Ben Stiller talks to EW about his new DVD -- And what the debut of his smart, satirical, decade-old sketch comedy show has to do with ''Saved by the Bell''

By Josh Wolk
Updated December 05, 2003 at 05:00 AM EST
The Ben Stiller Show: Everett Collection

Seeing as cult TV shows are one of the main collectibles on DVD, Ben Stiller thought it only logical that his 1992 sketch series would be a no-brainer of a release. So he waited…and waited…and waited. ”About a year ago, I made a joke on a talk show that when they release the ‘Saved by the Bell’ boxed set, I know we have a chance,” he tells EW. ”Then a producer for ‘Saved by the Bell’ sent me his boxed set, saying ‘Thanks for mentioning it!”’

Finally, ”The Ben Stiller Show” is out on DVD too (4 hrs., 59 mins., 2 discs, Warner), including all 12 episodes that aired on Fox and the 13th ”lost episode” seen only on Comedy Central. With a company of then newcomers Janeane Garofalo, Andy Dick, and Bob Odenkirk (who contribute, along with writers, to eight commentary tracks), the show was a pastiche of pointed pop-culture satire, such as the sketch remaking ”A Few Good Men with Boy Scouts.” (Some of-the-moment skits, like parodies of ”The Heights” and ”Studs,” have now lost some punch; such is the curse of topicality.)

The comedy often veered to esoteric, adult premises rarely seen in Stiller’s family-friendly time slot of Sundays at 7:30; reimagining Woody Allen’s 1992 ”Husbands and Wives” starring Frankenstein and the Mummy isn’t exactly The Wonderful World of Disney. ”We were unaware of what it took to make a show that actually would do well with a wide audience,” Stiller says. ”We were just doing what we thought was funny — which is probably the reason the show was canceled so quickly.”

Though short-lived, Stiller proved to be the Big Bang of the decade’s smartest humor: Garofalo helped popularize the alternative comedy scene; Odenkirk and Stiller writer David Cross went on to create ”Mr. Show,” which later begat Tenacious D’s HBO spots; and executive producer Judd Apatow subsequently developed ”Freaks and Geeks.” But Stiller’s talent was always belatedly appreciated: In a coup that irony-loving TV producers still cherish, the show won a writing Emmy nine months after being canceled. ”That was a nice acknowledgment that the show wasn’t a total failure,” says Stiller. Yeah, where’s your Emmy, Screech?