It’s a funny thing when you are a part of something and not a part of something but that thing, that you loved and helped birth but missed out on, is something that grows into something that everybody else in the world loves and adores. That’s how I feel about The State and those people who were in it.
There is a book coming out today called The Union of the State I can’t wait to read it and you should all go out and get it. I’m probably not mentioned in the book. I wouldn’t be, I was only there for the prologue. But since it’s an oral history, I thought this would be a good day to share my tiny memories of the very beginning of this comedy juggernaut and my wee hand in being a secret mama of the group.
I met most of the people in The State when I was 18 years old and I was at NYU. I had a freshman mentor, Mo Willems (you may know him from his Pigeon books) who had a comedy group called The Sterile Yak. I joined, because Mo was hysterical and brilliant and I just wanted to be close to him. Also, because sketch comedy is fun, who wouldn’t want to be funny all the time? It was in the Sterile Yak that I first met David Wain, Todd Holoubek and Craig Wedren. Maybe some others, but the time line gets fuzzy this many years later. I went to some shows and then was in one or two. But for some reason I what I remember most was doing sound with Craig Wedren for the group. Which makes no sense to me, but makes sense for him, because he is a brilliant musician. I am very bad at technical things, but I loved being in the booth with Craig. He called me Cecil Turtle, he still does when I see him, and I don’t know if it’s because I looked like a turtle or because I was so slow to understand the sound booth.
Sophomore year came around, this is Fall of 1988 now, and we were practicing and writing and improvising regularly. I remember that at the beginning of the year at rehearsal, some new people showed up, two of them being Michael Showalter and Kerri Kenney. Showalter and Kerri did a scene where they were two teenagers trying to ask each other out in a supermarket. They decided to do the scene as though they had lain down in the produce section and it was the most brilliant thing I had ever seen. I think about that improv quite a lot. I think about it when I am writing sometimes. I think about it in the produce section of grocery stores.
I remember that the Sterile Yak was getting too big. There were too many people and not everyone would get to perform. So the way I remember it is Todd and I decided that we should start a new group, which we called The New Group for lack of a better name. Also, I think I wanted to get out from under the shadow of Mo, who is a powerful personality. I think David Wain consulted with us. I just remember talking to David about it a lot. This new group and what it would be.
Todd and I booked a room in Hayden Hall, which was my dorm (maybe his as well?) and we auditioned people. We sat there and people came in and we shouted out things for them to do and I remember looking at names and scribbling down notes. Putting check marks and stars next to names. But what I remember most is that it was so obvious who should be in this new group. Because they were brilliant. If I remember correctly, that initial first group was me, Todd, Joe Lo Truglio, Mike Showalter, Michael Ian Black, Kerri Kenney, Ken Marino and Ben Garant. We started rehearsing in various dorm community rooms and booked our first show for January. There were even flyers. I remember that I was going to be in a few sketches. One of them had something to do with Charlie Brown. But then I had to quit the New Group because I had run out of money to go to college and I had to drop out of school. I never did that first show.
I moved to Montreal. I still wanted to do comedy and I tried to find a group of people in that new city to play around with, but while I found my way to a nice group of funny people, they weren’t my New Group. That group that I had helped to put together. The one filled with people who I thought were brilliant and special with a rare alchemy between them. I had made my dream group of people that I wanted to laugh and play with and then I had left them.
But, oh how proud I am to be a secret mama! How delightful it is to have had the tiniest of bit parts in bringing these geniuses together. What a thrill be a silver thread woven in that comedy tapestry. My heart bursts with pride every time I am lucky enough to catch up and run into any of them in person, or see them on my television or in a movie that they’ve done. They were all brilliantly talented when we were teenagers and they continue to make my arty heart soar whenever I see anything they do.
I love you guys! Congrats on the book and for being so amazingly kick ass in your contributions to culture. Hope to have a coffee/beer/laugh with all of you sometime again soon.
To everybody else, go buy the book now. And go see, watch, read, support anything these people do. You will be very glad that you did.