Home Movies Movie Lists

‘Wet Hot American Summer’ All-Star Roll Call: Then and Now

How the comedy MVP cast became huge since making the 2001 cult hit

Wet Hot American Summer

Saeed Adyani/Netflix

When the retro summer-camp-movie parody Wet Hot American Summer was released in 2001, comedy nerds and hardcore MTV viewers were hip to the cast. Few ordinary audience members knew anything about the likes of Amy Poehler, Michael Ian Black or Ken Marino, however, which may explain why the movie flopped so hard at the box office. The core WHAS creative team was drawn from the sketch comedy troupe The State (which had its own self-titled MTV series between 1993 and 1995), but to bring the world of 1981 to life, writer-director David Wain called on young drama students, improv champs, and alt-comedy veterans — unwittingly assembling a roster of future all-stars.

Over the past 15 years, the film has become a cult hit, and many of the actors have gone on to phenomenal success; looking back now, it's incredible to see the sheer amount of marquee-name talent and recognizable supporting players on display. With Netflix's prequel miniseries Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp arriving on July 31st, here's a reminder of what the original players have been up to since they first left Camp Firewood.

Wet Hot American Summer

DSC_2934.NEF

Saeed Adyani/Netflix

Paul Rudd

Character: Andy, the studly, self-absorbed lifeguard
Pre-WHAS: An ageless wonder, Rudd looks the same today as he did when his career began in the 1990s, back when he was popping up in smaller roles in the movies Clueless, The Cider House Rules, and Romeo + Juliet.  Does he have a decrepit portrait stashed in the attic or something?
Post-WHAS: In the ensuing decade-plus since he petulantly flopped around the camp's cafeteria, Rudd become a favorite of Judd Apatow (who's worked with him on everything from The 40-Year-Old Virgin to This Is 40, among others) and Wet Hot director David Wain (Role Models, Wanderlust). You can't say the words "sex panther" without picturing his horny reporter Brian Fontana from the Anchorman films, and he's had memorable runs on Friends and Parks and Recreation. Oh, and did we mention that he's Ant-Man? Y'know, the Marvel superhero? That's not too shabby for a guy who regularly let campers drown while sucking face.

ph

WHAS-6628.CR2

Amy Poehler

Character: Susie, the high-spirited talent-show director
Pre-WHAS: Given how busy Poehler has been in the 2000s, it's hard to believe that this was one her first significant gigs. Prior to this, she performed with the improv troupe Upright Citizens Brigade and starred with Veep's Matt Walsh, Matt Besser and Ian Roberts on a TV sketch show of the same name.
Post-WHAS: Just a few months after this film premiered, Poehler became a Saturday Night Live cast-member, where alongside she helped forge a more gender-balanced version of the male-dominated series alongside Tina Fey and Maya Rudolph. Throughout her time on SNL — and since leaving in 2008 — Poehler has been a familiarly frenetic presence in movie comedies like Blades of Glory and Baby Mama, though she’s best-known for anchoring the beloved NBC sitcom Parks and Recreation between 2009 and its series finale earlier this year. She's a published author. Her Golden Globes co-hosting gigs alongside Fey have set the standard for how to M.C. an awards show. And yes, that's her voicing Happiness in the Pixar hit Inside Out as well.

Wet Hot American Summer

WHAS-4979.CR2

Saeed Adyani/Netflix

Michael Showalter

Character: Gerald "Coop" Cooperberg, lovesick nice guy
Pre-WHAS: As one of the core members of The State, Showalter's main recurring character was "Doug," a whiny rebellious teen. Alongside fellow State-rs David Wain and Michael Ian Black, he formed the comedy trio Stella in 1997.
Post-WHAS: Like Wain, the WHAS co-writer has collaborated with his old friends on various TV series and movies — including a Stella show on Comedy Central that ran for 10 episodes in 2005. He also wrote, direct, and star in the 2005 film The Baxter, a screwball comedy that's deservedly developed its own cult following. He continues to teach screenwriting at NYU on the side.

Wet Hot American Summer

WHAS-4159.CR2

Saeed Adyani/Netflix

Janeane Garofalo

Character: Beth, the touchy-feely director of Camp Firewood
Pre-WHAS: Next to David Hyde Pierce, Garofalo was the film's most recognizable face circa 2001, having spent much of the 1990s as a stalwart of the alt-comedy stand-up scene. By the time she made Wet Hot, Garofalo had starred in several movies (Reality Bites, The Truth About Cats and Dogs), co-writer and co-starred in The Ben Stiller Show, was a supporting-player MVP on The Larry Sanders Show and had suffered through an ill-fated stint in the Saturday Night Live cast.
Post-WHAS: While she's no longer the hipster icon she was at the turn of the millennium, Garofalo has maintained a prominent secondary career as a left-wing political commentator, primarily on Air America. And she's continued to work steadily on TV, giving memorable performances on The West Wing, 24, Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior, and Girlfriends' Guide To Divorce. That's her as a French-accented sous chef in Pixar's Ratatouille as well.

