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Series / The State

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"And Now For A Special Television Event..."

Probably an essential key to understanding Gen-X American college humor, The State was MTV's first true Sketch Comedy. Featuring a cast/crew of eleven twentysomethings which first coalesced as an improv/sketch group at NYU, it brought some of the most gleefully Dadaistic comedy in history to the airwaves. The show ran for four seasons before the creators made an ill-advised decision to jump to CBS (who canceled them after one special). A surprising number of the group have since gone on to greater things, frequently working together on such movies as Wet Hot American Summer and Role Models, and shows such as Reno 911!, Viva Variety, Stella, Stella's Spiritual Successor Michael And Michael Have Issues, Childrens Hospital, and Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp.

This show features examples of:

  • All Love Is Unrequited: The skit about high school students meeting in the hall.
  • Amazingly Embarrassing Parents: Wildly subverted. Doug is embarrassed by his dad for seemingly no reason other than he's a teen and unconsciously believes rebellion and being misunderstood make one cool. His dad is one of the coolest, most down-to-earth people in the world, to the point where his friends quickly prefer to hang out with his dad over him.
  • Berserk Button: Anything to do with the Burger Fool is one for the employees in the sketch "Service with a Smile".
  • Biting-the-Hand Humor: Many sketches parodied or outright mocked other MTV programs:
    • their "Free Your Mind" anti-bigotry ad campaign, for pirates versus clowns, people with tape on their face, and "smokers are people too".
    • An Unplugged song called "You'll Always Give Me a Boner".
    • an MTV Sports episode for golf.
    • One sketch involves Michael Ian Black complaining that The State doesn't get to be in the audience of Unplugged, pointing out the (supposed) employees who kept them out sitting in Unplugged's audience.
  • Blatant Lies: The sketch in which a husband denies he's cheating on his wife, even as his mistress storms in on them. Avoids Implausible Deniability because his two-faced fast talk actually works.
  • Bowdlerize: "Tenement", an adaptation of a Eugene O'Neill-esque one act play, which replaces all the original profanities with unusual euphemisms.
  • Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick: One "Hi, we're The State" sketch, in which the cast goes over all of the good deeds they do, and points out that they don't do any of the terrible things possibly attributed to them. Except sell babies on the black market ("...and we're not even sure it's really all that bad.").
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall:
    • Many sketches have the cast members address the audience directly. Michael Ian Black is usually the spokesman for the group.
    • Inverted by a sketch which actually showed the fourth wall — and blocked the audience's view.
  • The Cameo: Several, including an appearance by Gilbert Gottfried, and a split second of Alice Cooper walking through the background of a shot.
  • Casanova Wannabe: Barry and Levon... aww, yeah!
  • Catchphrase:
    • Deconstructed with "Louie, the Guy Who Says His Catchphrase Over and Over Again." In his introductory sketch, his whole shtick is asking for someone to provide a substance and then joyously declaring, "I wanna dip my balls in it!" while holding up a pair of golf balls. Everyone finds him hysterical, but he suddenly begins to doubt that his catchphrase is funny anymore. The crowd convinced him that it will never get old.
    • Played straight with Doug, and his "I'm outta here" in increasingly bizarre inflections.
  • Covered in Gunge / Food Fight: "The Pope's Visit" is just an excuse for some of the cast to throw food (and cooking oil) all over each other and the set while shouting in bad Italian accents.
  • Cross-Cast Role: With only one woman, happens a lot. Occasionally lampshaded.
  • Cultural Cringe: In one sketch, Michael Ian Black admits that his birth name is "Michael Ian Schwartz," which he says he changed because he's "ashamed of being Jewish." (In reality, it was to avoid being confused with another Michael Schwartz).
  • Deconstruction: ...of the usual sketch-comedy tropes, such as Recurring Character and Catchphrase.
  • Deep South: "The Inbred Brothers"
  • Did I Just Say That Out Loud?
  • The Ditz: The Inbred Brothers
  • Don't Explain the Joke: One sketch consists primarily of David Wain stopping to explaining the premise that "anything that isn't true is funny".
  • DVD Commentary: On every episode and deleted scene. Quite informative and entertaining usually. And with 11 members, there are quite a few combinations of commentary groups.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: Later recurring character Doug is shown bouncing on his bed with his friends in a not-for-laughs connecting scene before getting called downstairs by his father.
  • Embarrassing First Name: Last name, in the case of Mr. Magina.
  • "Everybody Laughs" Ending: The Spaghetti with Bumblebees sketch. Goes on just long enough to be uncomfortable.
  • Foreshadowing: "Hey Steve, you're the coolest. I'm glad you don't have a terrible secret that would threaten your status here in high school."
  • Former Teen Rebel: Principal Wheeler of Doug's high school. As a youth he was involved with mysterious disappearance of the Westbury High Mascot.
  • Gag Penis: An infamous appearance on MTV Spring Break's Shut Up and Laugh where the cast acted out a scene, supposedly from Shakespeare's Macbeth, that contained an uncomfortable amount of focus on the ludicrously tight leotards worn by the cast. Somehow, even Kerri Kenney had a bulge under her skirt — and someone else had a bulge that went around his leg three times.
  • Good Old Ways: The Old-Fashioned Guy thinks he's this, when in fact he's more... eccentric.
  • Half-Witted Hillbilly: The show had a recurring sketch called "The Inbred Brothers", which had two guys in union suits doing dumb things: falling down, eating leaves, lighting themselves on fire, etc.
  • Ham-to-Ham Combat: The argument in "Hepcat" between Hepcat and his father, in which each line of dialogue is a melodramatic showstopper, despite not following from the previous line.
