When people learn I work for MTV, the question that usually follows is, "Why don't they play music videos anymore?" I don't know the answer (I imagine it has something with all music videos being on the internet now) and don't really think about it. That's because I never saw MTV as just about music. I was always watching for the comedy.
MTV launched a lot more musicians than it did comedians, but the comics they did launch are some of the biggest comedy stars today. This article is comprised of celebrities who got their first big launch on MTV and are still well-known names today.
Ben Stiller, "The Ben Stiller Show"
You probably thought "The Ben Stiller Show" on Fox is where the future Gaylord Focker got his start. However, a different show with same title preceded it on MTV. The original series aired in 1990-1991 and ran for 13 episodes. The comedy sketches were inter-cut with music videos. For some reason, it's nearly impossible to find any footage. Maybe Stiller is embarrassed by it and has an army of lawyers suppressing it?
Zach Galifianakis, "Apartment 2F"
In 1997, MTV tapped a young twin comedy duo, The Sklar Brothers, to create a hybrid comedy show with sketch, stand up and short films. That show became "Apartment 2F" and featured a number of up-and-coming comedians that the Sklars knew from the New York comedy scene, including a much-thinner and less-bearded Zach Galifinakis. At the time, Zach was also a recurring character on the NBC sitcom "Boston Common." You could argue he got his start there, but "Apt. 2F" was certainly more in line with the sense of humor that made him famous.
Amy Poehler, "Apartment 2F"
This is a bit of a stretch. Poehler really jumped on the road to comedy super stardom when Comedy Central began airing the sketch comedy show "Upright Citizen's Brigade" a year after "Apt. 2F." Plus, she is only listed as appearing in two episodes (neither of which I can find footage of). None of that matters. I'm still including her because this is an MTV article and we want claim her.
Adam Sandler, "Remote Control"
While still enrolled at NYU's Tisch School of The Arts, young Sandler became a performer on the game show "Remote Control." Contestants answered various pop-culture questions, many of which were posed by zany characters. Sandler developed his unique personae on the show through characters like Stud Boy (as seen above) and the Trivia Delinquent.
Adam Carolla, "Loveline"
Believe it or not, people used to listen to terrestrial radio in the '90s. So many people, in fact, that popular shows like "Loveline" became popular TV series. The radio had already made Carolla a known-name, but nobody knew what he looked like until MTV put him on on-air.
Aziz Ansari, "Human Giant"
The man who's made a substantial living by yelling in creative ways got his first big break when MTV picked up his sketch group's TV pilot, "Human Giant." The show became a cult hit for comedy nerds everywhere and ran for two seasons. MTV and MTV2 even gave them a 24-hour marathon where they could do whatever the hell they wanted. They were literally on air for 24 hours and it was weird, and fun, and weird (see above video).
Before Hardwick championed geek-chic with his Nerdist Industries; before he hosted "@midnight," "Talking Dead," "Talking Bad" and "Web Soup;" and even before he hosted the popular dating game show "Singled Out" with Jenny McCarthy, he hosted "Trashed" on MTV. Fresh out of UCLA, baby-faced Hardwick asked contestants questions and if they got it wrong, their sh-t got smashed. Not kidding. The items were their real prized possessions. How's that for stakes?
Jon Stewart, "You Wrote It, You Watch it"
John Stewart got his first break as the cohost of "Short Attention Span Theater" on Comedy Central, before anyone watched that channel. But it was his roles as the host MTV's "You Wrote It, You Watch It" and the then "The Jon Stewart Show" that turned him into the hosting powerhouse he is today. If you want to have a major host-gasm watch this clip of Stewart talking to his guest, a young and floppy-haired Conan O'Brien.
Ken Marino, "You Wrote It, You Watch it"
I could include almost everyone in the comedy group The State, but I'm picking Ken Marino and Joe Lo Truglio (next) because they both are on well-known sit-coms right now, "Marry Me" and "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" respectively. Sketch groups on "You Wrote It, You Watch it" would create short films around stories viewers would write in. The State disguised themselves and MTV later gave them their own sketch show, which still has a rabid cult following.
Joe Lo Truglio, "You Wrote It, You Watch it"
Denis Leary, "Remote Control"/Promos Ranter
This ranting Bostonian began his professional career on "Remote Control," playing characters like Keith Richards and Andy Warhol. MTV discovered his true value when he performed a rant on R.E.M. for a network promo. Many others followed, launching Leary into super-stardom. He's had a long and successful career, but he was never able to make Cindy TV (see video) a reality. Though he did get to meet her at the 1992 MTV Movie Awards (see above).
Donal Logue, Jimmy The Cab Driver
Logue isn't a comedy star, but I'm including him because he's the funniest part of "Gotham." His Jimmy the Cab Driver promos were constantly on MTV during the early '90s and always funny.
Bill Bellemy, VJ
Bellamy first gained notoriety on HBO's stand-up show "Def Comedy Jam," where he's credited for being the first person on TV to use the term "booty call." Loving booty calls, MTV soon hired him as a VJ. He hosted several programs through the early '90s, including "MTV Jamz" and "MTV Beach House" and was soon out the door to make a movie called, say it with us now, "Booty Call."