Wet Hot American Summer

WHAS-1024.CR2

Saeed Adyani/Netflix

David Hyde Pierce

Character: Professor Henry Newman, a Skylab-spotting astrophysicist stationed near Camp Firewood
Pre-WHAS: Pierce was nearing the end of his 11-year, four-Emmy run as Dr. Niles Crane on the NBC sitcom Frasier when he received the script for this role — which he's said he accepted because it was just weird enough to make audiences forget about Niles for a little a while.
Post-WHAS: Pierce has made good use of his Frasier money over the past 15 years, choosing to work only when he finds something worth doing. In addition to spending a lot of time on Broadway (where he won a Tony for Kander & Ebb’s musical mystery Curtains), Pierce has given terrific performances in the low-budget indies Full Frontal and The Perfect Host, and was arguably the best part of The Good Wife's shaky sixth season.

Wet Hot American Summer

WHAS-1389.CR2

Saeed Adyani/Netflix

Elizabeth Banks

Character: Lindsay, a hot-to-trot counselor
Pre-WHAS: The theater-trained Banks had only a few bit parts on her resumé before smearing her face with BBQ sauce and making out with Paul Rudd on a pier.
Post-WHAS: Banks' formidable comedic chops and versatility have given her a varied career since Wet Hot: She's taken her share of conventional love-interest roles in big pictures like Spider-Man (2002); had dramatic roles in films like The Next Three Days (2010) and Love & Mercy (2014) and stole scenes with funny character turns in The 40-Year-Old Virgin and on TV (Scrubs, 30 Rock, Modern Family). Her flamboyant, morally ambiguous Effie Trinket in the Hunger Games series has been a high point of the franchise, and in addition to reprising her role as an a cappela commentator, she recently stepped behind the camera as the director and producer of the musical-comedy sequel Pitch Perfect 2.

Wet Hot American Summer

WHAS-6310.CR2

Saeed Adyani/Netflix

Bradley Cooper

Character: Ben, theater geek extraordinaire
Pre-WHAS: This was Cooper's big-screen debut — in 2001 he would've only been familiar to his friends, his family, and the few people who saw him asking Sean Penn a question on a 1999 episode of Inside the Actor's Studio.
Post-WHAS: Gosh, where to begin? Cooper's first substantial break came when he was cast as a regular on the spy series Alias, not long after appearing in this movie; his career really started to take off in 2009, however, with the raunchy comedy The Hangover. Since then he's starred in several big box office hits (including Guardians of the Galaxy, where he played a raccoon), and has been Oscar-nominated three times: for Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle, and American Sniper. No one involved with Wet Hot American Summer could've predicted that for Cooper back in 2001 — except for maybe his own drama-besotted character, Ben.

Wet Hot American Summer

WHAS-4276.CR2

Saeed Adyani/Netflix

Ken Marino

Character: Victor Pulak, a braggart with a hidden sweet streak
Pre-WHAS: Another founding State-er, Marino is a terrific example of the team's skewed sensibility, which can take someone normal-looking —and turn him into a complete clown. After the troupe's MTV sketch show was cancelled, he'd become a regular on the sitcom Men Behaving Badly and a guest star on the procedurals The Practice and Nash Bridges.
Post-WHAS: The actor has continued to bounce between absurdity (most notably on Childrens Hospital, Eastbound & Down and his Web series Burning Love) and sobriety (as a bit player on NYPD Blue and Grey's Anatomy). His biggest role to date has been as the romantic lead on NBC’s sitcom Marry Me, but his best performances have effectively split the difference between goofiness and drama. The best of those best? That would be Veronica Mars sleazy private eye Vinnie Van Lowe and Party Down's careerist cater Ron Donald.

Wet Hot American Summer

WHAS-4029.CR2

Saeed Adyani/Netflix

Molly Shannon

Character: Gail von Kleinenstein, emotionally needy divorcée and art teacher
Pre-WHAS: Like Garofalo and Poehler, Shannon is an Saturday Night Live alum, who actually joined the show when the Reality Bites star quit in the middle of the tumultuous 1994-95 season. At SNL, Shannon was best known for playing the deeply strange Catholic school girl Mary Katherine Gallagher, later featured in the 1999 movie Superstar.
Post-WHAS: Around the same time that she shipped off to Camp Firewood, Shannon left SNL, and in the years since she’s been a go-to guest star and supporting player for movies and TV. Her best work since 2001 has been in the short-lived sitcom Kath & Kim and in the HBO series Enlightened (for which she scored an Emmy nomination).

