The Forgotten Legacy of The Jenny McCarthy Show

We didn’t know it at the time, but the 90s have turned out to be a critical formative era for many of today’s most popular comedians. The short-lived Dana Carvey Show featured a murder’s row of then-unknowns who have since gone on to great success, including Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert, and Louis CK. Before that, MTV brought us The State, whose members have gone onto populate projects like Reno 911, Stella, Wet Hot American Summer and Role Models. And before that, the critically adored but commercially ignored The Ben Stiller Show provided the first big break for young comedians like Janeane Garofalo, David Cross and Bob Odenkirk. But there was another sketch show from this decade whose legacy has largely been overlooked. And that program is The Jenny McCarthy Show.

Jenny McCarthy burst to fame as co-host of MTV’s dating show Singled Out in 1995 (after bursting to fame of a different sort as Playboy’s Playmate of the Year in 1994). With McCarthy as MTV’s signature star, a bombshell blonde who had no reservations about burping or farting or oinking or smelling her pits, it was only natural then that the network awarded her a show of her own. We have no idea what went on during meetings to decide how the music channel would capitalize on McCarthy’s popularity, but taking into account McCarthy’s clear affinity for comedy, at least her propensity for acting goofy and crossing her eyes, a sketch-comedy show built around the buxom blonde seemed like a good fit. So they surrounded the model-actress with seasoned talent and experienced producers and in 1997 The Jenny McCarthy Show was born. And after six unremarkable episodes of McCarthy trying her darndest to make us believe her as a legitimate comedienne the show faded away, never to be heard from again.

But perhaps we misjudged The Jenny McCarthy Show. Sure, it doesn’t have the legendary body of work of, say, Mr. Show, and has failed to develop any kind of cult following (with good reason). And we’d be hard pressed to say that anyone from the show developed into a true star, the way that Colbert and Carell have. Certainly, McCarthy’s star power has only been on the decline since the show aired, at the very least she’s stepped out of the limelight (at least as far as acting is concerned). But, if you look a little bit closer, particularly in the behind the scenes footage, you’ll see that there were some talented comedians at work, some of whom would not get their due until years later, and some whose stock still may be on the rise.

Past the main cast — Lou Thornton, Paul Greengrass, Jack Plotnick, Michael Loprete, who went on to varying degrees of success — you’ll find a group of then very young comedians, including Jon Benjamin, Jon Glaser, Brian Posehn, and Will Forte. None of these comedians were featured in the main cast or crew, but they all played a small part in one way or another, and have gone onto bigger and better things.

Jon Benjamin:

On The Jenny McCarthy Show: Writer/Director

After The Jenny McCarthy Show: Has appeared and dozens of shows including Human Giant, Michael and Michael Have Issues, Parks and Recreation and The Upright Citizens Brigade. However, he’s perhaps most recognized for his distinctive voice, which he has lent to Home Movies, Dr. Katz, Aqua Teen Hunger, and, our favorite, the can of vegetables in Wet Hot American Summer. He currently voices the title role on FX’s Archer, frequently pops up on Family Guy as Carl, and can be heard as Bob on Fox’s new Bob’s Burgers. Benjamin (often credited “H. Jon Benjamin”) also was a co-producer on Important Things with Demetri Martin, and is currently in production on his own show, Jon Benjamin Has a Van, which is slated to air this summer on Comedy Central.

See a still wet behind the ears Benjamin in the Behind the Scenes video above (at approx 00:20) and here’s a collection of Benjamin’s best moments from the first season of Important Things:

Important Things with Demetri Martin
Exclusive - The Best of H. Jon Benjamin
Funny JokesIt’s Always Sunny in PhiladelphiaUgly Americans

Jon Glaser:

On The Jenny McCarthy Show: Featured Player/Writer

After The Jenny McCarthy Show: Before McCarthy Glaser was a part of the aforementioned legendary Dana Carvey Show writing staff, but after JMS he went over to Late Night with Conan O’Brien where he stayed until 2003, receiving five Emmy nominations with the Late Night team, and originating such characters on the show asAhole Ronald, Gorton’s Fisherman, Wrist Hulk and Dave “Tiny Hands” Gorton. Like Benjamin, Glaser has popped up on many of your favorite shows, including Cheap Seats, Human Giant, 30 Rock and Wonder Showzen. Glaser has lately found the notoriety he deserves as creator and star of Adult Swim’s Delocated, although since his role requires him to wear a ski mask at all times, the cruel irony is that he’s nearly unrecognizable in his most visible role. Next month will also see the release of Glaser’s book, My Dad Was in ZZ Top, based on one of his live bits.

