Usually when a hidden gem or cult item in television or music comes along, I miss it and come to it later, usually lamenting that I didn’t get caught up in the week to week madness, or catch the band in concert when no one was the wiser. So I’ve been watching The Ben Stiller Show recently, which is an exception to this rule. It ran a half-season, making it extremely hard to catch, but as a 14-year old, somehow I caught it, and remember watching it and even joking about the skits the next day at school. It was an inventive, off-the-wall sketch comedy show on Fox, well before “alternative comedy” became so vogue recently. Featuring Bob Odenkirk, and to a lesser extent, David Cross, it is an obvious forbear to Mr. Show, which even then was cult (since it was on HBO) and flew well under the radar, garnering mostly critical acclaim, most notably, as I can remember, when Janeane Garofalo, Ben Stiller cast member, said something like “the average person doesn’t deserve to watch Mr. Show.” Snooty, hell yes, but I know very few people who know of it, and often, it’s only because of association with me. Brilliance is rarely appreciated or noticed, much less in its own time. These days, most people know Ben Stiller, but most people don’t know this Ben Stiller. The commentary tracks are excellent companions where they appear. They add to the nostalgia that this show evokes when I watch it.
But anyway, in the very first episode, there is a faux “U2 Rockumentary” skit, in which the cast, as U2, does a commercial for a breakfast cereal done to the tune of their song “One”, or at least a reasonable knock-off of it. Even though I hadn’t re-visited the show in ages, I felt a fondness that I actually “knew the show back when” and remember parts of it vividly, growing up. I have also found that people born after 1982-3 won’t get the jokes and references— a shame, because it’s absolutely dead-on. U2 was more popular then, relatively speaking, and anyone who was in middle or high school in the early 90s ought to realize how perfect this is. Yes, it’s dated and impenetrable to anyone who didn’t live through Achtung Baby and the U2 zeitgeist of the early 90s, but upon pulling it out of the DVD library, I am reminded that this sketch/parody is still one of the funniest things I have ever seen.
Embedding has been disabled by request, so please, please view it here, or buy the series. One half season, 13 episodes, I don’t remember paying more than 20-25 for it. Imagine a more innocent time when cracked genius like this made it onto network television, even if it was a young, fledgling Fox network. The hilarious parody lyrics are below.
(Set-up: the real Mr. Kinkaid from The Partridge Family, as U2’s first manager, drove the band around in a ramshackle, old multi-colored school bus, from gig to gig, talking about how they were going to make it big.)
Have you had your breakfast?
Why not try the best?
I’m talking ’bout Lucky Clovers
Why don’t you put ’em to the test?
One bowl won’t be enough
One box, you know you’ll eat it right up
They’re fun and so delicious
8 essential vitamins and they’re magically nutritious
One bowl, and it’s running low
One box, and it’s gonna go
Spoken: “Lucky Clovers cereal, an important part of this well-balanced breakfast. Now, with a fun, new surprise in each specially-marked package”
Did I eat too much, more than a lot?
You give me one box, now it’s all I got
One bowl, and we got to share it
Got to share it