Thursday, June 28, 2007
Sorce-1 Sits Down With Kevin Allison
My quest to interview every member of The State is coming together slowly buy surely. Since embarking on my quest nearly a month ago, I’ve interviewed three members of the cast. My third interview is with Kevin Allison. Following The State’s short-lived stint with CBS Kevin has built a strong writing and editing resume, with articles appearing in The Village Voice, Giant, and Premiere. While his writing resume may be impressive, he’s recently made the decision to re-focus on comedic acting. In addition to his recent appearances in the films The Ten and Reno 911!: Miami, Kevin was named artistic director at The People’s Improv Theater (PIT) in New York City. I’m super duper stoked to present the most recent addition to the Heavy In The Streets interview series with The State, Kevin Allison.
DJ Sorce-1: One thing I wanted to touch on that I didn’t get to ask David Wain or Michael Showalter was what happened when The State left MTV and went to CBS. I’ve heard several different things, and I wanted to get a clear version of what exactly went down and why you guys decided to dismantle after your deal with CBS fell through.
Kevin Allison: My memory of all the exact details is a little hazy and you might want to ask some other people from the cast about this. But as I remember, we quit MTV because we were kind of big for our britches. We wanted to take a big risk. We knew we were taking a big ass leap, but we wanted to go to network. We landed a little gig at CBS that was supposed to be a series of specials that could potentially lead to a weekly series, but Les Monves was hired as the president of CBS right in the midst of us putting the show together. I believe what happened was he took a look at this roster of people that had been hired recently and was like, “Oh, fuck, I don’t want to deal with a sketch group right now.” I frankly don’t think he even looked at our show. I think we were pretty much just fired outright. They also put no promotion into the show and put it on at Friday at 10 pm or something so there was really no chance of it going anywhere.
Then we kind of made the same mistake with movies. We knew someone who was an independent producer of movies. He had just done Godzilla, Citizen Ruth, and Kids. And he was ready to do a movie with us and we said, “Nah, were gonna go for a bigger fish.” So we went with Walt Disney. And they strung us along for about a year asking us to give them Animal House. We gave them different variations of what could be like Animal House. Finally they came back to us and said, “No, no, no. When we say Animal House, we mean “Scene Two: The dark haired rebel character puts down the blond bimbo character and leaves…” know what I mean?
Barney McMaken Skit From The State
DJ Sorce-1: They were trying to do it for you.
Kevin Allison: Yeah, we said, “Why did you hire us?” By that time we were so frustrated, and we were all running out of money. If you ask me, once the CBS thing blew to pieces, we could have, and probably should have gone back to MTV and said “Whoops, we fucked up, we’re back with our tail in between our legs, let’s try this again.” Or we could have tried to move over to Comedy Central or something like that. Frankly the group’s psychology, the group head, was just too frazzled to try something new. That wasn’t even a possibility for us.
Eventually what happened is it became more and more difficult for us to figure out what we were actually going to be able to do next. We had an unwritten rule in the group. Nobody could take on a major project that would clearly conflict with the group being able to do its work. We kept that through thick and thin, through many offers, over many years. Finally Ben, Tom, and Michael Black went to Comedy Central and set up the show Viva Variety and said, “Guys, we have a show now.” That was basically letting us know we no longer had a career as The State. The reason it was such a shock at the time is we had spent years foolishly saying, “We’re not doing The State for our individual careers. What we’re doing is creating an artistic entity that will support us for the rest of our lives.” That was naïve of us.
DJ Sorce-1: It must have been upsetting to see The State fall apart, because it sounds like you guys were all pretty close.
Kevin Allison: We were very, very close. For so many years in college we were working together on shows and partying together at night. At MTV we’d show up at nine in the morning, we’d work until six or seven at night and then we’d party together and continue brainstorming. We were like a dysfunctional family that was never away form each other. When Viva Variety happened it was not just that our career paths were splitting, but there was also a realization that we were going to be in different places. I spent years after The State ended having no idea exactly what I wanted to do. To this very day I find it hard to wrap my head around how to exactly package myself as a solo performer. The State was kind of a package on its own.
