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
December 05, 2003 at 05:00 AM EST
The Ben Stiller Show: Everett Collection

The Ben Stiller Show

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?

The Ben Stiller Show

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