The Ben Stiller Show was a sketch comedy television show that aired on FOX from September 1992 to January 1993. It was a spin-off from the MTV series of the same name. The show starred Ben Stiller, Andy Dick, Janeane Garofalo and Bob Odenkirk. Character actor John F. O'Donohue also appeared in every episode. It featured numerous filmed comedy segments, many of which parodied mid-1980s to early-1990's pop-culture. Despite excellent reviews, FOX canceled the series after only 12 episodes, due to low ratings.
Unlike most sketch comedy shows, The Ben Stiller Show does not use a studio audience nor a laugh track. This was the only FOX sketch comedy program not to use a laugh track. The semi-spinoff, The Andy Dick Show, used the same format.
After cancellation, the series won the 1993 Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing in a Variety Series. It continues to have a cult following, and the complete series DVD was released in 2003.
The series served as a springboard to greater success in comedy and entertainment for many of the writers and performers. The show's creator and host Ben Stiller went on to star in multiple box office hits, starting with There's Something About Mary in 1998. Co-creator and writer Judd Apatow went on to produce numerous popular comedy series and films, and directed the 2005 hit film The 40 Year-Old Virgin. Performer Andy Dick had a co-starring role on the NBC comedy NewsRadio and later had his own MTV series (The Andy Dick Show), which borrowed the format of The Ben Stiller Show. Janeane Garofalo spent six months at Saturday Night Live, played an Emmy-nominated role in The Larry Sanders Show, and has had a successful career in stand-up comedy. Bob Odenkirk subsequently starred with fellow series writer David Cross on HBO's absurdist sketch comedy series Mr. Show with Bob and David.
The MTV Series
The original MTV
version of The Ben Stiller Show
aired in 1990-1991 and ran for 13 episodes. It is not available on the DVD that includes the FOX series, although excerpts from the program are featured as a bonus on that release. Produced by Jim Jones, who would go on to produce the FOX series and starring Ben Stiller and co-writer Jeff Kahn, it was a self-effacing show-in-a-show format. Part of MTV's experimental Vid-Com season, it was interspersed with music videos that Ben and company would introduce in their short comedy sketches. Regulars included Harry O'Reilly and Ben's sister Amy Stiller
. Guest stars included Ben's parents Anne Meara
and Jerry Stiller
, as well as John F. O'Donohue
, Melina Kanakaredes
, Al Lewis
and MTV regular Martha Quinn
Stiller and Kahn used this show as a means to introduce and hone many of Ben's characterizations, some of which would later be seen on the FOX network production. They also took huge leaps in assuming the audience would "get it" by layering characters in a complex sandwich of sub-referencing. Ben did satirical portrayals of William Shatner as Star Trek's Captain Kirk, Al Pacino, Arsenio Hall, U2's Bono and Yakoff Smirnoff. His portrayal of Tom Cruise was a major signature, spoofing several of Cruise's late 1980s film characters. He would then insert these characters into each others famous performances, sub-referencing on many levels.
Skits included "The Eddie Munster Comeback Special" where Ben plays an all-grown-up and angry Eddie Munster, complete with widows peak, who gets into a shouting match with Al Lewis playing the role of Grandpa from The Munsters while trying to stage a serious moment from John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men. In an odd wink to his future, one episode was dedicated to showing the FOX network that Ben and Jeff could play all the characters in the 1990 Fox primetime lineup, spoofing COPS, Alien Nation, Booker, and Married with Children. "The Star Trek Show" spoofed William Shatner and Bono and the inevitable demise of the red shirted security officers beamed down to an alien planet, portrayed by Ben and Jeff's characters "Howie and Jordo", two college age underachievers that were constantly in trouble. Through multiple layers of sub-referencing, Howie and Jordo jump through a time portal and end up at Woodstock and sing the "Time Portal Blues", while still wearing their Star Trek uniforms. Another multi-layered Star Trek reference is made in an episode where Stiller runs through multiple episodes of satire, playing Al Pacino in Dog Day Afternoon, but having hijacked The Enterprise, speaking through Uhura with Leon (played by Jeff Kahn) who is his boyfriend who needs an alien change operation. He does the same kind of stunt playing Captain Kirk in the character of Tom Cruise in Rain Man with Kahn playing Dustin Hoffman's savant character in the makeup and dialogue of Mr. Spock. Stiller and Kahn were constantly sub-referencing into thicker layers of characterizations, making for very funny experimental gags that were mostly misunderstood by the teenage audience of MTV.
