Last weekend was the greatest weekend of my life thus far, and that’s saying a lot.
How did it happen? Well, I got to spend it working behind the scenes with my favorite sketch comedy group, The State, for their big reunion show at Jack Black’s Festival Supreme in LA. I know. It was incredible. Let me try to remember every wonderful thing that happened and share it with you now.
Thursday, October 23:
I am up until 4am performing with XELLE, after which I have to get up in a couple hours to catch my flight to LA. This whole two weeks was so crazy leading up to this trip, I debated whether it was worth it to upend my whole life just for 2 days in LA. But this was a once in a lifetime opportunity. I’ve been a fan of the state for 22 years. They’ve only reunited on the West Coast during my adult life, and I’ve never had an opportunity to be there for it. So I stopped debating and bought my plane tickets. There was no way I was missing this.
Friday, October 24:
I get up after almost no sleep, throw my stuff in a bag, and jump in a cab to JFK. The flight is so quick that it gives me the same sense of wonder I always get when I fly long distances: the fact that you can now cross the entire country in a handful of hours and just get into a metal tube and get out in a whole different place is just inconceivable and so amazing. I was in LA, and just a few hours away from getting into a rehearsal room with all 11 members of The State. This is crazy.
I can’t be in a warm environment without swimming whenever possible, so even though I was dead tired, the first thing I did was get in the hotel pool and lay out in the sun. The ability to do this in late October is one of the 5 things LA has going for it, so I had to indulge. After an hour and a half, my room was available, and I took a quick nap, woke up feeling like a truck had run me over, and hurriedly showered, spiffed up and changed so I could look good when meeting The motherfucking STATE, for the first time all together. I was excited and in total disbelief that this was happening. What a great life I have sometimes. 🙂
I took a quick Uber ride over to the new UCB Theater in LA, which is a gorgeous space, if a little intimidating. It definitely reflects the considerable might of UCB, which is now apparently the end all be all of succeeding in comedy in Hollywood these days. I got there right on time, but to my chagrin, although I had been told the door was open and to come in, all the doors I could find were locked. I finally got through the front gate only to find more locked doors. That’s when Michael Showalter came out of nowhere, said hello, and asked if I was having any luck finding a way in. After a couple moments, we figured out which door was open and walked into the rehearsal room. There before us was the rest of The State, minus Mike Jann, Ben Garant and Michael Ian Black. I had met David Wain, Michael Showalter, Todd Holoubek, Tom Lennon and of course my best bud Kevin Allison before, but this was the first time I was meeting Ken Marino, Kerri Kenney-Silver and Joe LoTruglio, and seeing them all together in a State rehearsal was absolute magic.
At first it was a little nerve wracking to be there, but then Kevin said, “Oh hey everyone, this is my friend JC, and she produces the RISK! podcast with me,” and everyone APPLAUDED. THE STATE APPLAUDED ME. I was not expecting that. It was the coolest surprise to know that they knew who I was and appreciated the work Kevin and I have done so much on RISK! that they just spontaneously started clapping. Amazing. I introduced myself to people individually later, and it was so funny to say hi to Tom and say, “Actually, this is the second time we’re meeting, since I first met you on the street in NYC when The State was still on the air and got your autograph!” When I met Kerri, I reminded her that we had emailed back and forth about having her appear in my band XELLE’s music video for our song, Hologram, which she did, with an awesome cameo at the end. She remembered it all and said she loved the video and XELLE and thought we were awesome, and for the rest of the weekend she incredibly sweetly explained to people that I had a great band whose video she had been in, which of course she didn’t have to do, but which made me giddy with amazement every time. Talk about a classy lady! Ken definitely lived up to his reputation as the dreamboat of the group and grabbed both my hands, looked directly in my eyes and said simply “Hi, I’m Ken.” I was like “Yes you are!” It’s amazing how they all look just the same 20 years later, just a little more grown up. Ken is hot, always has been, and probably always will be. There, I said it.
