What is there to say about Ben Stiller that hasn’t already been said? The man is comedy gold…at times. His performances in films like “Tropic Thunder”, “Dodgeball”, “Meet The Parents” and especially “Zoolander” perfectly showcased the comedic prowess he developed after years in Hollywood. But there was a time when Ben was just a struggling actor looking for a break. He thought he had found that when he was hired by Saturday Night Live as a writer/performer in 1989. However, that only lasted four episodes. Ben wasn’t off television for long, however, as soon he decided to create a new sketch comedy show that would be known as The Ben Stiller Show!
Now before we go any further, you should know that there are actually TWO versions of The Ben Stiller Show. The first aired on MTV from 1989-1990, and featured Ben and co-writer Jeff Kahn doing sketches, introducing music videos, and basically taking the concept of a show-within-a-show format. That only lasted 13 episodes, which featured gags pitting Ben against Jeff, as each believed that they were the better “talent”. It was a showcase of the type of characters Ben could bring to life, and a look into what he would do when the show moved to Fox in 1992.
Now, when I say “moved”, I really mean started over. The whole format changed. Sure, they were still a sketch comedy show, but this time out, Ben would act as the host of the program talking straight to the viewer at home. And throughout the episodes, he would be joined by various guests, including people like comedian Bobcat Goldthwait, actor James “Scotty” Doohan, actress Sarah Jessica Parker, comedian Colin Quinn, actor Rob Morrow, musician/actor Flea, actor/comedian Gary Shandling, and actor/comedian Dennis Miller. The interview segments would always start out with Ben having a plan of how he wanted the interview to go, but by the end, it never worked out as he’d hoped.
A new cast of awesome performers joined the program as well. Jeff Kahn was still there as a writer and performer, although he wasn’t a main headliner this time around. Instead, our main cast consisted of Ben, Andy Dick, Janeane Garofalo, John F. O’Donohue, and Bob Odenkirk, who modern-day audiences would probably know best from his work on the popular AMC Series “Breaking Bad”, and its subsequent spinoff “Better Call Saul”. Each actor brought their A game to the sketches, and really gave us some memorable performances. Ones that I absolutely love include Ben’s turn as Eddie Munster acting like Robert De Niro in a parody of the 1991 “Cape Fear” remake, Bob’s take on Charles Manson in various sketches, and the sketch where they recreated “The Monkees” TV series, only instead of The Monkees, they created a fictional Seattle grunge band to take their place. It was the early ‘90s, after all.
I think my favorite sketch out of all of them, however, was when they took the iconic Universal horror movie monsters and used them as characters in a Woody Allen film. Seeing Frankenstein sitting in a chair with glasses talking about the trials and tribulations of being a married man in the same style that would be used by “The Office” many years later was definitely a sight to see, and a really clever piece. Oh, and one more I’ll mention has to be when Ben performed as 1980s Tom Cruise, acting like Cruise was putting on a “new Broadway show” where he brought back some of his iconic characters. Of course, Ben would utilize his Tom Cruise performance again during the series, in a sketch where he parodied Cruise’s 1992 hit “A Few Good Men”, only this time, instead of using the military, he made it about the Boy Scouts of America. Classic!
This show only lasted 13 episodes, from September 27, 1992-January 17, 1993. But it’s impact has been felt throughout the entertainment world. Even one of the show’s creators/executive producers would go on to universal acclaim. A man by the name of Judd Apatow. You may have heard of him. And while unofficially, the show would help Bob Odenkirk launch another sketch comedy show on HBO in 1995 with fellow comedian David Cross, “Mr. Show with Bob and David”. Cross actually appeared in a sketch on the Stiller show, the infamous sketch known as “The Legend of TJ O’Pootertoot”. Although the show was cancelled, The Ben Stiller Show went on to earn critical acclaim, and would win an Emmy Award for “Outstanding Writing in a Variety or Music Program”.
Really, it’s a shame that the show wasn’t a much bigger hit ratings wise. It was really smart in its writing, brought about fantastic performances, catch phrases like “Shut Ya Stinkin’ Trap”, and characters that would from time to time pop up again throughout Stiller’s career. Remember the scene in the “Starskey and Hutch” remake where Stiller’s character is trying to go undercover in a costume, and he keeps saying “Do it. Do it”. Yup, a version of that character originated here. The first time I ever saw the show, I was a young kid, and a VHS tape at my house had recorded an episode that had Apatow appear as “Foxy the Network Fox”, and Ben as another character he created, “Tito Gallego, the Pig Latin Lover”.
If you’re a fan of sketch comedy, or just comedy in general, then I definitely suggest giving this show a watch. Until next time…