Laughter, Tears, Pudding: The State Reunite at Festival Supreme

The beloved Nineties sketch group made a rare appearance together at Tenacious D's Festival Supreme over the weekend and ended up stealing the show

The State, backstage at Festival Supreme 2014. Credit: Joseph Llanes

Their busy schedules may have prevented all 11 members of the State from rehearsing together until the afternoon of Saturday’s Los Angeles reunion performance — and even then, Michael Ian Black missed a return flight from his University of North Carolina gig the previous evening. Founder Todd Holoubek was peeved that he had to skip his own art opening in South Korea to attend. The outdoor stage required finding a place to change between sketches. Don't even mention the small matter of finding a Cookie Puss ice cream cake that wouldn’t melt.

Things may have been admittedly tense behind the scenes, but when the full ensemble behind MTV's beloved alt-sketch-comedy show took the stage Saturday night at Tenacious D’s second annual Festival Supreme, professionalism and a sense of palpable nostalgia ensured that their 45-minute set was executed without a single major mistake. The group's eponymous series ran from 1993 to 1995, before they split up and went on to do such projects as the TV show Reno 911!, the comedy trio Stella and the 2001 cult-classic parody Wet Hot American Summer. (They've slowly taken over network TV as well: You can see State alumni Ken Marino in NBC's Marry Me and Joe Lo Truglio on Fox's Brooklyn Nine-Nine.) They last performed together as the State at San Francisco’s 2009 Sketchfest; all but Holoubek and Kevin Allison appeared on Comedy Central's game show @midnight in January. The Supreme event had billed the performance as the troupe's 20-year reunion, causing founding member David Wain to remark, "Well, since we formed in 1988...I guess we’re celebrating the time between first and second seasons of the show?"

"They’re an incredible fixture of Nineties sketch comedy," enthused Tenacious D's Jack Black as he walked the festival grounds prior to 2 p.m. doors. "We just went to them and asked if they’d want to do a reunion show for us. We didn’t think it was going to happen because they’ve all gone in so many successful directions; you see them in a ton of other stuff. But to our shock and extreme pleasure, they all said yes."

The second annual Festival Supreme curated by Black and his musical partner Kyle Gass featured a comic heavy hitters, ranging from musical comedians such Bo Burnham and SNL/Portlandia's Fred Armisen to rising alt-cabaret star Bridget Everett — with the latter flashing the crowd and seducing a security guard while moaning the inquisitive ditty "What I Gotta Do (To Get That Dick in My Mouth)"
Electronic provocateur Peaches gleefully grinded with Everett and Margaret Cho while she played her signature song "Fuck the Pain Away," and the D themselves did a hit-packed acoustic set accompanied by "Weird Al" Yankovic.

But it was the State's reunion that was considered the main event by many in attendance, and at 10:15 pm, the group’s musical director Craig Wedren led a six-piece band onto the Franken Stage, opening the set with a reprise of the show's jaunty faux sitcom "The Jew, the Italian and the Redhead Gay." Fan favorite "Hormones" quickly followed, with a "teenage" Keri Kenney-Silver winkingly referencing the passage of time: "My parents are away for the weekend…plus I’m a 44-year-old woman. Countered Lo Truglio, "I’ve gotta get up and shoot Brooklyn Nine-Nine."

"We don’t get to be the State very often," Michael Ian Black reminded attendees, "so it’s great when we get a chance to come together and do the thing that we do best — which is collect money for sketches that we wrote 25 years ago." Popular characters such as Seventies smooth-talkers Barry and Levon, Michael Showalter's rebellious teenager Doug and Marino's catchphrase-happy Louie made quick cameos in a "tribute" to Billy Joel’s "Piano Man," the crowd shouting along as the latter declared, "I wanna dip my balls in it!"

During the week's rehearsals, the entire cast had secretly autographed a doll later thrown from the stage like a souvenir guitar pick during their cannibalism sketch "The Depression." Chunks of raw steak and kielbasa became similarly airborne while providing vigorously ribald sound effects for the newer bit "Radio Porno Theater." A styrofoam Cookie Puss rendition anchored the sweet-toothed mobster parody "Paolo Gets Made," while their beloved musical closer "Porcupine Racetrack" featured a spiky-costumed Thomas Lennon, a local eight-person choir and a very enthusiastic audience singalong.  

The members hung around their tented dressing rooms for the next two hours, catching up on their lives and making promises to do it all again someday. With a written oral history in the works and fans mobbing the artists’ exit gate, the demand for the group clearly still ran high. "It’s good that it still resonates," Marino reflected on the group’s legacy. "It’s still around in the world."