Monday, January 30, 2006

David Wain Is A Huge Nerd

This weekend was a twofer: two trips to The City, back to back. Fun stuff. I was talking with the other Chris at work today and he asked, "Remind me again why you don't live in San Francisco?" I didn't have an answer for him. Probably something along the lines of, "It's way cheaper here, and I'd rather commute north twice a week than south five times." Still, while there's plenty of stuff to do in the South Bay, I need to be careful or the city will become the center of my universe.

This trip was the mirror of the one I took two weeks ago to see the Mr. Show folks. This was a similar event but with David Wain and Michael Showalter, two really funny guys who've worked in The State, Wet Hot American Summer, and Stella. Apparently Brad has never heard of them so they're even more marginal than I'd thought, which I guess is kind of cool.

By now I have this route down to a science. Unfortunately, Caltrain does not; for the first time ever our train was delayed and we got into the city twenty minutes late. Still, I showed up at the club (Cobb's again) a good half hour early, and my one-person-party got itself seated closer to the stage than it deserved.

I killed time by reading more of Zodiac. Gotta do another post on that soon, as I finished it later that day. I struck up a random conversation with the guy next to me about the book; he'd never heard of Stephenson, but had been a fan of these guys since The State. So I guess that makes us even since I hadn't gotten into it until WHAS.

There was much less production here than for Mr. Show, which was scant to begin with. After the briefest of introductions they strode onstage together. It's hard to believe, but David Wain looks even more like a nerd in real life than he does on the screen. It probably doesn't help matters any that he spent half the time staring down into his Powerbook.

They opened things up by talking a bit about their history. They had attended NYU together, where Wain was a member of the senior comedy troupe. The two Michaels and several other people who had been rejected by the main group formed their rival comedy group, called The New Group. It was way funnier than the first group, which soon broke up.

They continued performing together and eventually turned into The State. They had a run at MTV... actually, now I'm just typing up info you could easily find online. The remarkable part of the experience was the archival footage. They had saved and scanned a ton of old promotional posters, and had copies of early shorts they'd done, stretching all the way back to their college years. One particular highpoint was a sketch that had been censored by MTV. They'd never been allowed to shoot it, but they had the scripts, and invited some audience members to come on stage to re-enact it. I can't reproduce the sketch here because this is a family blog, but it involved incredibly juvenille puns on the names of barnyard animals. It brought down the house.

They had a really good sense of humor about the... mixed reception they received. They showed clippings from a bunch of really awful reviews they'd received, including negative two stars from one paper. Wain talked about how, after WHAS came out, Roger Ebert actually took the time to write a song about how much he hated the movie. They mused on the nature of their comedy; at every step of their career, either people enjoy them, or they HAAAAAATE them.

Evidently The State also produced a comedy album after they were canceled by CBS. They basically took all the money they were given to produce the album and spent it sending everyone down to The Bahamas. Once there, they basically drank liquor nonstop, lay in the sun, and occasionally stumbled into the recording studio. They played one of these tracks for us; it's a sketch about two people interviewing for college. It was entitled "Goin' OFF", after a phrase one character repeats regularly in his Eastern accent. About halfway through everyone in the sketch starts to crack up. By the three-quarters mark it's clear they have no idea where the sketch is going or how to end it. Amazingly enough, Warner Brothers never released it.

As with Mr. Show, a lot of the time was just spent riffing back and forth; I wish I had a better memory for everything that went on, or an illegal recording device. They were both incredibly relaxed and friendly and funny. When waiting for the house to bring up some wireless mikes David entertained everyone by doing a funny dance.

Oh, yeah: another thing we saw was their VH1 pilot. It was sort of a mix between their live show, The Daily Show and a music news show. The pilot included an incredible ode sung by Michael Showalter to Shania Twain, in which he courts and then dumps her, while David plays keyboard and Michael Ian Black dirty-dances.

That one bit was funny, but the idea of them having a show like that is just wrong, and VH1 didn't pick it up.

Towards the end they took a bunch of questions from the audience. Here are ones I remember, editing to get the gist and remove the funny:
Q: When are you going to release a DVD of The State so I don't need to buy it off ebay?
D: When you stop buying it off ebay!
M: MTV doesn't think people will buy it, they'll eventually release it, but probably not until all our fans are dead.

Q: What do you think of Michael Ian Black?
D/M: He's funny. He directed a movie and is currently editing it, which is why he couldn't be here today.

Q: Will there be a State reunion?
D/M: We're not opposed to the idea, but the logistics of getting everyone together are difficult.

Q: Have you ever been tempted to write something like The Pacifier, just to make a lot of money so you can work on your own projects?
M: What makes you think that's why they wrote it?
D: It was originally supposed to star Jackie Chan, you know. Apparently it was going to be really funny and was sort of ruined by the studio. I don't know, I haven't seen it.

Q (guy sitting next to me): What's your next project?
D: We don't really know what we're "doing" next. We have a bunch of proposals out there and need to see which ones get picked up.

Q: Will we see Stella again next season?
D/M: Maybe, but probably not. The executives at Comedy Central love it, but nobody's watching it. It's clear, looking at the ratings, that everyone is making specific plans to do something else that night. We have a shot, but aren't optimistic.

Q: Will that comedy CD be released?
D/M: The woman we were working with at Warner Brothers died shortly after we delivered it. It's possible they don't even know they have it, that it exists.

Q: A lot of my friends who are just a few years older than me don't get your humor at all. Do you find you appeal to a particular demographic?
M: How old are you?
Q: 29.
D: Yeah, we find that we're really not popular in the 33-35 age group. People who were born in the early 70's just don't relate to us.

Q: So which one of you is the [some name I don't catch] fan?
D/M: [Pull up iTunes on the Powerbook and play a whole bunch of his songs.]

Probably a few more in there that I forget. When that was done they played a blooper reel from the first season of Stella. It was funny, like all blooper reels are. Lots of shots of people forgetting their lines, or cracking up in the middle of giving one. We also got to see how amazingly uncoordinated they are; there's seriously close to thirty shots of them attempting, and failing, to throw a piece of balogna on Janeane Garofalo's forehead.

When that was done they waved goodbye and left, and the crowd dispersed.

I decided I'd start walking south along the route and hop on the 30 when it came by. Apparently I was going at almost exactly the bus's speed, because I'd walked all the way from North Beach down to Union Square without being passed by it once. Which sorta makes sense; Chinatown is a very pedestrian-heavy area and traffic always moves slowly there. But it was a certainty that I wasn't going to catch the 4pm train, so I spend a while in Union Square enjoying the sun and reading Zodiac. I thought about how much nicer it would have been to do Twin Peaks then instead of the previous day.

The trip ended as all mine do, with a relaxing ride back on Caltrain, listening to Sigur Ros on my PSP while reading a good book. It's amazing how long you can make a good San Francisco feeling stick with you in those conditions.

(For those people who are interested in this sort of thing, did you know you can get clips of old Stella shorts for free online? Thanks to Pat for the link. WARNING: These are, as Wain and Showalter said during their presentation, "Pretty X-Rated," and are supremely unsafe for work even with the sound turned off. Don't watch them while another human being is present unless you're very confident in your ability to gauge their sense of humor. You have been warned.)

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