Robert Ben Garant passing the sagely advice, “If you get a job in television, don’t quit it.”
As open as they were about everything, they somehow didn’t want to get into the specifics of Viva Variety, the first State-related project after the show ended. They would only say that they were very angry with each other at the time, and David Wain made a comparison to another past-generation’s cultural icon. “It’s like the era of KISS when they didn’t wear makeup, nobody talks about that.” As it would seem, all have reconciled and have worked together on numerous and very funny collective projects, such as The Ten, Reno 911!, Wet Hot American Summer, and all kinds of off-chute side projects such as Stella. They’re like the Wu-Tang Clan of comedy. At long last, the State are back together and it’s just as sweet as 240 dollars worth of pudding.