From 1993 to 1995, MTV aired four short seasons of The State, a sketch comedy show somewhat dismissed by critics that nonetheless found a young audience, becoming a fondly remembered touchstone of the format. The ensemble would often break the fourth wall, at times to interrogate their own premise, but elsewhere, as “themselves,” in the manner of a public service announcement or contest promotion. One such segment, “Sleep With The State,” encourages fans to write in and win sex with the cast, since none of them can presently get laid.
Well, except for Ken Marino — because, they explain, “he’s a big, good-lookin’ paisan.” At this cue, Marino turns to the camera, his white tank top revealing muscular, dewy arms. His hair is slicked. He wears a thin gold chain with a cross, and he’s holding a glass of red wine. He casts a wordless, sultry, over-the-shoulder glance at you, the viewer. That’s it. That is the perfect joke.
The State was ahead of its time in more ways than one, and the designation of Marino as a kind of token himbo for the show seems especially forward-thinking in 2020, a renaissance for the archetype. If you haven’t kept up with the memes, himboism is now understood as an ideal form of masculinity: It describes men who are hot, strong, instinctively kind and perhaps a bit slutty, though respectful of women and too blissed-out to be aware of (or have a stake in) toxic areas of discourse. Since the start of his acting career, Marino has portrayed the spectrum of himbos with masterful ease, exploring their flaws and attractive points, their triumphs and defeats.
Elsewhere in The State, Marino was Louie, a figure conceived to mock Saturday Night Live’s stable of recurring characters with inane catchphrases. MTV executives had pushed for a similar approach, and their annoyed creatives gave them a guy who runs around shouting, of everything and devoid of any context, “I wanna dip my balls in it!” (He carries a pair of ping-pong balls for the purposes of the gag.) The joke here was that people would go nuts for the stupid line, no matter how many times he repeated it. But the formula they satirized worked too well, thanks to Marino’s infectious enthusiasm. Twenty years later, strangers still deliver the catchphrase to him in greeting. Clever as they were, the troupe couldn’t parody lowbrow TV without embracing it on some level, and Marino is having such brainless fun, we want in on it.
Aspirational himbo stuff.
Marino’s himbo appeal has seen him guest star on many a mainstream, primetime series: He’s shown up shirtless on Grey’s Anatomy and served as a love interest for Katie Holmes on Dawson’s Creek. That he portrayed a junior college professor in the latter does not dampen the himboness he brings to the role, and for comedic projects, he stretches this quality in all directions. There’s Victor Pulak of the cult film Wet Hot American Summer, a permed camp counselor in cutoffs who lies about his sexual experience, then crashes a van in a rush to lose his virginity — he doesn’t get the girl, but does save a raft of screaming kids about to go over a waterfall. He’s unforgettably good in the sitcom Party Down as Ron Donald, the square, softhearted leader of a catering crew; harboring the ambition to one day manage a soup restaurant, he briefly considers a business proposal from a porn producer who catches a glimpse of his huge dick.
This is range, yet Marino always brings something wholesome and comforting, even to his losers, the je ne sais quois that marks him, in the words of an astute critic, “the true himbo character actor” of the past two decades. His charm is undefeated. When he turned up as an obnoxious rival P.I. named Vinny Van Lowe in Veronica Mars, it was meant to be for a single episode. But he’s so lovable, they put him in a dozen more, plus the movie.
Marino has gone so far as to test the potential villainy of the himbo. On the series Burning Love, a spoof of The Bachelor franchise created and written by his wife, Erica Oyama, he stars as Mark Orlando, a slow-witted beefcake firefighter looking for love and presenting his favored women contestants with small statues of his “hose.” The part called for real commitment to himbo life: “Before we started shooting this, I got a little heavy, and so [Erica] wrote this thing where I had to take my shirt off, and she’s like, ‘So, you better… get back into shape,” he recalled in 2018, adding: “It worked out. I lost 20 pounds.”
Mark Orlando’s natural vanity and shallow attitude are, of course, exploited and heightened by his reality TV handlers, and we see how a mostly innocent himbo can be turned into a selfish monster that fits the needs of entertainment. Underneath this distorted image, however, we recognize a dopey hunk overwhelmed by the absurd premise of a matchmaking show. He’s a himbo out of his depth.
Maybe, beyond his dependable comedic gifts, this is why we are reassured by Marino’s arrival in a scene. No one else has quite that earnest air, the knack for being a suave simpleton, skating by on their likability. As the playboy Dr. Glenn Richie of Adult Swim’s Childrens Hospital, he delivers an impassioned speech with no specifics whatsoever, then serenely concludes that “sometimes the right words come perfect… out.” The empty monologue is a masterstroke of timing and tone — he hits all the right dramatic notes to cover the lack of substance — and it happens to bear a funny resemblance to a bit from The State.
Here, a commercial for cereal pushes into the absurdity of the generic, with a mother and son delivering their dialogue in “duh-duh-duh” gibberish. It’s already funny, but when Marino bursts in as their well-dressed, cross-eyed milkman to complete the pitch? It goes to a whole other planet.
We must give thanks for a blessing such as Ken Marino’s career — and that the guy is humble enough about it to identify as “the guy from Rock N’ Roller Coaster” on social media. (In a pre-show for the Aerosmith-themed Disney ride, he appears as a sound engineer in studio with the band, but he does not speak.)
Do we deserve this himbo king? We do not. And he gives us every shade of dumb-and-handsome all the same. The Macy Gray impression is just a bonus.