Interview date: 07/07/2009
Run date: 07/14/2009
These days, Ken Marino can be seen serving up comedy as Ron Donald on Starz’s “Party Down,” and he also achieved a certain degree of cult fame for playing a gay demon on The CW’s late, great “Reaper,” but in the mid-1990s, he was – along with ten other really funny people – a cast member of MTV’s “The State.” It’s been a long, hard road getting the series to DVD, due to the horror of music licensing, but at long last, “The State: The Complete Series” is making its debut on July 14, and if truth be told, Marino’s as happy about it as anyone. Bullz-Eye chatted with him about his work on the show (though we did not ask him to dip his balls in anything, as that would have been highly unprofessional), slid in a few questions about “Reaper” and “Party Down,” and got the latest update on the long-rumored “State” movie.
Bullz-Eye: Well, geez, now that “The State” is finally coming out on DVD, I feel like I should start quizzing you guys about when “You Wrote It, You Watch It” is going to be released.
Ken Marino: (Laughs) How many people have you been talking to about “The State”?
KM: Wow. You know, to be honest with you, I thought it was going to be on the DVD. It isn’t?
BE: Not that I’ve seen. (Writer’s note: There is, however, an appearance by the guys on “The Jon Stewart Show.”)
KM: Well, in that case, you got me. (Laughs) I’ll be honest with you: I’m very curious to see that stuff. I haven’t seen that stuff in…well, even longer than it’s been since I’ve seen “The State”!
BE: So how much of a relief is it to finally get “The State” into stores after having been asked about it for so long?
KM: Well, selfishly, I’m just happy so that I can watch it! David (Wain) kind of headed the campaign to get it done, and he dealt with the outside forces that were trying to put it together or to block it or whatever, so I would just get E-mail updates. At a certain point, I just got numb to that. I was just, like, “Oh, it’s never gonna happen.”
BE: So were you just like the rest of us, watching DVRs and 3rd-generation VHS tapes?
KM: I have VHS tapes. I was just cleaning out my garage, and I found a shitload of them. David, I think, informed me, “You know, VHS tapes don’t hold up. They’re probably already worthless.” So I’m glad that the DVD’s coming out!
BE: So what were the writing teams like for “The State” back then? Was there a tendency for the same folks to write together, or did you mix it up for variety just to see what came out?
KM: You know, we would always…there were smaller groups of people. Sometimes people would write alone. I liked to go off and write with different groups of people. Like, Mike Black and I would write together, or David and I, or David, Kevin, and I. And Joe, Ben, and I would go to one of our apartments, drink a bunch of beer and maybe smoke some pot and then write skits. A lot of those skits never got made. (Laughs)
BE: Was there a particular favorite collaborative team? I know you worked with David a lot.
KM: No, I mean, it was always fun working with everybody in the group. That was the thing. It’s amazing to think about that now: we all got along. Certainly, there was a competitive nature, and there were fights within the group at times, but we’re still all pretty tight, and we’re still all good friends. There’s something about those guys and gal for me that I loved creating with them, and I always did. There was never anybody who I was, like, “I like this more.” It was just always fun to think up really stupid jokes with people and write them on bar napkins over beers.
BE: You guys did pretty good at picking pop culture targets who’ve stood the test of time. Like, there’s the sketch where a house is first invested by Slash, then by Flea(s).
KM: (Laughs) Um…yeah, maybe heroin has something to do with it?
BE: Could be. Of course, there are also some definitive time-capsule moments for people who lived through the ‘90s. I mean, at one point, I just went, “Aw, they’re making fun of Dan Cortese! That’s so cute!”
KM: (Bursts out laughing) Yeah, it’s gonna be really interesting to see this. I’m assuming that there’ll be a new group of people who’ve never seen “The State,” and they’ll go, “Yeah, I’ve heard a lot about this, I’m looking forward to seeing it.” And then they’ll watch it and be, like, “Who the fuck…? What is this? What are they making fun of? Who is that?”
BE: So be honest: what’s the most inappropriate time or place that the phrase “I want to dip my balls in it” has been thrown back at you?
KM: (Laughs) I want to say my wedding, but it wasn’t. I don’t know, man. I mean, is there an appropriate place to say it?
BE: Maybe not. It seems like one of those phrases where you’d have to be really drunk to scream it out in a crowd.
KM: Yeah, well, that has happened. Not me screaming it out in a crowd, but other people.
BE: I’ve heard that, at first, you guys didn’t have any real interest in doing recurring characters.
