The Ben Stiller Show  

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Cast of Characters

"Quite the little comedic star chamber you've assembled here, my friend."- Dennis Miller


What is there left to say about Ben Stiller that other, more eloquent critics haven't already said? Entertainment Weekly: "...the creative mind behind one of the best shows of 1992". Broadcasting Magazine: "A genuine comic genius". Mediatimes: "A star of immeasurable talent." Or, as one of the females in my focus group put it: "Damn, he's hot!"

Actually, it's somewhat of a minor miracle that Ben Stiller managed to become such a critical darling in a medium quick to judge on appearance. Built like an Olympic athlete, with a face like Tom Cruise and eyes like Paul Newman, Stiller looks more like he belongs in a John Hughes movie than performing cutting-edge comedy. He's even Hollywood royalty, being the son of the great comedy team Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara. He's gorgeous, rich and had a show named after him before the age of 30. So why does he still come off as so darn...likable?

Part of the answer lies in Stiller's apparent unawareness of his own charms. He plays the underdog, allowing people to laugh at him and any every humiliation he endures. Whether being rejected by guest star Sarah Jessica Parker or showing his Video Diary (which always seems to end with him getting dumped, getting his ass kicked, or both) Stiller never acknowledges his obvious sex appeal. Even when he plays the pretty-boy role--such as in the "Melrose Heights, 90210-2402" parody--it's so over-the-top and goofy, he comes across as more cutup than pinup. Guest star Colin Quinn once criticized Stiller for laughing at the pretentiousness of the characters on "90210" and pointed out: "But Ben, you look just like them!"

In fact, Stiller could have easily ended up a Tiger Beat poster boy, had one of his early movies worked out. In the 1989 Molly Ringwald romance "Fresh Horses", Stiller played the best friend to Andrew McCarthy. "Fresh Horses" should have been a major breakthrough for Stiller, and probably would have been, had it not been one of the worst movies of all time. Stiller also appeared on the New York stage in John Guare's "House of Blue Leaves" and appeared briefly on "Saturday Night Live". Then, in 1992, Stiller teamed up with Executive Producer Judd Apatow to develop and write a series of his own.

The original concept for "The Ben Stiller Show", according to an early Fox press kit, was to feature Stiller in a sitcom about a struggling actor. His character would interact with a variety of famous celebrities, and would address the audience by speaking directly to the camera. Somewhere along the line, it developed into a pure sketch comedy program, which was actually a much better showcase for Stiller's unique talents.

His impersonations ranged from Tom Cruise to U2's Bono, but Stiller was more than a convincing mimic. As a director and writer, Stiller was fearless in his work. He seemed willing to try anything on his show, from a sitcom about a talking sock to a theme park revolving entirely around Oliver Stone movies. On paper, it would be almost impossible to know if these would translate to a mass audience. But part of the appeal of "Ben Stiller" was the fact that the writers seemed to be putting out a product that was funny to them. And if you liked it, you were in on the joke.

Although "Ben Stiller" only aired twelve episodes (the "lost" thirteenth later showed up on Comedy Central), it was enough to make Hollywood recognize they had a major talent on their hands. Stiller was quickly tapped to direct and star in "Reality Bites" with Winona Ryder and Ethan Hawke. A smart, funny and completely original film, Stiller garnered great reviews for his effort. However, the movie was considered somewhat of a disappointment at the box office. Most insiders attributed this to the fact that the movie was marketed and unfairly labeled as a comedy for "Generation X", when it was actually appealing to all ages.

As an actor, Stiller has kept a full schedule. He appeared as a crazed fitness guru in the underrated Disney comedy "Heavyweights", scripted by Judd Apatow. He'll soon be seen onscreen playing supporting roles in Adam Sandler's "Happy Gilmore" and the romantic comedy "If Lucy Fell". And he recently won the lead in acclaimed director David O. Russell's new comedy, "Flirting With Disaster", which pairs him with such legends as Mary Tyler Moore and Alan Alda. But it is his next project that will probably garner the most attention, as the director of Jim Carrey's new comedy, "The Cable Guy". With a revised script by Apatow, "Cable Guy" stars Carrey as a desperately lonely cable installer who forces his friendship upon customer Matthew Broderick. If you think the dark and satirical Stiller seems an odd choice to direct the notoriously goofy Carrey, you're not alone. Countdown critic Craig Lucas was prompted to wonder: "Jim Carrey, America's favorite clown...acting for one of the sharpest, wickedest directors today? I can hardly wait."

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