State of play

Our movie reviewer interviews David Wain, the man responsible for some of the best comedy of the last 20 years, like the movie Wet Hot American Summer and the TV show The State

The cast of <i>The State</i>, with David Wain pictured in bottom row, second from the right.

The cast of The State, with David Wain pictured in bottom row, second from the right.

The State: The Complete Series, a five DVD box set, is available now. For more information, visit thestate.mtv.com

Since the early 1990s, writer-director-actor David Wain has been one of the premier ambassadors of absurdist, intelligent and wonderfully random comedy on TV and in feature films.

A founding member of The State, the comedy troupe whose show aired on MTV from 1993-95, he is also a member of the troupe Stella (with fellow The State alums Michael Showalter and Michael Ian Black), and is the director of the cult classic Wet Hot American Summer. He also helmed last year’s hilarious Paul Rudd comedy, Role Models, and is the creative force behind the award-winning web series, Wainy Days.

Earlier this year, I wrote a brainless comment in another publication about an experience I had in a post-Stella show autograph line. I made a dumb joke about how I felt like a dick for trying to chat while getting my poster signed. Unintentionally, I sort of made Wain look like a douche. This was my bad. (He’s not a douche; he’s actually a very nice guy!) That’s the correspondence referred to at the beginning of the interview.

On the eve of the long-awaited release of The State on DVD, I talked to Wain about the groundbreaking show, his movies and future projects.

So David, seriously, you really are a comedic hero to a lot of us here in Reno. There’s a little Wet Hot American Summer cult.

I’m thrilled. I can’t imagine that I am the most heroic member of The State in Reno, Nevada, but what are you gonna do?

Do you remember the correspondence we had earlier this year?

I sure do not, but I love the fact that we had one.

I’m the dummy who wrote about the Stella guys being justifiably grouchy on the autograph line after their show. You wrote to me when you saw the article.

Oh, yes … of course I remember. Now I remember. It’s all good.

Actually, you are not supposed to read your own press. What are you doing?

Show me anyone who doesn’t.

It was online for, like, two minutes, and you caught me!

See?

OK. When was the last time The State was available in its entirety?

When it was last on TV in 1995. There’s never been any merchandising, there’s never been any version of it out except for one kind of really lame VHS compilation. It just had some random sketches thrown together. That’s literally all there ever was.

The DVD commentaries are great! Obviously, you’ve been compiling them for a while. At one point, I heard somebody on one of them comment that it was 2007.

We finished this project a while back, but they just wouldn’t release it for some reason.

I loved them!

I think you’re just being so nice ‘cause you feel guilty for saying that thing about me being grouchy at the Stella show.

I want to say, I was riffing on that awkward feeling that guys get on the autograph line. You guys just had this crazy weird show, and you were clearly worn out. … I was just joking about how people shouldn’t try to be chatty on autograph lines. People should just get their stuff signed, shut up and move the fuck on. I feel bad about it.

It’s all good.

When you were writing for The State, was it like the Monty Python situation, where there were writing cliques? Or did you all just sort of throw ideas into the pot?

It really wasn’t so “cliquey.” We would divide up in different ways, depending on what the topic was. We certainly bickered and fought constantly, but it was just part of our process. It was only after The State split up in ’97 that there was the group that went off and did Reno 911 and the group that did Stella. But we still all work together in different ways all of the time.

So, there’s no acrimony? I noticed that the cast stayed the same throughout its four seasons.

The State formed four years before we got a TV show. We were at NYU, and we knew that if we were going to get anything done with this, we needed to stay committed. It’s a large group, and it’s amazing that we did it. The same exact 11 people from the beginning of The State just did a live show in San Francisco this past January.

Yes, your reunion at Sketchfest … will The State do something like that again?

I certainly hope so … as with Stella, it’s just a matter of scheduling.

I did see your Stella show in Berkeley, California. Please tell me that wasn’t some kind of farewell tour. Will we get some more Stella in the future? Perhaps the rumored live DVD?

I hope so. My Stella partners [Showalter and Black] are doing their Comedy Central show [Michael and Michael Have Issues], which debuts on July 15, and I’m currently directing a pilot for Fox. We all stay busy, but then we always like to get together when we can and do Stella. Who knows, maybe we’ll do a tour this winter.

I remember originally seeing Wet Hot American Summer in a theater, and thinking “Gosh, that was pretty funny,” but I wasn’t blown away. I’ve since gone back to watch it many, many times, and now regard it as one of the five funniest films I’ve ever seen.

I love it … I’m a big fan of my own work as it is because I’m self-involved. I’m very pleased and couldn’t be happier that Wet Hot has sort of lived on and is part of the comedy canon for so many people, and that so many people have watched it so many times over the years.

Have you heard of others having this sort of delayed reaction to your work?

I’m both happy and sad to say that seems to be what happens with most of my work. The average viewer tends to think anything I’ve done is good to not so great when they first see it. And then the second and third time they see it, they start to get really excited about it. It’s like keying into fine wine or something.

Wainy Days, your Internet show that can be accessed at davidwain.com, is the funniest show anywhere right now. I’m rather impressed with your “Sunday Bloody Sunday” drumming during episode 30. I had to watch it multiple times to confirm that it was you.

I can confirm that it was me playing. I’ve always been a hobbyist musician. I’m definitely a frustrated wannabe rock star, there’s no question about it. I played in bands growing up and in college and stuff. And then, obviously, I became a comedian, or whatever I am. But I’ve always kind of wanted to—and still want to be—a rock star. The one thing I’m probably better at than anything else musically is the piano. But, again, I’m really just a hobbyist. In fact, I’m actually redesigning my website as we speak, and I’m going to put up some very embarrassing music recordings that I did.

There were rumors of you directing the next Fockers movie with Ben Stiller. Were any of those rumors founded in truth?

There was some talk about it, but I don’t think there ever was a real possibility that I was going to do that. I am currently directing a pilot for Fox called The Station, and Stiller is the producer. It’s a pilot, and who knows if it will ever be seen. I also have quite a few possible features on the way … not quite sure what will be the next one to shoot, but a lot of things are in the hopper.

Do you have any parting words regarding this new DVD set for The State?

The only thing that anyone has ever asked me when I’m out among the fans over the years is “When is The State coming out on DVD?” So I feel like a part of my identity is going away now that that’s not something I’m going to get asked everyday. We all worked hard on the DVD, and I really hope the fans enjoy seeing all of the extras. I think it’s a nice DVD. Do you have it?

I sure do!

[Crestfallen] I don’t.

POST INTERVIEW UPDATE: According to his Twitter, David Wain received his DVD of The State on July 6. Judging by the photo he posted, the man was elated.