KM: No, we were very much against it, and that was the reason we did…that was, I guess, why we did Louie. The point was that the catchphrase you can say over and over again was completely created. It was our saying, “Fuck you, we don’t want to do this!” And, of course, it wound up being huge. I haven’t seen it in a long time, but in the first season, I think there’s a whole episode dedicated to, “And, now, our big recurring character’s going to come up at the end of the show! Here he comes! It’s Louie, the greatest recurring character!” And then we were never going to do it again, because he was pointless. But, of course, we ended up doing him a bunch more times. But recurring characters were, in that first season, mandated by MTV. They said, “We want recurring characters, we wanted sick and twisted pieces, we want pop culture references, and MTV parodies.” And I think you’ll see that in the first season, but once they kind of loosened up the reigns a little bit, I think we mostly avoided that kind of stuff…except for recurring characters, because we were, like, “Hey, actually, recurring characters are fun to do!”
BE: Was there, like, a flipping of the switch when you realized, “Hey ,we can get more screen time if we keep doing the same characters over and over again?”
KM: (Laughs) Yeah, I think so. There was always competition within the group to get the screen time, so, yeah, that might’ve been an easy way to do it.
BE: Is there any character that you guys created that you think actually could’ve maintained a feature-length film, a la “Saturday Night Live”?
KM: (Goes quiet for several seconds) Maybe Doug.
BE: Doug is pretty awesome.
KM: Yeah, I think Doug would be the guy.
BE: Of the bizarre one-off sketches that you guys did, I think the most inspired might’ve been “Mime Crash.”
KM: “Mime Crash”? Oh, is that the one with the taped-off area?
BE: Yeah, the mime’s pretending to be a pilot, but he doesn’t have the experience to land the plane, so he has to be talked down.
KM: Oh, my God. You know, see, I haven’t thought of that one in 15 years, and now I’m really curious to see it. Is that on YouTube?
BE: It may be. But I’ve already got a copy of the set.
KM: Oh, yeah? How is it?
BE: Oh, it’s great! It’s awesome, in fact. And I haven’t seen these episodes in years, either, so it’s fantastic to see them.
KM: Does it look like really cheap video? I bet it does.
BE: Well, not all of it. There are certainly some bits where, in their appearance, they really show their age. But it’s aged pretty well. And you guys…
KM: …look like babies? (Laughs)
BE: I was going to say “kids,” but same difference. (Laughs)
KM: I can’t wait to see it. I don’t have it yet.
BE: I can’t believe I have a copy and you don’t.
KM: Neither can I! (Laughs)
(Writer’s interjection: If there was a silent “you son of a bitch” after Marino’s commented, it would’ve been totally warranted. God love you, MTV and Paramount, for finally getting “The State” onto DVD, but there’s just something damned inappropriate about the fact that a lowly journalist like myself was able to get an advance copy of the “State” set before one of the show’s cast got one.)
BE: Do you have a favorite sketch that never made it to air?
KM: Well, we did one that…I don’t think it ever made it to air, but it was on “Skits and Stickers,” which was this VHS best-of kind of thing that we put out at one point. It was a parody of horror movies that Joe and I wrote, and, basically, the killer is the actual video camera, just this floating video camera. I don’t know if it holds up. I’m sure it doesn’t, and I’m sure that’s why we didn’t put it in the actual show, but I have fond memories of the scenes that Joe and I did in that particular piece. He’s a young drifter, I’m a cop, and we’re just screaming at each other.
BE: Actually, that gives the perfect opportunity to ask if there’s anything to report on “People Will Die,” the script you and Joe have written? I’ve read about it online.
KM: Oh, yes, we’re…getting there. It’s hard, ‘cause Joe and I are both working on other things, so we try to squeeze it in at different times, but we’re getting there. I think it’s pretty funny. And creepy. So we’ll see if there’s a market for horror-comedy. Sometimes there is, sometimes there’s not. It depends on which way the wind is blowing in Hollywood.
BE: Actually, speaking of scary stuff, do you think we’ll ever see “The State’s 43rd Annual All-Star Halloween Special” on DVD?
KM: (Laughs) You know, I hope so. Maybe if this DVD does well, maybe we can put it out. I remember there being some good stuff on that. But, again, I haven’t seen that in a long time. Have you seen it?
BE: No, I know of its existence, and I know that Sonic Youth was the musical guest, but I’ve never actually seen it.
KM: Yeah, Sonic Youth was the music guest, and a bunch of people did guest spots. Shit, I can’t remember who. Um… Janeane Garofalo, Jon Stewart, and Denis Leary, I think RuPaul was on it, and…Sting? And Larry…no, not Larry King, Alan King. Anyway, a shitload of people. They just kind of showed up, said a couple of funny lines, and left. I think about four people watched it. I’m so glad we left MTV to do it.
BE: It’s funny that you guys had so many guest stars on the special. You look back at the entire run of the series, and it’s, like, Jon Stewart, Gilbert Gottfried, Frank Whaley, and that’s it.