I settled in with the other girls who were helping out behind the scenes as The State began to rehearse sketches right in front of me that I’d only seen on TV before. It was an indescribable joy to be on the inside of this process, seeing the original members of The State do sketches like “The Jew, The Italian And The Red Head Gay,” “Hormones” and “Porcupine Racetrack” on stage right in front of me. It was amazing how well the sketches had stood the test of time, as well as how excellent and hilarious each performer was in his or her own way. And what a pleasure to see them improvise jokes on the spot, debate about which tags were funniest, remind each other of lines or to take an extra beat with something, and generally find every way to make the show as strong as possible. They were all so receptive to each other’s suggestions and having so much fun putting the show together. And even though we saw them run through the sketches about 5 times each leading up to the show, every single time it was impossible not to laugh. They’re just that good.
At a certain point, it became clear that there wasn’t going to be a way to order dinner and everyone was hungry, so I ran across the street to pick up snacks for everyone, making sure to keep in mind that this was LA and these are working actors, so I kept it low-carb and heavy on the fruits, veggies and nuts, which ended up being greatly appreciated. Todd and I talked about how essential it is to have vegetables to eat in an assortment of snacks even though most people usually stick to chips and dip. Showalter went for the pretzels. 🙂
Later in the rehearsal, the band arrived, led by Craig Wedren, the original composer and performer behind The State’s awesome theme song. It was great to see him in person and to hear the band play the theme song, as well as things like “The Jew, The Italian and the Red Head Gay” and “The Humpty Dance” live.
After a few amazing hours, the rehearsal was over, and it was time for bed.
Saturday, October 25:
At 11am, we arrived at the Shrine Auditorium for sound check on the main stage. Slowly, The State trickled in and began discussing logistics and trying out the mics. It was great to watch them work again and imagine the excitement that was to come later in the night as we looked out across the huge area in front of the stage that would soon be filled with thousands of fans. Out of nowhere, Jack Black, the creator of Festival Supreme, was on stage talking with The State and taking a group picture with them. As he left, he smiled at me and locked eyes with me for a pretty long time as he walked down the steps off the stage. It was fun and surreal.
Later, Craig Wedren and the band set up their instruments and began to check their levels. I had been playing it pretty cool with everyone all weekend in spite of my excitement, but when Craig hit the button to play the signature vocal samples in The State’s theme song, I just involuntarily let out a whoop and started jumping up and down as if I was experiencing the most thrilling moment of a rock concert. Realizing how crazy I must have looked, I caught myself after a few jumps and tried to remember to act normal.
After sound check, it was time to go back into rehearsal, so I shared an Uber with Tom Lennon, Kerri Kenney-Silver, Beowulf Jones, Ben Garant and David Wain. Kerri talked to me about my band and told everyone that she had appeared in our music video and that it was really awesome, which was so incredibly nice of her. Shortly, we pulled up to the rehearsal space and ducked into a Chinese restaurant to pick up some lunch. Ben very kindly treated us all to lunch, and we thanked him and headed upstairs. After a half hour, everyone had assembled again in the rehearsal space and began going through the show again. We took a group photo, The State signed a baby doll that was being used in a sketch and then thrown out into the audience, and many laughs later, it was time to break until the show.
Kevin, Ben, David and I then headed back to Festival Supreme to catch some of the acts and settle into the backstage area. When we arrived, Kevin, David and I started walking around, and it was fun to see all the fans do double takes and ask them for photos and tell them how much they loved them. Many times when I’ve encountered celebrities, they have random people with them, and this time, I was the random person, haha.
As we walked through one of the Shrine’s hallways, we ran into Fred Armisen, who chatted and joked around with us for a few minutes, and we all told him how much we love Portlandia. We continued walking around and hit up the catering area, where we ran into Nick Kroll and joked around some more, and then when we got backstage, Janeane Garofalo came over to The State’s area to say hi. I looked behind me and Peaches and Margaret Cho and Bridget Everett were talking to friends and hanging out.