When I say all this, I don’t want to sound bitter and angry all these years later. I see that Ben, Tom, and Mike did what they had to do to keep moving forward. It would have been ideal if the group could have stayed together and kept working together. But that’s such an unpredictable thing. It’s like a marriage. And it was a marriage of 11 people. There were times when really felt like we were beating our head on a wall like, “God dammit, why can’t we all get on the same page again?” when we’d all been on the same page for such a long time.
Nowadays were talking about doing reunion project. The subject comes up every year or so. Of course now we have such disparate schedules that it’s terribly hard to do. Whenever we do discuss potential reunion projects, it’s hard to get everyone on the same page. It’s funny, there was such unity for a long time, and I guess you don’t realize how fragile that can be.
DJ Sorce-1: When the CBS deal fell through did you think, “This could be the end of The State as people know it,” or did you think you would rebound and come back with something else.
Kevin Allison: We all said that we could rebound. We really thought we could do a movie, and do what Python did. After they did Flying Circus they did Holy Grail. Either that or we could do a new TV series. It seemed to us that there was no reason logistically that we couldn’t do something like that. The night we were told we were fired; a couple of us went out to the Chelsea Piers and hit some baseballs at a batting cage there. We did that for a little while and then drank some beers. I remember when I went home to my apartment I lay down on the floor and my body just started shaking and convulsing. It was as if my body couldn’t handle the news. There was a part of me that knew things had broken apart. It really took years for that to completely sink in like, “Oh, shit, this is over.”
DJ Sorce-1: I think it was the same way for a lot of fans too. When I heard about The State getting cancelled I thought, “They’ll be back. They’ll put out an album or a movie; they’ll do something. It’s nothing to worry about.” Then as time went by and I saw people working on different projects, I realized that people from The State were moving in different directions.
Senator Tom Franklin Skit From Kevin's Other Sketch Group Big Flux Comedy
Kevin Allison: What’s disappointing about that is that the chemistry of a group is a kind of mysterious thing. When you put two personalities together, you get one bigger personality. When you put 11 together, who knows what you’re going to get. With our particular group of 11, there was something very special. There was a balance there where a shitload of smart, creative stuff could happen. I really don’t think any of the group’s smaller break off things have matched the energy and creativity of when we’re all together.
I should also say that back when we were on TV, if there was one person who was a bit of a loner in the group, it was probably me. Part of it was because I was the gay one. We were in our early twenties, and I was one of the only people in the group who had a completely different social scene. I was maybe not quite as tight with a lot of the members of the group.
Nowadays I look back and I really regret that when The State broke up I didn’t try my hardest to stay in touch and keep working with everyone as much as I could. Stella happened, and David’s movies happened. There’s a lot of stuff since The State that I missed out on in a lot of ways because I kind of fell away for a while, and even stopped acting entirely for a while. Now I’m in this place where I’m clawing my way back in to the whole acting scene. I really do hope that The State gets to do a reunion project. Not just because I’d love to work with everyone again, but also as a way of saying, “Hey guys, I’m back. I left for a while but I’m back doing this.”
The funny thing is, at this point, it’s not even so much an issue of offers not being there. With the DVD coming out in September…
The State on "SQUiRT TV" circa 1995
DJ Sorce-1: Is a DVD coming out?
Kevin Allison: Yeah, it’s gonna be a box set of everything on MTV.
DJ Sorce-1: Man, I’ve been waiting for a long time for that to happen.
Kevin Allison: There will be a lot of never before seen stuff, some of which is horrendous, but some of which is really funny. There’s a lot of commentary. So the box set should be pretty damn cool. The only regret we have about it is that MTV let us use a shitload of their music, in fact they forced us to use a shitload of contemporary music back then. Something wasn’t completely ironed out as far as rights to the music, so we had to edit in a lot of fake music underneath some of the sketches.
