Street Cards Named Stella

Stella is a scream – and you don't have to be Stanley Kowalski to know that this comedy clan can kill.

Indeed, somewhere, Marlon Brando may be mumbling, "I coulda been a contenda, along with David, Michael and Michael."

But there's no godfather clause for the deceased that would qualify Brando to join the very lively band of Stella, the off-the-wall wacky comedy troupe that has broken through the glass ceiling of mishugas.

Clad in natty suits – looking a shade like the Blues Brothers at a Bar Mitzvah – Stella is made up of street cards named desire, each one in the group accomplished as part of the threesome or on his own on the big and small screens.

A sample of Stella's comedy that'll make you blanch? Well, the up-to-their-arms-in-blood open heart surgery on the trio's "Nazi landlord" would do it.

But it's more the nihilistic niche they've created that has caught the attention of so many.

Depend on the kindness of strangers? Stella has a famous following cheering it on – including Comedy Central, which has just added their show to its Saturday-night schedule at 10:30 p.m.

But these are no three stooges – Michael Ian Black, Michael Showalter and David Wain are smart-asses with the emphasis on smart, ever since they teamed together as students at New York University in 1988.

Their group at the time – the State – took on the state of comedy and turned it into a banana republic of three top bananas.

That state of the union was pretty successful: After a run on MTV and a CBS special, a book and a tour, the State gerrymandered its borders and evolved into Stella.

Shaker Heights native David Wain is part of this shake, rattle and roil combo marked by Marx Brothers-style mayhem.

But Zeppo never lit into a group of strangers like Stella.

Doin' What Comes Naturally
What made each of the three buddies sure that audiences would get their brand of brave, new world comedy?

"It's never been a concern," says Wain. "We have chosen to just do what we like."

With a bow to Sally Field … they like him, they really like him – and them. "But we've never been for a mass audience."

Certainly, no mass service here; all three of the young merry men are Jewish, but they do reach out to a catholic crowd in a nonsensical, nonsectarian kind of way.

But even iconoclasts have icons, and Wain's world was filled with admiration for Woody Allen and Steve Martin, "in different ways."

"They both have an intellectual comedy, but share a fondness" for the silly, making Wain putty in their hands.

"They never had a shyness about being goofy, and I always enjoyed that."

Yet, Stella doesn't goof on its audiences; it respects them.

But even Aretha Franklin would have to look over her shoulder with these three behind her.

A feast of mischief? "I was a goof as a kid, entertaining after dinner," recalls Wain.

Four questions, Wain: Were you a cutup at seders? Did you make up your own jokes? Did you get away with it? And what would Moses say?

"I would go through these dramatic gesticulations" while describing the Jews' exodus in the Haggadah.

"And I would improvise on some prayers at the seder table."

And if he had a matzah ball at the holiday, he hasn't lost his sense of humor. Just ask him for his family recipe of Passover Bread Pudding, and he'll bring it over to you on a treif tray.

But Wain has grown up to take some things seriously – like that Nazi landlord on "Stella": "We made sure that if we were going to kill a person on the show, he would be a Nazi. Our guys wouldn't kill a good person."

Okay, so it sounds a bit like the golden rule's gotten a bit tarnished under Stella's rule, but no way is Wain a stranger to goodness and graciousness: His parents, Nina and Norman Wain, are prominent in their Ohio Jewish community and have passed on wonderful genes, says their proud son, that make him hope he'll carry on his folks' tradition of "being generous and philanthropic."

Okay, give it up, Wain. What's with the attire? Stella is silly yet sartorial, clothed in suits and ties.

Oh, about that, chips in Wain, offering the mantra on their wardrobe: "Never," he says, "pay retail."



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