Before long, it was time to get things backstage for the show. We carried tubs of props, costumes and raw meat (which was a prop for a sketch) backstage, and began to set everything up on the side of the stage. The group had been worried and stressed out all week about the outdoor stage, and they also worried that with their late time slot and so much else going on at the festival, that perhaps not enough people would come see the show to fill out the huge space for the audience. But as soon as Peaches’ set was done, there were hundreds and hundreds of State fans crammed up in front of the stage, waiting patiently but intensely for their favorite comedy group to hit the stage. By the time it was time for the show to start, thousands had assembled to watch. The big screen showing the name of the act about to play switched over to say “THE STATE” in giant, pulsating, red letters, and the crowd roared excitedly. Kerri said that someone had told her earlier that it was not a sure thing that a lot of people would be in the audience for the show, and that that was NOT what she wanted to hear moments before performing. I surreptitiously snapped a photo of the huge crowd of State fans through a curtain at the back of the stage and said “Don’t worry, here’s what it actually looks like out there.” As members of The State darted in and out of the wings, placing props on stage and readying their first costumes, you could hear people gasping and trying to snap photos of each of them and getting riled up for the show.
It was so awesome to see The State’s mood turn from stress, frustration and worry into excitement and joy as the moments ticked down leading up to the show. I was trying to make sure everything was totally set to go with props and costumes on my end, but since we were all squished together in a 6 by 8 space, I was right next to them all when they gathered together to check in for a moment before the show and say how amazed they were to all be together 20 years later, and how much fun they were going to have. It was really sweet and I could tell how much they loved each other and how special this was for them, which was great to see. 🙂
Finally, after a long and exhausting day, it was time for the lights to go down and the show to begin. Kevin, David and Ken went out and started the show with “The Jew, The Italian and The Red Head Gay” and the crowd loved it. When the rest of The State ran out for the end of the sketch to sing the song along with them, there was a huge roar of excitement from the 5,000 people watching. All 11 members of their favorite comedy group was doing the sketches they had been watching over and over for 20 years, and now here they were, a little more grown up, but otherwise completely the same and just as amazing. There’s just nothing like the feeling of seeing something from your childhood come back to life in your adulthood, and realizing that if a piece of art is good enough and hits you at just the right time, it really will stay with you forever. How lucky we are that even with a group of 11 people, even 20 years later, and even after slogging through 11 careers in the arts, we still have every single member alive, well and willing to do a reunion show. Oftentimes, that doesn’t happen with even a 4 member group!
There were so many awesome moments for me as a fan backstage. When Ken was getting into character as Louie, I noticed his collar wasn’t straightened out over his tie in the back, so I just reached up and fixed it before he went out on stage. When it was time for Kevin to do The Depression sketch, I pulled a dress over his head, made sure his wig was on straight and handed him a baby doll. When we were switching over from a sketch about mobsters to Porcupine Racetrack, there were 8 fake guns that had to get off stage, and the person who had them all gathered up accidentally dropped them while picking something else up, so everyone on stage just had to grab whatever gun they could get and run. It was me, Ken, Todd, Tom, Kevin, just all working together in that moment to grab all the guns and dart off stage before the next sketch had to start. I remember hearing all the guns drop, looking down at the pile of them, and then all of our hands just diving into the pile to grab as many guns as possible and get them off stage. As I looked down at all our hands grabbing all the guns, I just thought “Wow. This is one of those moments I’ll never forget. Standing on stage in front of 5,000 people, grabbing a bunch of guns off the floor with The State.” A moment before, they were these big stars I’d loved for 20 years and I was some random fan, but in that moment, we were all the same: just a bunch of people trying to grab as many guns at once as possible. 🙂 What I learned in that moment is that fake guns are HEAVY.
The rest of the show seemed to pass by in a single minute, and before we knew it, the group was singing the last refrain of “The Redhead Gay” to end the show, the crowd went wild, and it was all over. Everyone was sweaty, exhilarated, and in disbelief that it was all over so fast, but before we had time to think, the group had to go take a photo for Rolling Stone, and Weird Al Yankovic had come back stage to congratulate them on a great show. I spoke to Al briefly and told him how happy I was for him with his number 1 album, and thanked him for making the excellent “Word Crimes” video. He was super sweet and we took a picture.
