Michael Showalter Talks the Past and Future of 'The State'

Photo by Frederick M. Brown - © 2015 Getty Images

BY Josiah HughesPublished Apr 27, 2016

Michael Showalter and his friends started a comedy troupe in college, and its buzz quickly led to the creation of The State — an MTV sketch show that lasted for 19 months before it was canceled. That was way back in the mid-'90s, but The State has since become one of the most influential comedy programs of all time, with the majority of its members continuing to thrive in Hollywood.

The State is often revisited — up next with The Union of the State, an oral history book due for release on May 3 — and it's understandable why. After all, alongside Showalter, its membership includes Michael Ian Black, David Wain, Joe Lo Truglio, Ken Marino, Thomas Lennon, Robert Ben Garant, Kerri Kenney-Silver, Todd Holoubek, Michael Patrick Jenn and Kevin Allison. 

Most people imagine the era of The State as some sort of unending laugh-fest between best friends (not unlike the trip into town in Wet Hot American Summer). That said, Showalter explains that he has mixed feelings about the experience.

"I don't have a ton of nostalgia [or] warm fuzzy feelings about it, so on that level it's kind of weird," he says of the constant attention paid toward The State. "There's like a disconnect, I think, between how someone else might see it and how I see it. You know, for someone else, it's kind of a really cool amazing thing, potentially, where for me it represents a lot of things, and it's loaded. It was like, my whole development as a human being is intricately linked to that. All the ups and downs that come with becoming a person are woven into those experiences. So it's not as easy for me to just see it as like, 'Oh isn't that cool that we were all doing that thing.' Which, by the way, I do think it's cool and I am really proud of it. And I love all those guys. But, you know, it's been a long road for all of us."

That he's still friends with his fellow State alum is apparent in his body of work, as Showalter continues to regularly collaborate with Michael Ian Black and David Wain. It doesn't look like the collaborations will end any time soon, either, as Showalter explains there are a handful of projects that could come to fruition.

"Michael Black and I wrote something together that I think is really funny, and there were a couple ideas for State movies that I still think are really good," Showalter says. "David and I did write one other script many years ago that I don't think either one of us has looked at since we wrote it, and we wrote it before we wrote Wet Hot. I don't know if it even exists, actually. But there are those things. There are definitely those things sitting around. Maybe we'll one day get a chance to get to them."

While the well of material won't dry up any time soon, Showalter says he's not sure The State's cult status is helping him get his projects made. Instead, he credits the group's Hollywood track record to the success of their most recent work.

"I don't know if The State has anything to do with that, per se," he says. "It's been easier maybe to get certain things done because Wet Hot American Summer was successful on Netflix, and that helps. I think maybe in this industry, having some amount of success will always help you with the next thing. The cult of The State, I don't think, is necessarily in and of itself meaningful as much as there being a track record of good work that's being well received.

"It seems like in the last couple of years, the critical response to the work that we've been doing has been positive where for so many years it was negative," he continues. "I don't know if that's because they caught up to us and they sort of get it now, or that the work is actually better. I don't know. But the Wet Hot American Summer Netflix show was like over 90 percent fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. And the original movie got like one good review. I don't know that the sensibility really is any different."

In our interview, Showalter vaguely hints that more Wet Hot American Summer is on the way. Turns out he was keeping a secret — today (April 27), Netflix announced plans for eight more episodes in a series called Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later.

That show will arrive in 2017. Until then, Showalter's currently busy promoting his latest project — the sweet, utterly hilarious Hello, My Name Is Doris, which, unlike his work with his State collaborators, adds a healthy dose of drama to its comedy. 

"I think that when it's just me, when it's a Michael Showalter thing, it will probably skew a little more dramedy," he says. "When I'm working with David and Michael Black, things tend to be more purely comedic. I still love doing that stuff. When it's just me doing my own stuff, I'd say I'm more looking to develop the dramedy part of me."

To read our interview with Michael Showalter about Hello, My Name Is Doris, go here.

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