Here’s a short film from The Jenny McCarthy Show that Glaser wrote (and briefly appears in). It also features Mr. Show’s Jay Johnston and John Ennis, and demonstrates that beyond the puerile, underwhelming sketches designed to showcase McCarthy’s “versatility” there was some inventive comedy at work, though likely obscured by the star (although, our best guess is that this video was produced mostly, or entirely, outside of The Jenny McCarthy Show, but absorbed by the show because they needed additional material):

And here’s Glaser on Delocated, which wrapped up its brilliant second season last fall and will return later this year with season three:

Brian Posehn:

On The Jenny McCarthy Show: Featured Player

After the The Jenny McCarthy Show: Continued to write and occasionally appear on Mr. Show, where he had served before joining the MTV show. Has been seen over the years on Just Shoot Me, Reno 911, and various Comedy Central specials and shows. In addition to also providing his voice to many animated series, he was a member of the Comedians of Comedy along with Patton Oswalt and Zach Galifiniakis, and may be best known as Brian Spukowski from The Sarah Silverman Program.

Here’s Posehn’s big moment on The Jenny McCarthy Show, in one of their darker sketches:

And a bit from his recent stand-up:
Brian Posehn - Suggestions From iTunes
JokesJoke of the DayFunny Jokes

Will Forte

On The Jenny McCarthy Show: Writer/Actor

After Jenny McCarthy Show: Took a gig writing on The Late Show with the David Letterman, then spent the late 90s and early 2000s scribing and story editing 3rd Rock from the Sun and That 70s Show. Of course, we all know Forte best from Saturday Night Live, where he was the reliable source for the absurd, bizarre, 12:50am sketches, and where he created his breakout character MacGruber, spun off into his own movie earlier this year.

Spot a fresh-faced Forte in the Behind the Scenes video (around 00:45) and a more mature Forte as MacGruber below:

Melissa McCarthy

On The Jenny McCarthy Show: Production Assistant

After The Jenny McCarthy Show: Perhaps the most interesting story to come out of the series, Melissa McCarthy, Jenny’s cousin and childhood friend, grew from her auspicious beginnings as a “production assistant’ on the sketch show to a successful actress who found steady work on Gilmore Girls and Sammantha Who?. And fourteen years after making one appearance on The Jenny McCarthy Show, Melissa now stars on CBS’s plus-size sitcom Mike and Molly. Who would have guessed that almost a decade and a half later it would be Melissa, not Jenny, who has had the most prolific career?

Even the series’ Executive Producer, Joel Gallen, wasn’t ruined by the show, as he’s experienced a tremendously successful post-Jenny McCarthy Show career as one of Hollywood’s go-to awards show directors (except for the really big ones). So, for a series that is not remembered for its groundbreaking comedy, that saw its star go on to headline an NBC sitcom and then somewhat disappear, The Jenny McCarthy Show does have its legacy. It will never develop a cult following, nor does it deserve one. It was not ahead of its time. But, at the very least, it wasn’t a kiss of death, and at the most it provided some of today’s best comedians with a fertile starting ground. More than likely it falls somewhere in between, as a footnote. But it’s a footnote for some of today’s great comedy careers.

Seth Keim lives in Brooklyn where writes Jumped the Snark. He has an elaborate collection of Pez dispensers, Slurpee cups and Mr. Potato Heads, and if you look real closely you can see him in that one episode of Two and a Half Men.

The Forgotten Legacy of The Jenny McCarthy Show