When I got backstage, all the members of The State were standing around with their spouses and friends, marveling at how well it all went and how into it the crowd was. The mood had shifted completely from total focus and stress to happiness, relief and a bit of exhaustion. Each time I ran into another member of The State, they would give me a big hug and say “Amazing work, thank you for everything. That was incredible.” !!! 🙂 Every time they did, I would say, “I was happy to help. This was the greatest experience of my life. Thanks for letting me be a part of it!” I don’t think they understood just how special it was for all of us working with them, but when I said that to Ben, he was like “Really?” and I said, “Yes. The stuff you guys made together has stuck with me throughout my whole life and being here with you all this weekend was the most incredible, unimaginable dream I could ever have come true. It was the greatest time of my life.” And even in the chaos of backstage and trying to leave, his face completely changed and he seemed deeply touched by how much their work meant to me. “Thank you so much,” he said sincerely and seriously. It’s always great as a fan to be able to let an artist know in person that their work is deeply significant to you, and to have them really understand it. 🙂
I ducked into a tent to put some props away, and when I came out, P!nk was standing there, with Cary Hart, talking to Kerri. There had been so many moments of “Holy shit, I can’t believe I’m actually seeing this person in the flesh,” that day, that when I saw her, even though I couldn’t believe it, I thought “Ok, so now this is happening too, I guess!” It’s crazy how in New York, you’ll see tons of celebrities, but it seems that either they’re in normal person mode when you see them, or it’s never a current pop superstar in all her glory. It’s more likely to be Alec Baldwin going to yoga or something. But here I was in LA, where it makes total sense for P!nk to appear out of nowhere in full awards show glamor mode, with a gorgeous, flowing black gown, piles of diamonds, fully coiffed hair and makeup, looking like she just stepped out of the TV screen. At a festival that was basically created for nerds, cosplay people and metal heads, I was trying to figure out why she was there. “Are you a State fan?” I asked her. “I’m a Kerri fan!” she said, “Kerri and I are good friends.” What?! Awesome. “Oh, that’s great!” I said, “And all I’m gonna say is, the Glitter in the Air performance from the 2009 Grammys? Girl, I watch it once a week, and it’s amazing.” “Aw, thank you so much,” she said. And then we took a picture. I’ll also never forget that while we were talking, she stepped out of her heels onto the ground, shifting her weight from one foot to the other and saying “Ok, these shoes are done for the night! Ugh!” It was funny to see a superstar like her have a totally real and relatable moment right in front of me that I have all the time as well. P!nk is awesome. 🙂
Out of the corner of my eye I realized I was seeing Jesse Camp, the MTV VJ from the late 90’s who won the I Wanna Be A VJ contest and is generally a completely ridiculous character. The last time I had seen him was in 13 years ago at a wrestling event in New York, back when I was into PROFESSIONAL WRESTLING (yes, that happened). Back then, he was a gangly kid in crazy hippy clothes with ridiculous hair. Now, he’s a gangly man in crazy hippy clothes with slightly less ridiculous hair. He’s still totally nice and warm and we chatted a bit before it was time to go to the after party at Joe LoTruglio’s house.
Kevin and I arrived at Joe’s, and it was so wonderful to see everyone relaxed and chatting about what a great show it had been. By that time it was so late and everyone was so exhausted though, that people began to trickle out, and I couldn’t keep my eyes open, so I fell asleep on the couch for a bit. I woke up and petted Joe’s adorable dog, who is one of those dogs who seems like a reincarnated person because his eyes are so deep and expressive, and then hung out for a bit with Joe, his wife, his brother, Kevin and a couple other friends who were there. Joe showed us the miniature movie posters he paints, which are incredibly well done. When 3am rolled around and we were the last ones there, we figured it was finally time to go, and for that incredible night to end. We said our goodbyes, went home to our hotel, and went to sleep after what was unquestionably the greatest day of my life. Yay.