The State cast on the set of Reno 911!: Miami
DJ Sorce-1: I read somewhere that was the big red tape issue, that MTV wanted to release the box set but with music copyright stuff being as sensitive as it is now they were running into a lot of trouble. And you guys used so much music in the skits.
Kevin Allison: They really wanted us to carpet the show with music. We were always more interested in an archetypal comedy. It wasn’t someone imitating a famous person; it wasn’t someone doing a fucking George Bush impersonation or something like that. It was little stories about fictional characters. When we first came in there, MTV of course wanted us to really utilize pop culture. They actually gave us a list at one point of subject matter they wanted us to use. So we struggled with that until after a while they were like, “Ok, do what you want, what you’re doing is working.” But at that point we were enjoying throwing all types of wacky music in the skits.
The box set should be a lot of fun. What I’m hoping it does is bring us attention again. One of the things that has always frustrated me is our audience was so exclusively kids in college and high school in the few years we were on. As a result of that, many people in the movie and television industry don’t know who I am and they don’t know what The State is. Now we’re at an age where finally some young people are getting into positions as agents or executives who are like, “Oh, yeah, I know The State.” But for so many years nobody who counted in the industry knew what it was. So that’s always been frustrating, it was such a cult thing for kids that the rest of the industry didn’t pay any attention to it.
DJ Sorce-1: I would assume that you all expected a certain level of success after The State. Realizing that the people in control were not really watching it must have been tough.
Kevin Allison: Right. I don’t think we completely knew this at the time, but I’ve been told that MTV actually wanted to give us a contract for about 30 more episodes. I don’t think we realized just how good that deal was back then. I don’t think that number really registered and we were so dead set on going to CBS that I don’t think our managers were giving us the whole story. But that’s exactly what we needed. We needed to do just as many shows for MTV as we had already done in order to really solidify and establish ourselves.
DJ Sorce-1: Yeah, it seems like you got cut off right as you came into your prime. Another thing I wanted to talk to you about was some of your new acting projects. Is film acting something you’re going at full force right now?
Kevin Allison: I’ve just gotten myself a commercial agent, and I’ve started auditioning for commercials again. I haven’t yet nailed down a legit agent for film, sitcoms, and stage. My next goal is to nail down a legit agent in the next couple of months and start perusing that stuff in a big way.
DJ Sorce-1: In both Reno 911!:Miami and The Ten all of the original members of The State were featured. Did it feel like things were starting to click again?
Kevin Allison: Reno was super fun for us. We all flew out there so that we would be together for the same two or three days. It was the first time that all 11 of us were working together again since…Jesus, I don’t know when. It was such a good feeling. There was no tension or nervousness. It was kind of like a sigh of relief to just be having fun together again. Everybody just fit back together like a glove. It was really neat, because Ben and Tom were commenting about how the film crew there was so impressed with us. They were like, “Holy shit, this group has taken over our set.” When we come onto a set, we’re very focused. Nobody’s relaxing back at the trailer or anything. Everyone’s always dedicated to making it as funny as it can be together. It was a great experience. It made us all really want to work together again.
I’m super excited about The Ten. What’s great about David Wain is that he’s found a way to continue making comedy that really doesn’t try to fit in. He’s still making comedy that’s very authentically based on what he finds funny, without giving a thought to what’s going to be accessible or buyable. That’s really commendable, that he’s done that. I haven’t actually seen the whole thing, but from what I’ve seen and heard about it, it seems like it’s going to be extremely funny.
DJ Sorce-1: Is there anything you want to mention before we wrap things up?
Kevin Allison: I guess if there is anything I want to plug it’s The State DVD and my hope that we all get to work together soon.
For more on Kevin, please visit his website.
Also make sure to check out my interviews with State members David Wain and Michael Showalter.