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Clothes Make the Maniacs

With a combined 51 years of comedy experience among them, the men of Stella have a sense of humor so finely tuned it whirs like a machine that’s only 17 years old. Former players on MTV’s The State and the creative force behind the 2001 summer-camp movie parody Wet Hot American Summer, Michael Ian Black, Michael Showalter, and David Wain have been performing as Stella since 1997. To make things more confusing, they’re now the stars of their own Comedy Central series, Stella (which premiered June 28), a show with so much verbal volleying it’s the satirical equivalent of a doubles tennis match (if one player were missing). Let the games begin!

The three of you have been working together for a long time —
David Wain: Yes, we’ve been working together since 10:30 this morning.

I meant since 1988, when you were at NYU. How did you come together?
Wain: Outside of the State, we were performing at [the defunct Manhattan club] Rebar and other places, and we were friends.
Michael Ian Black: Right. Sure. To a degree.
Michael Showalter: I didn’t think it was to a degree. “To a degree” is a qualifying statement. To me, we were friends.
Black: And I’m agreeing with you. I definitely consider you, like, higher than some guys I work with. I’ve been to your house.

And how did your new TV program develop from the live show?
Wain: There were three precursors to the TV show: the nightclub act we did at Fez [another defunct Manhattan club] over the years, our touring show, and the little shorts, which are —
Black: Which we just wear.
Showalter: They’re sort of like Britney Spears cutoffs.
Wain: The TV show is a new creation that is inspired by the combination of our live show and our filmed shorts.
Black: Right. Like Madonna did songs “inspired by Dick Tracy.” They weren’t necessarily songs that were in Dick Tracy.

So is this how Stella is written?
Wain: Well, first we all put on blindfolds. Then we bring out paper bags full of applesauce. And everybody has to put their hand in the paper bags full of applesauce, but whoever gets there first can write the scene.
Black: Fortunately, it starts off scripted. We’re very lucky in that the scripts just sort of arrive on our doorstep.

Comedy Central’s been promoting the show as a sort of modern-day Marx Brothers. Are you comfortable with that comparison?
Wain: I’m Marky Marx. [Points to Black] He’s Karl Marx.
Black: If the Marx Brothers were, like, a thousand times funnier, then it would be close to what we’re doing.
Showalter: They should be so lucky to be compared to us.

Do your suits recall the golden age of comedy?
Wain: The suits are not necessarily retro. Basically, it’s like, we wake up in the morning and go, “Suit up!”

So Stella’s in the suits.
Black: Yeah. Now you’re just talking to three guys. If we were wearing suits, you’d be talking to Stella.

Can I just talk to the suits?
Showalter: Go get your suit, Dave.
Wain: [Holds up his hand as a puppet] This can represent my suit. You can talk to the suit, and it’ll talk back to you. [In highpitched hand-puppet voice] Hello!

Hi, suit. Do you recall the golden age of comedy?
Wain: Not really. I’m a suit!