When Things Feel Hopeless, Turn to ‘The State’s Stupidity
2016 was a very, very bad year no matter how you slice it. In tough times, comedy is often a form of escape that people turn to when they need comforting. With that in mind, we asked our contributors to pick the one piece of comedy in any form that they turn to when they really need cheering up. We’ll be sharing their choices throughout the week in a package we’re calling “The Best Medicine.”
I’ll admit, I’m often prone to loving comedy of the melancholic variety. Stories with lonely characters trying to connect and messing it up — Frances Ha, Mistress America, Damsels in Distress, basically anything with Greta Gerwig — these get me every time.
But when I’m leaning toward hopeless, as this year has often made me feel, only one thing can really make me laugh and that’s unadulterated dummy-headedness. This is when I turn to my adolescent child-of-the-90s favorite, The State. Which! Despite that now the show is nearly old enough to have its own quarter life crisis, it holds up surprisingly well. If you don’t remember them, in the early 90s, The State was an MTV sketch team and show that barely anyone watched. But for a short time, MTV played their three seasons in practically nonstop rotation, and this is when I discovered them. They were the kings and queen of stupid, and I mean that as the highest of compliments. Sure, there’s everyone’s favorite sketches in Louie and Barry & Levon, even Porcupine Racetrack, which I never really loved. But what I immediately go for any time I’m scraping myself off the ground is the idiocy of sketches like “Spaghetti with Bumblebees.”
The entirety of “Spaghetti with Bumblebees” is barely over a minute long, and as a teenager, I couldn’t quite describe why it made me laugh so hard. Even now after years of writing and performing comedy, I still can’t quite tell you what does it. Partly it’s the way in which it’s shot, with floating heads and characters who interact without making eye contact. It’s simple and low budget. In fact, the aesthetic could be summed as “puppet show with live actors.” Then there’s the banal chit chat of it and the fake, presentational laughter of all the characters. And paired with the flat delivery and the dead look in Kerri Kenney, Michael Showalter, and Joe Lo Truglio’s eyes, I just lose it every time. Sure, “Spaghetti with Bumblebees” heightens well, ending on that talking hamburger, but that’s not quite it. Its humor is just pure dumb. And dumb is about the only thing I can handle right now.
Erica Lies is a writer and comedian in Austin, Texas. Her nonfiction work has appeared in Paste, The Hairpin, Bitch Magazine, Rookie Mag, and Screener.