In 1993, MTV gave 11 recent NYU grads with virtually no entertainment-industry experience their own show. The result was an irreverent sketch-comedy concoction called The State. Those grads have gone on to do numerous series and movies since, including Viva Variety, Reno 911!, Drop Dead Gorgeous and Wet Hot American Summer. In 2005, Comedy Central tapped Statesmen David Wain, Michael Showalter and Michael Ian Black to bring their stage act to the small screen. TVGuide.com discussed with Wain the Stella series (now out on DVD), and asked about the new film he's directing, The Ten.
TVGuide.com: What are the origins of Stella?
David Wain: The three of us were actually doing a comedy show in New York called Stella. It was a variety show with the three of us dressed up in suits to make it kind of fancy. We had all sorts of guests and music and stuff like that, but little by little the shtick that we did together became the forefront of the show. We then did [video] shorts on the side, during the day, and showed them that night. We'd pretend they were what happened to us that day.
TVGuide.com: So they were meant just for the nightclub shows?
Wain: Yeah. We did it thinking they would just be shown once for the live audience at the show, and that would be the end of it. They proved so popular with the audience that we started putting them together on tapes and passing them out. Once they got on the Internet, they became this sensation.... And that became the inspiration for the series.
TVGuide.com: Was it a surprise that Comedy Central would give you a series after seeing these thrown-together shorts?
Wain: I was totally shocked. We were kind of embarrassed. We probably wouldn't have done a lot of the things we did in the shorts if we thought people would see them beyond our little audience.
TVGuide.com: Some of the stuff is pretty crass. Was it difficult to tone down the humor to make Stella more broadcast-friendly?
Wain: Well, we didn't want to just re-create the shorts; we wanted to do something that was different, specifically designed for Comedy Central. We wanted to create a more slickly crafted series from the ground up that was made for television. So we decided not to make it about dildos and dry-humping... as much... but more about the general zaniness of what we do.
TVGuide.com: Were you happy with the results?
Wain: Well, obviously the show was not a success in terms of ratings, and it was not renewed, but hopefully with the DVD release, it'll be one of those shows people discover and realize is a classic.
TVGuide.com: The State and Wet Hot American Summer have cult followings that continue to grow. Does it ever seem like the audience needs time to catch up with what you're doing?
Wain: I can't tell you how many times people tell me, "The first time I saw The State or Wet Hot American Summer or even Stella, I didn't quite get it. But the second time I became obsessed with it." That seems to be our lot in the business. We haven't had huge mainstream success, but we have a very loyal cult following.
TVGuide.com: Has that following made it easier to get projects off the ground?
Wain: I think it's just starting to happen, little by little, but it's never been easy. But even amongst actors and studio executives, there are definitely culty fans. Getting people to be in the movie I'm doing now, The Ten, has been shockingly successful. We've got an insane cast for a very low-budget movie.
TVGuide.com: It's definitely got some big names. Was it difficult to make a movie when you're surrounded by the beautiful likes of Jessica Alba, Winona Ryder, Amanda Peet and Famke Janssen?
Wain: Sometimes I had to stop and take a breath. Seriously though, it was amazing. Each one of them turned out to be not just beautiful, but a great actress who got it. They each have this weird sense of humor, so it was a pleasure.
TVGuide.com: Were they fans of your previous work?
Wain: Winona told me she was a huge fan of Wet Hot American Summer and wanted to do something with me for a long time. I had no idea.
TVGuide.com: The Ten is inspired by the Ten Commandments. Has religious doctrine always interested you?
Wain: No. [Laughs] Nor does [the film] particularly have that much to do with the Ten Commandments. It's really just 10 stories, and each one is inspired by one of the commandments. We have a story on the topic of adultery, we have a story on the topic of stealing and murder.... It's the same kind of style as previous stuff we done, but I cowrote it with Ken Marino, so it's got a slightly different sensibility than stuff I've written with Michael Showalter.
TVGuide.com: When you guys were making The State, did you ever think it would be a launching pad for all your careers?
Wain: Well, it's funny. I love to give the standard answer and say, "No, we had no idea," but we were so young and cocky at the time. We were in our early twenties and just out of school, and we had this attitude. In truth, we had no idea what we were doing, and we were totally learning as we went along. But maybe that cockiness got us where we are. It is amazing now that more than half of the members of The State have directed their own feature films, and everybody's still working. We all still work together, too. All of us will be in the Reno 911! movie that's coming out in January, and we're all in The Ten.
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