Apparently the reviewers were wrong: MTV programmers weren't on drugs. When The State first aired, one critic advised MTV to demand a urine test from the exec who green-lighted the sketch comedy show. But as it enters its third season, The State has gained a following that rivals MTV's Beavis and Butt- head and The Real World in the ratings. The 11 young comedians, ranging in age from 22 to 26, concoct strange, attitude-laden humor-one sketch has two guys cooing over a $240 pile of pudding; another has a yuppie couple munching on Muppets for dinner. We managed to keep the gang still long enough to ask them 10 thought-provoking questions.
What does The State mean? Michael Ian Black: We felt it was less pretentious than The Universe. Ken Marino: It's actually The Stake.
Are your characters Doug, the frustrated teen; Louie, the catchphrase spewer; or Barry and Levon, the velvet-clad funksters based on people you know? Marino: Doug was actually based on a guy I knew named Louie. Thomas Lennon: And Barry was based on Levon. Ben Garant: They're all based on characters created by Sophocles.
Do you all watch The Kids in the Hall? Black: I have a view of them from my apartment. Marino: We don't make enough money to afford cable. Are they on the radio?
To the males: What are your secrets for playing women? Black: Careful tucking. Kevin Allison: Most of us had ineffectual fathers.
Which of you would be most likely to break into song? All: Kevin Allison. Allison (singing): ''Oh, sweet mystery of life, at last I've found thee.'' Black: Ken's most likely to break a window. Garant: Todd Holoubek's most likely to break out in rashes. Black: Kerri Kenney's most likely to break-dance.
What should win the Best Picture Oscar this year? Black: ITALIC "Beaches"] is so good, it deserves to win every year. Lennon: Junior was a delight. Allison: Could you please write that (Robin) Williams rocked in Mrs. Doubtfire?
What is your relationship with MTV like? Michael Showalter: We're just friends. Allison: There's no denying a physical attraction. Let's just say we're responsible adults.
Who should play you in the movie version of The State? Garant: Denzel Washington. Black: He should play all 11 of us. He's very talented. Jann: We're hoping to get Quentin Tarantino to direct.
Who's more laughable: Newt Gingrich or Joycelyn Elders? Marino: Just listening to their names cracks me up. Lennon: Masturbation and the legalization of dope. That's not a joking matter. Black: If you read every other word of the Contract With America, it's very funny.
What do your parents think of the show? Garant: I've told my parents I've been going out to bowling lessons. Marino: My parents don't know I'm doing it. They think I'm in graduate school. Garant: My parents are big fans of the show, but they haven't realized yet that I'm on it. Lennon: If my parents are out there, tell them I'd love to meet them.