Because I was lame as a teenager, I didn’t watch a lot of MTV. (Or is it the other way around: Was I lame as a teenager because I didn’t watch a lot of MTV? A deeper question for a deeper time.) Anyways, the point is that because I wasn’t really watching MTV during the 1990s, I missed out on The State, a memorable sketch comedy group whose 1993-1995 MTV series was a cultural touchstone for the friends I’d make as a 20-something. Because The State TV show wasn’t released on DVD until last summer, I was left catching up with the early antics of David Wain, Michael Ian Black, Michael Showalter and others via poor-quality YouTube bootlegs. But now I’m back where I started, sort of. Last week, The State started using Vimeo to create a channel of rarities — dozens of them — from the ground-breaking sketch comedy team.
According to the nearest accessible State fan I had handy (my roommate), some of these clips, which all appear to date from the early 1990s, are simply old shorts that haven’t previously seen the light of day, while others appear to be proof-of-concept pieces for an earlier series they worked on called You Wrote It, You Watch It, hosted by a very young Jon Stewart.
In these clips, State members reenact crowd-sourced ideas for comedy, such as what it would be like to be stuck in an elevator with Gilbert Gottfried or what might happen if you used money you’d been given for voice lessons to party with friends. The format isn’t all that exciting, but the actual writing and performances are on par with the show’s later years, not to mention contemporaries like The Kids in the Hall.
While State videos didn’t begin surfacing until last week, the Vimeo account has been active for nine months now, created initially to host a channel focusing on Stella, the team Showalter, Wain and Black formed together after The State. According to a Vimeo rep, when the videos appeared online the hosting site did confirm with the creators of the account that they were in fact actually members of The State and thus in theory owned the rights to these videos.
The technical quality of these videos isn’t great — there’s some hissing on the soundtrack, and you can sometimes see artifacts in the video reminiscent of being dubbed from VHS. But that just recaptures the bootlegging magic, and while there’s no sketch up that’s as funny as, say, $240 Worth of Pudding, that’s like being disappointed by a free hamburger because it’s not steak.
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