MTV is known as the place that changed music forever, everybody knows that. What a lot of people don’t realize though, is that MTV is also the place a lot of today’s biggest comedians got their start. From crude animated shows to bizarre sketch comedy shows to absurd humor, MTV had it all. Of course everyone wants the music back but maybe people should start asking for the comedy back as well. Here are some of the most prolific comedy shows on MTV, that were so cutting edge that we almost forgot that we missed the music.
Ben Stiller got his start with his self-titled show on MTV that would go on to also have a season on Fox before being canceled (and winning an Emmy for writing after). The show had a unique show-within-a-show format and would show the “rivalry” between Ben Stiller and co-writer Jeff Kahn. The MTV show would introduce many of the characters that Stiller would go on to use in the Fox series. One of the most memorable skits from this show was the Eddie Munster special where Stiller played a grown up Eddie Munster trying to stage his comeback.
The State was only on MTV for 28 episodes but its impact was tremendous. The cast members of the show wrote, directed, acted and edited the show themselves. Just read off the list of comedians in it and you will feel like you’re reading a comedy all stars list. Michael Ian Black, David Wain, Michael Showalter, Thomas Lennon and Ken Marino are just a few of the names on the list. The State members then continued to work together all throughout their careers, added more people into their world and made comedic masterpieces like Wet Hot American Summer. MTV gave them their start with this show that was all them, no holds barred.
Aziz Ansari, Paul Scheer and Rob Hubel together formed Human Giant, a sketch show that aired on MTV for 2 seasons. The show was short form sketches with some recurring ones thrown in. The most popular recurring sketches were Shutterbugs, which was about child actor agents, and The Illusionists, a parody of street musicians like David Blaine and Criss Angel. According to Aziz, the show ended because it is hard to keep a show consistently funny over multiple seasons but it was more likely due to the fact he was blowing up with roles in Parks & Rec and Funny People. The trio reunited for a sketch at the 2010 MTV Movie awards.
Andy Milonakis got his started when he uploaded a video titled “The Superbowl is Gay.” Jimmy Kimmel got a look at it when his talk show was first starting on ABC and decided to have him on. From there, Kimmel created The Andy Milonakis Show. The show was a mix of Andy rapping, filming absurd sketches, and messing with random people on the street or delivery men. He even had high profile celebrity guests and a cast made up of his neighbors and people he knew. Getting picked up off of a viral video, you could say he was the first person to make the transition from web to TV. Shows like Tim & Eric have also seen success with a similarly absurd concept.
Probably the most popular show in the history of MTV, defining a generation when MTV was at its peak, was Mike Judge’s Beavis & Butthead. MTV was made for teens and this show was about two teenagers who would get into stupid adventures out of boredom and thought everything either sucked or was cool. Beavis & Butthead set the stage for shows like South Park and many of the shows on Adult Swim.
Before he was the face of the news for a generation Jon Stewart had his first 30 minute nightly show on MTV. Stewart was the host of MTV’s first late night talk show that did not try to be like Johnny Carson, like most of the others. Stewart wore a leather jacket, didn’t sit behind a desk and did not do the typical conversations you would see on most shows. The show was a hit on MTV and was it’s second highest rated show at the time. When it went into syndication, it didn’t have the same charm and was canceled. The success of the first season on MTV shows that the network was thinking ahead. Not only with its content, but also with the people they chose.
Before the guys from Jackass were known for doing stunts on MTV and putting themselves in danger, there was another show that featured it’s star putting himself in harm’s way as well. The show that launched Tom Green’s career all started on Canadian public access before moving to the United States and airing on MTV. The show relied on Tom Green’s specialty: Shock humor and odd stunts. Tom Green was so popular when the show moved to MTV that when he premiered a music video for “The Bum Bum Song” and asked fans to share it, it quickly became the number one requested video on TRL. Green had some memorable moments on the short-lived show like visiting his parents with Monica Lewinsky. Years later, Chris Gethard would also get the honor of breaking through from public access to national television with The Chris Gethard Show.
The first non-musical show that MTV would produce also had some of today’s biggest names on it as well. Just imagine if a show today had Adam Sandler, Denis Leary and Colin Quinn all together– it would be insane. The concept of the show was that Ken Ober had always wanted to host a game show, so he set one up in his basement with Colin Quinn as his announcer. If you watch clips of Sandler here you see the type of stuff he would come to do at the SNL’s Weekend Update desk, and those ridiculous noises that have become synonymous with his name.