  • Hollywood Board Games: Played for Laughs when two of the boys play the strip version of Battleship, totally no homo, of course. One of them comments that the game would be more enticing if they actually wanted to see each other naked. They still have a good time.
  • I Am Who??: Parodied with a sketch where the proprietors of an orphanage tell an orphan that he's actually a super-powered alien named Tozog. He's not. They never are.
    "Walk it off, Tozog!"
  • Ignorant About Fire: A recurring sketch was "The Inbred Brothers", a duo from the Deep South who would continually do stupid things. One was having his arm set on fire and not knowing what to do about it, and the other was a fire IN A BOAT.
  • Inherently Funny Words: "Maybe you should try... pants!"
  • Inner Monologue
  • Juxtaposition Gag: "Taco Mail", "Slash Infestation", etc. etc. etc.
  • Lampshaded Double Entendre: Played with in the "Grandma's Potato Chowder" sketch. It would seem that he doesn't know what they mean. He knows all too well.
  • All Periods Are PMS: "PMS", in which Kerri Kenney's character transforms, in rapid succession, into several male members of the cast.
  • Monochrome Casting: Ten white guys and one white girl.
  • Muppet Cameo: Played with in one sketch. Characters call out for help with simple tasks (like counting to 10 or tying their shoes) and a Sesame Street-like muppet appears to help out. The character then kills the muppet, so they can eat it.
  • The Musical: The "Porcupine Racetrack" skit.
  • Must Have Caffeine: "Coffee Family"
  • Naked People Are Funny: Everybody in the troupe (yes, including Kerri) has been naked in at least one sketch. A few sketches in fact had everybody naked at once.
  • Narrator: Voiceovers on the show — especially for the commercial parodies — were frequently provided by Larry Kenney, Kerri Kenney's dad.
  • Nonverbal Miscommunication: The International Sign For Choking -> The International Sign For My Friend Is Choking, I Don't Know The Heimlich Maneuver, Can You Call For Help -> The International Airport Sign For I Did Not Understand Your Last Message, I Was Raised In The Mountains Of Japan And Am Not Familiar With All The International Signs -> Japanese Kabuki for My Friend Is Almost Unconscious -> Tibetan Dance for The Waiter Is On Fire -> The International Sign for I Am On Fire -> the Pueblo sign for I Hate Accountants -> The Accountant Dance of War -> The International Cry of It's OK, Big Misunderstanding, Everything's Fine, Except For The Guy At Table 4, Who's Unconscious -> signals to the busboy to get a stretcher for Table 4 -> the busboy gets Table 4 a year's supply of radishes -> the customer at Table 4 stops choking
  • Open-Minded Parent and Reasonable Authority Figure: Featured in the "Doug" sketches, much to Doug's consternation.
  • Out of Focus:
    • Intentionally invoked by Michael Patrick Jann and Todd Holoubek; both preferred standing behind the camera to acting.
    • Parodied with one opening monologue by David Wain, where he states that he doesn't get as much screen time as other cast members, but enjoys expressing himself through his behind-the-scenes editing work... followed by the opening credits being very noticeably re-edited to feature him as much as possible.
  • Over Used Running Gag: Parodied with Louie's constantly repeated Catchphrase, "I wanna dip my balls in it!"
  • Re-Release Soundtrack: Since The State was on MTV, they got to use a lot of popular songs during their run. Most of it had to be replaced with sound-alikes when the DVD came out. There was even an insert written by the members of the group about how they worked to make it as close as possible.
  • Reunion Show: the entire cast appeared in the Reno 911! movie, and a YouTube sketch was created to promote the initial re-release of the program on iTunes.
  • Rip Van Winkle: Parodied in "Short Coma". He was in a coma for one of the most eventful early afternoons in history.
  • Self-Deprecation: The show often brought up the "negative two-star" review they received from the New York Times. And in fact, an early advert for the show featured their various bad reviews set to "I Started A Joke" with the cast in the background looking sad and depressed.
  • Sex Sells: Parodied in a sketch where a newspaper re-tinkers every headline to read "Porno Sex Addict Rocks New York".
  • Shout-Out:
    • The first season opening used an MTV version of CBS's Special title card.
    • The second season used The Benny Hill Show's.
  • Show Within a Show: A good 35% of the sketches were The State pretending to be another show.
  • The Smurfette Principle: Kerri Kenney is the only female in a cast of 11. This leads to her being in almost every sketch.
  • So Unfunny, It's Funny: "Porcupine Racetrack", "The Bearded Men of Space Station 11"- neither have any jokes but are fan favorites (or The Unfavorite).
  • Spin-Off: Viva Variety started off as a skit on this show.
  • Summer Campy: A summer camp forgot to advertise, resulting in having only one camper for the summer. Hilarity Ensues.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: If you were talking about your favorite fabric softer and a talking teddy bear appeared out of the clothes, you'd probably scream and beat it with an iron, too.
  • Team Mom: Kerri Kenney, in one sketch.
  • Tired of Running: Played with in a sketch where a prison escapee turns himself in several years after the search for him has been called off. The prison still has the unguarded wide-open gate he walked out through.
  • True Art Is Incomprehensible:
    • In-Universe. Parodied with a sketch about a high-school cheerleader who wants to be the next Laurie Anderson.
    • Lampooned in a sketch where the art community rallies around the idle notebook doodles of a bored 15-year-old girl.
    • Subverted with a sketch where a panel of snooty experts, asked to define "art", rapidly conclude that it's "like, paintings and stuff."
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Totally inverted in the "Where's The Mousey?" sketch, where we see what happened, as a huge stuffed mouse crashes onto a family's dining room table, while they keep shouting about "the mousey" but admitting they don't know why.
  • What Kind of Lame Power Is Heart, Anyway??: Lampshaded with poor Aquaman.
    Superman: Aquaman... go talk to some fish! (rest of the Justice League laughs)

Na na na na, hoooooooo...