The series' major underlying gag was of the battle of talent between Ben and Jeff, and their antagonistic treatment of each other during their "show's" production. Jeff is convinced that he is a greater talent then Ben, and spends most of his time either trying to prove this to the "MTV Head" Doogie Herzog, a pre-teen boy, or by publicly embarrassing Ben on-screen. In the series finale, Jeff and Harry O'Reilly finally convince the MTV Head that they are the real talent of the show, and they get their own series. Ben is forced to leave the set crying.
Popular sketches and characters
- Melrose Heights 90210-2402(6): Parody of Melrose Place, The Heights and Beverly Hills, 90210.
- Skank: A Married... with Children-esque starring a rude, abrasive sock puppet named Skank (played by Andy Dick) whose catch phrase is "Shut your stinkin' trap!"
- The No, No, No Guy: Ben Stiller plays a pushy fan who talks celebrities into embarrassing situations to impress his gauche wife (Janeane Garofalo). (This character reappeared in Stiller's remake of Starsky & Hutch and also in Stiller's film Heavyweights).
- Ask Manson: Bob Odenkirk plays lunatic Charles Manson, answering personal query letters.
- Cops: Ben Stiller and John F. O'Donohue play policemen in various historical settings a la Fox's Cops program, including interfering with Moses parting the Red Sea and the Salem witch trials.
- Grady's Oats: A parody of Quaker Oats commercials. Contributor Dana Gould portrays grumpy, mentally unstable Wilford Brimley-esque character giving rustic monologues praising, among other things, his love of putting on a pink taffeta gown and filling his panties with Grady's Oats.
- Michael Pheret, Agent: Ben Stiller plays a fast talking agent with bad advice for his celebrity clients. Among the guest stars in these segments were Alex Karras, Roseanne Arnold and Tom Arnold (when they were married), and Run-DMC.
- Stiller's Wheel of Filler: Sketch wherein the premise of a short piece is determined by the random turning of a big wheel.
- The Grungies: Over-the-top Monkees's style sitcom set in the super-serious Seattle grunge scene. Actual Monkee Mickey Dolenz played a talent scout in one instance.
- U2: Various sketches use Stiller's Bono impression, including a U2 rockumentary about their supposed partnership with former manager Ruben Kinkaid (Dave Madden) from the Partridge Family, U2 playing a bar mitzvah, endorsing Lucky Charms cereal and a parody of U2's bombastic Zoo TV Tour.
- Bruce Springsteen: Stiller plays the Boss in various sketches including the "Legends of Springsteen" sketches wherein Bruce, always a man of the people, goes above and beyond the call of duty to affect people's lives (for example, delivering a newborn baby). He is also featured in short vignettes in which he makes an answering machine message, and counts to 24. The character is loosely based on Springsteen's personality in concerts.
- Tito Gallegas, The Pig Latin Lover: Spoofing music infomercials, Stiller portrays a Latino who sings in Pig Latin instead of Spanish.
- Tom Cruise: Various sketches use Stiller's Cruise impression, including one where Cruise stars in a one-man Broadway show re-creating his famous film roles.
- Foxy the Fox: Judd Apatow plays the surly supposed mascot of the racy Fox network in a few public service announcements aimed at children.
- Relaxation Tapes: Andy Dick plays Brent Forrester (named after one of the show's writers), the sometimes obtrusive voice in a relaxation tape.
- The Let-Go Clinic with Tony Bobbins: Caustic parody of motivational speaker and author Tony Robbins. Stiller is Bobbins, manipulative spokesperson for the Let-Go Clinic (a motivational institute of questionable ethics), who uses his personal experiences dealing with his stature as an example of overcoming obstacles.
- Movie parodies included "Cape Munster" ("Cape Fear" with Stiller as a revenge-riddled former child actor Eddie Munster) & "Woody Allen's 'Bride of Frankenstein'", a takeoff of Allen's film Husbands & Wives, featuring Andy Dick as Allen as a self-absorbed, neurotic mummy and Stiller as Sydney Pollack as Frankenstein's monster but with curly gray hair, eyeglasses, and a laid-back personality.
- Low Budget Tales of Clichéd Horror, a take-off on Tales From The Crypt. (The actual sketch itself was based almost entirely on an episode of Tales From The Darkside starring his father, Jerry Stiller.
- The Premiere
- With Bobcat Goldthwait
- With James Doohan
- On Melrose Avenue
- With Colin Quinn
- With Sarah Jessica Parker
- With Rob Morrow
- With Flea
- With Garry Shandling
- With Dennis Miller
- At the Beach
- The Last Fox Episode
- The Lost Episode (not part of the original run)