Wet Hot American Summer

WHAS-6483.CR2

Saeed Adyani/Netflix

Michael Ian Black

Character: McKinley Dozen, closeted counselor
Pre-WHAS: Along with The State's Thomas Lennon (who surprisingly wasn't involved with this movie), Black may be the troupe's most familiar face. Prior to making Wet Hot American Summer he'd already begun working his dry, cutting wit into bit parts on TV.
Post-WHAS: Black has continued to appear anywhere and everywhere — from tiny roles in comedy series like the recent Downton Abbey parody Another Period to playing "himself" in the cable staples Celebrity Poker Showdown and VH1's "I Love the…" specials. He's also been a commercial spokesperson, podcaster, author, and game-show host, and found an entirely different audience as the comic relief on the NBC dramedy Ed.

Wet Hot American Summer

WHAS-1517.CR2

Saeed Adyani/Netflix

Christopher Meloni

Character: Gene, a PTSD-afflicted Vietnam veteran and camp cook
Pre-WHAS: Perhaps the movie's most oddball addition, Meloni was best-known at the time for his intense performances in the HBO prison drama Oz and the NBC's Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. But it was just that kind of edginess that the Wet Hot team was looking for in the hallucinating, fridge-humping Gene.
Post-WHAS: Meloni stayed busy with SVU until he left that show in 2011, and since then has had a few memorable supporting movie roles: as an army officer in Man of Steel, as Hall of Fame baseball manager Leo Durocher in 42, and as a dad with dark secrets in White Bird in a Blizzard.

Wet Hot American Summer

WHAS-3890.CR2

Saeed Adyani/Netflix

Joe Lo Truglio

Character: Neil, the camp nerd
Pre-WHAS: Most members of The State were fairly ordinary-looking, but Lo Truglio's squat frame, bug-eyes, and wiry energy made him a natural comic character actor, with a full dance-card even before this film came out.
Post-WHAS: He's continued to be a marvelous comedy utility player, capable of filling out an ensemble or just popping up to steal a scene or two. He's currently on the Fox sitcom Brooklyn Nine-Nine, where his portrayal of fastidious foodie Charles Boyle plays hilariously off the shaggier Andy Samberg.

Wet Hot American Summer

WHAS-5312.CR2

Saeed Adyani/Netflix

Judah Friedlander

Character: Ron von Kleinenstein, wayward husband
Pre-WHAS: Wet Hot American Summer wasn't Friedlander's first motion picture, but his minute or so of screen-time here was something of a departure for the highly conceptual comedian, who'd spent the previous decade delivering deadpan jokes on stage while wearing trucker hats and thick glasses.
Post-WHAS: Friedlander has continued to focus on stand-up, though he's had a few prominent roles over the past 15 years — including as a great turn as comedy writer Frank Rossitano on Tina Fey's sitcom 30 Rock.

Wet Hot American Summer

WHAS-2269.CR2

Saeed Adyani/Netflix

H. Jon Benjamin

Character: A can of mixed vegetables (no, really)
Pre-WHAS: After starting out in experimental comedy in the early 1990s, Benjamin found his calling in animation, as a voice-actor and writer-producer. By 2001, his low, mumbly tone was already familiar to fans of Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist and Home Movies.
Post-WHAS: In between the occasional live-action performance — including in his Comedy Central series Jon Benjamin Has A Van — he's continued to be one of the most recognizable voices on TV. And as the leading man of Archer and Bob's Burgers, Benjamin's at the heart of two of the funniest adult cartoons of the past half-decade.

Wet Hot American Summer

WHAS-4802.CR2

Saeed Adyani/Netflix

David Wain

Character: Paco… and also the movie's director/co-screenwriter
Pre-WHAS: One of the driving creative forces of The State (and a part of the troupe since its inception as "The New Group" at NYU in the late 1980s), Wain was a familiar on-screen presence whenever the MTV series needed a nebbishy character…or someone overtly semitic.
Post-WHAS: The critical and commercial failure of Wet Hot American Summer didn't stall Wain's career momentum. He's gone on to write and direct several movies — including the sizable hit Role Models — and has been one of the masterminds of the Adult Swim series Childrens Hospital, where he occasionally plays the character "Rabbi Jewy McJewjew."