On July 14th, 2009 my life officially changed with the release of The State for the first time ever on DVD (after years of promises and rumors). If you’re not familiar with The State, shame on you, but you can check out their official website, or read up on the troupe here. Since receiving the complete series (thank you, Amazon) I have watched (listened to) all the episode commentaries and viewed all the unaired sketches (with and without commentary). However, it was after watching (listening to) the Role Models DVD commentary (by director and State member David Wain) last night that I was inspired to create my own list of the Top Ten State Sketches. Then after trying to narrow it down to a top ten, I decided those that didn’t make the cut deserved honorable mention. But on to those that placed! In a particular order, based solely on my opinion, here they are:
1. The Race
As far as I know, not widely regarded as one of their best, but I’ve always had a special place in my heart for this one. A friendly race between father and son soon turns into a scene from Deathproof. Includes one of my favorite exchanges:
– “See you in hell!”
– “How ’bout I meet you there.” – as Michael Showalter spouts saliva in every which direction.
2. Prison Break
For some reason I always link this sketch with “Race,” and I have a hard time deciding which one I prefer One of the most well produced and slick looking of the film pieces, this bit finds Tom Lennon’s convict Jimmy Mulligan escaping from Lowell Maximum Security Prison. It’s absurd, but played so seriously it works. Also, any sketch that can includes as a plot device Yom Kippur is bound to make my list. To this day I still inform others that an area is “off-limits” as a favor to me.
*sorry, this sketch doesn’t seem to be available online and all I could find was this tiny, tiny jpeg.
3. Porcupine Racetrack
The State’s magnum opus, a full on song and dance number about, well, a Porcupine Racetrack. It has some yuks, like David Wain break dancing and a singing porcupine, but what really makes this one stand out as their masterwork is that it’s not a joke. It’s an earnest and entertaining musical performance that succeeds because it’s good, not because it’s funny.
Vodpod videos no longer available.
4. Balogna Foot
Probably the sketch that made me fall in love with The State. Again, crazy premise, a kid with meat for feet, but it’s played straight. What makes it so funny is how real it is, as if he were any run of the mill outcast. When Michael Showalter says “Sometimes I wonder, if I was stranded on a desert island, would I eat my feet? You know what, I don’t think I would,” you really believe it. Bonus points to Tom Lennon for corner kicking a soccer ball right into Todd Holoubeck’s groin.
*Showalter, it seems, has an affinity for abnormal feet, as seen in this recent Michael and Michael Have Issues sketch.
5. Taco Man
I didn’t have tacos growing up, and one time refused to get anything from Taco Bell except for a Pepsi. But this sketch made tacos look good, even before I knew how good they were. One of their most off-beat sketches, filled with awkward silences, twisted even further by the closing line “That was the longest conversation I have ever had.” We should all be so lucky to have such delightful conversation.
6. Blueberry Johnson
Michael Showalter’s character is like the Joker crossed with Violet Beauregarde and strong editing skills. A wannabee children’s show host, Blueberry demonstrates he (she?) has the passion and the looks, but maybe not the gentle touch. Also, I’m convinced Molly Shannon stole her SNL character Helen Madden’s catchphrase, “I love it, I love it, I love it,” from Blueberry. If only “Blueberry Muffins in the Morning with Richard Dreyfuss” was real.
Vodpod videos no longer available.
7. The Jew, The Italian and the Red Head Gay
Perhaps as memorable as “Porcupine Racetrack,” maybe because it ends with another stirring full cast musical number. Extremely simple, and extremely short, it really is nothing more than the title personified, the characters speaking only in stereotypes, like tomato sauce, bagels, and pretty curtain patterns. But it’s only we confront these stereotypes that we can move beyond them. Special mention must also be made for David Wain’s subtle portrayal of the Jew. Instead of going for the obvious, like payos of a Hasidic Jew, he chooses runner’s attire, with the added detail of the dangling headphones. Clearly, he knows the material.
Vodpod videos no longer available.
Normally I object to any sketch that portrays the Muppets in a negative light (a stoned Kermit, gay Bert and Ernie, easy jokes that are disrespectful and cheap). However, despite the fact that they do kill, cook and eat Muppets in this sketch, I do feel like they honor the Muppet legacy. I think this is the kind of Muppet joke Jim Henson would have appreciated. Just don’t ask for someone (or thing) to come show you “near.”
In lieu of a quality video of the sketch, here’s a newish video from the Muppets!
9. Leonard Harris Show
Unfortunately I can’t find any video for this sketch either. It’s your typical talk show, speaking with a guest who has some sort of condition, in this case blindness. However, the audience cannot seem to comprehend the limitations of the affliction, or lack thereof, with one audience member asking, “aren’t you worried about AIDS?” To which Leonard Harris adds, “Ohhhhh, good question. And one I think you have a responsibility to answer.” It’s simple, but it works. And another line I still quote often.
10. Personal State
Michael Ian Black kind of cornered the market on writing these whole group sketches in which they would play versions of themselves and address the audience. And since he wrote them, he took center stage. In this sketch from the third season, Black tells the audience that the cast would like to express some personal facts about themselves. Except no one is willing to divulge anything private (save for Tom Lennon, who lets us know he’s on speed). We don’t actually learn about The State members besides some fictional details about Black, but it shows them at their best, willing to sacrifice their dignity for the sake of comedy.
- “Pants” – From early in the first season, one of the more well known sketches, the one that really made me take notice of the show. Misses the top ten only because the DVD version has been stripped of the original music track, the Breeders’ “Cannonball,” and the piece isn’t the same without it.
*Black and Showalter seem to share an affinity for pants comedy, considering this sketch from MMHI, as well as this one.
- “Service with a Smile” – Chicken sandwich, Carl! Vodpod videos no longer available.
- “The Barry Lutz Show” – Two words: Monkey Torture. Vodpod videos no longer available.
- “Mr. Magina” – A slow burn, as Kevin Allison’s substitute teacher waits for the moment when his students realize that his surname rhymes with a female body part.
- “The Pope-a’s Visit” – Just sheer energy and destruction. The kind of sketch you only have one chance to get right. Vodpod videos no longer available.
- “Toothbrush” – “Toothbrush you’ve come back to me!” was one of the first WAV files I downloaded when my parents purchased our Compaq Presario. I think it was the Windows start-up sound.
- “Terrorist Situation” – Worth including just for the line, “Can I get mine in the form of a gift certificate to Red Lobster? It’s my mom’s birthday.” Another quote I often steal .
- “Hepcat” – A Footloose parody that at some points is more like a Footloose re-enactment, just replacing Rock’n’Roll with slow jazz.
- “Chip’s Party” – From episode one, shot on VHS, a couple 20-somethings crash a little boy’s birthday party. Good times ensue.
- “Boy in a Barn” – another sketch that was knocked down a few slots because the DVD version replaces the original music track, “Papa Don’t Preach.” Still, a story of triumph and tolerance.
- “Cannonball Run Outtakes” – Not really a sketch, just a shot for shot remake of the outtakes from Cannonball Run. But still brilliant.
- “Cutlery Barn” – The weirdest sketch in a series filled with weird sketches. Co-starring a sandwich.
*You might also notice that I didn’t include popular recurring characters like Doug and Louie. These personas were created to parody recurring characters, and were deliberately poorly written and one-dimensional. While these characters did catch on and in effect become what the show was mocking, the sketches still weren’t the troupe’s best or most original work.
**Find more State videos at MTV.com