In the process of doing research and conducting interviews, Stulce found it surprising how committed they were to a disciplined work ethic.
To a good portion of the general public, The State is a virtually unrecognizable entity. To those who do recognize the name, most refer to it as “that show that was on MTV in the ’90s for a while, right?” Indeed, any public discourse of comedy troupes in electronic media focus on the big names: Monty Python, Saturday Night Live, or maybe SCTV. If you tend to skewer toward the edge of the mainstream, one might mention the off-kilter Canadians of Kids in the Hall or the abstract surrealists of Mr. Show.
However, as Corey Stulce’s fantastic new book, The Union of The State, points out, the members of The State are deeply entrenched in our current comedy landscape, influencing mainstream entertainment perhaps more so than their more obviously popular peers. “They all met at NYU and formed this comedy troupe, and got their own show,” Stulce explains. “When they eventually broke up, it made them realize that, wow, there are all these other amazing comedians we can kind of form this bigger group of people to work with.”
If you’ve enjoyed Reno 911!, Wet Hot American Summer, Role Models, or the Night at the Museum franchise, you’re more familiar with their work than you probably thought. “A lot of them tend to work with the same people over and over,” he says. “They really have touched everyone working in comedy today. There’s no five points of separation from working with someone; there’s like one point of separation.”
Stulce, who has his own sketch comedy history with St. Louis’s now-defunct The Non-Prophets, said the germ of the idea came when he first moved to San Francisco eight years ago. “There’s a comedy festival here called Sketchfest, and The State did a reunion there in 2009. It was just after I moved to the Bay area, and it sold out immediately, before I could even get tickets. I tried to finagle my way in, but couldn’t. But it just got me thinking that no one has told these guys’ story. I had known a little bit about it and had interviewed several of them over the years. I just started asking them if they would be interested in doing a book, and they were basically waiting for someone to do it.”
According to Stulce, the book took about four-and-half years to put together, with the only real difficulty being the schedules of the troupe members themselves. “Working with the guys in The State, they’re working on a million different projects, and I was working full time, too. So in the beginning, I would work on it whenever we all could arrange the time to do the interviews. It took me almost a full year to do an interview with each one of them.” Besides the troupe, he ended up interviewing more than 30 more people, including producers at MTV, their managers, agents, and even the people who worked with them after The State.
To those who enjoyed The State, how the sketches came together may have looked rather effortless, and seemed to be so immediately inspired. Stulce states that, in the process of doing research and conducting interviews, he found it surprising how committed they were to a disciplined work ethic. “It was incredible how intense they were, really even early on. I mean, you wouldn’t think that kids in college, even performance arts kids, would be that into this extracurricular thing,” he marvels. “They were just hardcore into this sketch troupe from the beginning. They would get together several times a week, rehearsing sketches 40 times before they’d do live shows. So by the time that they got onstage, it was just so different from what people would expect from a typical college troupe at that time.”
Stulce says something else he noticed from researching and rewatching the shows was the young troupe’s almost obsessive attention to detail. “Even when you would see them in the background as extras in the sketches, you can tell they didn’t take that for granted,” he says earnestly. “You can tell they’re portraying a character. They took that craft so seriously, which I think helped prepare them for all the stuff they’re doing now.”
To celebrate the release of the book, Stulce will be coming back to St. Louis for an appearance at one of the city’s coolest record stores, Planet Score Records, and he’s bringing along a special guest: “Kevin Allison from The State is going to be there, as well. He’ll be doing his live show Risk! that night at Blueberry Hill. We’re gonna do the signing at Planet Score, which my brother co-owns. Kevin will be more than happy to meet fans of The State, and it should be fun.”
After fitting in a well-deserved breather, Stulce will set his sights on helping get a documentary about The State going in the near future. For now, though, he seems genuinely happy to share and celebrate The State’s history with their fans. “It was fun peeling back the layers of these folks. That was a really cool thing; they were not guarded about this at all.” | Jim Ousley
Corey Stulce and Kevin Allison will be hosting The Union of the State book signing in St. Louis at Planet Score Records on June 25 at 4 p.m. For more information, go to www.coreystulce.com