Why is David Wain revered by comedy fans? Two words: The State. His membership in that revolutionary sketch troupe helped define a certain approach to comedy - bitingly sarcastic, wildly original and more than willing to ridicule comic clichés at length - that picked up on the self-aware absurdism of the Kids in the Hall and continues to reverberate through comedy today.
Here are the five Wain projects you need to see to fully appreciate what he's doing in his latest, They Came Together (which opens Friday, June 27).
1. The State (1993-1995)
The troupe's MTV sketch show - large chunks of which are scattered across YouTube - introduced the State's volatile comic sensibility to a mass audience that wasn't ready for it in the slightest. That's okay; everyone landed on their feet - including Wain and fellow State troupers Michael Ian Black and Michael Showalter, who created and starred in the absurdist sketch series Stella.
2. Role Models (2008)
Wain and Paul Rudd have a long-standing association. Rudd's appeared in all of Wain's feature films (including The Ten, where he plays the initially affable host of an anthology of sketches), and Wain supplies Rudd with a series of complex, mercurial characters that let the actor push against his genial persona.
Role Models is the best thing they've done together, a send-up of buddy comedies, alpha-male posturing and recovery narratives that casts Rudd as a testy asshole forced, along with idiot friend Seann William Scott, to do community service with troubled youth.
The script (co-written by Wain, Rudd and State veteran Ken Marino, among others) honours the concept of good deeds while taking the piss out of the system that exists to cynically cash in on it - and also builds in huge, character-based laughs for virtually everyone involved.
3. Wanderlust (2012)
A gleeful mockery of the "yuppies looking for a home" concept of Sam Mendes's insufferable Away We Go, Wanderlust stars Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston as a couple who flee Manhattan for a simpler life - only to end up amongst a cult of vegan polyamorists in Georgia.
Rudd and Aniston are terrific as the hapless leads, the supporting cast is one of Wain's strongest (packing in multiple State vets, Justin Theroux, Jordan Peele, Alan Alda and a surprisingly nimble Linda Lavin), and the script is a non-stop joke machine.
It flopped in theatres, because people are dumb and the world is an awful place, but the Blu-ray offers double the fun by throwing in an alternate version of the movie constructed from alternate takes and deleted scenes. Go get that.
4. Wet Hot American Summer (2001)
I'm still not the biggest fan of Wain's summer-camp satire, which has weird pacing issues, too-stiff performances by David Hyde Pierce and Janeane Garofalo and a sense that most of the actors are immensely pleased with themselves for playing teenagers - although everything Christopher Meloni does as the camp's psychotic cook is pure gold, and the trip into town may be the first and best example of a gag that escalates with terrifying speed. So, yeah, it counts.
5. Children's Hospital (2008 - present)
Wain helped Rob Corddry develop his soap opera parody from a web series into a proper TV series, and his influence can be felt in the show's insane adherence to the genre's clichés and its habit of humping a joke so long that it stops being funny and then becomes funny again (the runner about Dr. Lola's fake brain tumour, for instance).
He also co-wrote and directed the second season's brilliant Hot Enough For You? episode, which combines the overheated plotting of a soap with the literal overheat of Do The Right Thing as a heat wave triggers a series of sticky assignations amongst the hospital staff. The result is unforgettable - no matter how hard you try.