KM: (Explodes with laughter) Yeah, we really had a lot of pull.
BE: I know the Jon Stewart connection, but how did Gilbert and Frank make it into the mix?
KM: I think they said, “Yes.” (Laughs) We said, “Hey, we need somebody. Who can we get?” And we were with our big agency, William Morris, and they said, “Well, let’s see: we represent Gilbert Gottfriend, and he said he’d do it.” So he showed up for about a half-hour, he didn’t know what the hell was going on, and he left. And Frank Whaley, I think, is a friend of a bunch of people in the group.
BE: When is someone going to start bootlegging the album you guys recorded for Warner Brothers?
KM: You know, I feel like it’s already out there.
BE: Maybe it is.
KM: I think it’s out there, online. Somebody already did it. Yeah, it’s…it has its moments. But from what I remember, it’s a drunken mess. We all basically got paid to do this album, and we were, like, “Okay, if we take all our money and get tickets and go to the Bahamas to record it at a recording studio down there, we won’t really make any money, but we’ll be in the Bahamas for two weeks. You wanna do that?” “Yeah, let’s do that.” So we went to the Bahamas for two weeks. And if you listen closely on a number of the pieces, you’ll hear ice in our glasses making noise, because we were constantly drinking whatever local flavored drinks were around. I wish we would’ve taken it a little more seriously. (Laughs) But we were in the Bahamas, for God’s sake! But I do actually think there’s some funny stuff on there.
BE: A couple of quick one-liners to wrap things up. Any further development on the oft-rumored “State” movie?
KM: You know, we all want to do it, but it’s just very, very difficult to get eleven people freed up for a couple of months. It’s very, very hard. But, you know, whenever it comes up…and we have a bunch of material that we wrote for it, but then whenever it comes up, everybody’s working. Everybody’s doing some other stuff, so it’s just very difficult to get everybody’s schedules on the same page.
BE: If they found the money to make a 2-hour “Reaper” movie, would you be up for returning as Tony?
KM: Oh, absolutely! Are you kidding? It was great. I have to say that, the first couple of times that I got into the four and a half hours of make-up for the demon costume, it was awesome. And then after that, I was, like, “Yeah, okay, I did it. I don’t you to need to do it anymore.” Under my horse-hoof legs, I was in six-inch women’s high heels , and I had these really thick contacts in, so it got a little tedious after awhile. But the actual character and the part…? Awesome. Absolutely. And to work with those people again? Definitely.
BE: Have you heard anything definitive about Jennifer Coolidge being full-time on “Party Down” next time?
KM: I have not. I don’t know what’s going on, actually.
BE: They officially confirmed that Jane Lynch is off to “Glee.”
KM: Yeah, and that’s a big bummer, I know, for us and for Jane. She wanted to do “Party Down.” She’s just incredible, and it’s a big loss for us, but what are going to do?
BE: What the heck happened with “Outnumbered”? It was on the slate for mid-season, and then it was suddenly gone.
KM: Did you see the pilot?
BE: I’ve read a review of it over on TheFutonCritic.com, but I didn’t actually see it myself.
KM: Yeah, it was good, but it was just…I don’t know, they showed it at the upfronts, and it was going ot be a mid-season replacement, and then it just went away. But what was nice about that was that it ended up being a good thing for me. If it had been picked up, then I wouldn’t have been able to do “Party Down,” and I couldn’t be more proud of that show. I love the people I’m working with there, and I can’t wait to get back. We shoot the second season in September, and I can’t wait.
BE: I know I need to wrap up, but a friend of mine wanted me to tell you how much she loves “Diggers.”
KM: Oh, tell her thank you so much! It means a lot. It’s a very special movie to me.
BE: Do you think it was just the curse of the period piece that kept it from being any bigger than it was? Because it was a heck of a cast.
KM: I think that it’s just…you know, movies like that, unless they get some push and somebody puts them out there…I mean, it was a small movie. And, also, it was a victim of…oh, not a victim of, but it was part of Mark Cuban’s thing with releasing films on his HD Network and on video and in theaters at the same time. It was a very small movie, and it wasn’t in many theaters, but it was well-received, and it holds a special place in my heart. I’m just happy that it got made.
BE: And, lastly, there’s a line in your Wikipedia entry which states that you can be seen in the introductory film that accompanies Disney’s Rock ‘n’ Rollercoaster. Is that true?
KM: Oh, yeah! If you really want to see a fantastic performance by me, a non-verbal performance, you can see me as the sound guy if you’re waiting in line for the Aerosmith Rock ‘N’ Rollercoaster.
BE: Definitive proof that Ken Marino can emote.
KM: (Laughs) Absolutely. All right, man, good talking to you. Thanks a lot!