Like most of you, I discovered Tosh.0 last summer while falling asleep to the television at my in-laws’ house in New Jersey. In the ensuing months, I’ve digested the total sum of its two seasons, no different from the rest of the show's couple-million viewers per week: drunk, and on DVR between 1 and 4 a.m.
Mildly successful standup-turned-Comedy Central wunderkind Daniel Tosh has proven that, somewhere between increasingly Vaudevillian clip show The Soup and Stewart/Colbert’s lefty satire, there was still an unexplored niche of unpretentious, reactionary sound-bite humor on basic cable.
Understandably, some have avoided Tosh and his semi-eponymous ratings-buster over the last year for fear that he might be heir apparent to Dane Cook and the Superfinger. As it happens, the German-born, Florida-raised comedian, while something of a locker room prankster, is genuinely very funny. Most of the time. And at his best, he uses his 22 minutes to simultaneously show off YouTube’s finest amateur idiocy, demonstrate that no one can out-degrade other human beings worse than they can themselves, and poke fun at the very format of his and similar shows (Web Soup, The Dish, the atrocious Sports Soup et al) without much collateral damage.
It can be difficult to critically evaluate individual episodes of such a reliably formatted half-hour. However, season three’s premiere did offer some exclusive additions: a snazzy, updated set (which led to an early, and encouraging, visual bit involving viewer-suggested backdrops, such as the old Talk Soup blue-screen and a Nazi crest); new video-driven segments (most notably the episode’s lone, truly almost offensive gag, and one that even Tosh seemed uncomfortable with); and a keep-‘em-laughing send-off utilizing audience Tweets.
It was an uneven return for the show, which is almost inevitable. Conceptually, Tosh.0 faces an uphill battle with each new weekly installment, let alone a seasonal reboot. Daniel and his writers are continually playing Steal the Bacon for unexploited scraps against the absorbent blob that is viral culture.
Tonight, they scored comedy gold with a censored video of subway cunnilingus and a naked, middle-aged, dancing hippie woman who looked like a refugee from Real Sex tantra workshops. Per usual, Tosh's high-wire act of being hysterically vicious and accurate in mocking oblivious exhibitionists without purely bullying is impressive. (E.g. “He’s not mugging her, and he’s going down on her? Stereotypes busted.”) It’s also a great deal easier to laugh along with than most smug, primetime “cringe-comedy” and less self-righteous.
Still, Tosh’s strongest moments of pure hilarity come from its extended, performed material. After rattling off one-liners about the aforementioned unclothed Earth-mother, we cut to Tosh, undressed, spinning deliriously on a merry-go-round, stretching out his syllables in a spot-on parody of this poor, stoned woman. And only then do things pan out to reveal a group of schoolchildren watching. (He loves him some gag-stackers.) Sophomoric as this all may seem, it also resurrects memories of oddball, over-caffeinated '90s alt-comedy like MTV’s little-seen (and, appropriately enough, Jon Stewart-hosted), State-featuring improv anomaly You Wrote It, You Watch It.
These tangential leanings consistently—season three, episode one being no exception—pay off in the weekly “Web Redemption,” in which our host meets a notorious YouTube celebrity (in this case, local news interviewee/anti-rape crusader/Auto-Tuned sensation Antoine Dodson) and recreates the incident that brought them notoriety, under the pretense of ostensibly getting a nationally broadcast do-over. The irony, of course, is that had Dodson been less over-the-top, he would have never become so famous that cable networks with 1/1000th the wattage of user-generated Web video wanted to follow his story. It’s Tosh and Tosh embracing the show's inherent untimeliness, and as alternative journalism once accomplished when up against daily papers, finding a way to make old news fresh and relevant again for its audience.
|Tosh.0||Tosh Tuesdays 9pm / 8c|
|Preview - Web Redemption - Antoine Dodson|
Even more subversively, Tosh and Dodson used their “Redemption” to lampoon the discomfort with which the media talks about challenging topics like rape. Dodson’s usefulness was primarily relegated to non-sequitur oddness, with the real punchline taking shape as a wholly justified and perfectly executed dig at our culture’s permissiveness toward athletes’ indiscretions. It was an almost Simpsons-ian act of witty misdirection and a good example of how Tosh ultimately "gets it."
If only the same could be said for “Is He Retarded?” The new inclusion is more or less exactly what it sounds like, and it came off a bit unnecessary and evoked at least two cringes from Tosh himself when the joke seemed to register as random cruelty.
He joined Dodson among the redeemed, however, after a final gonzo video dubbed “The Most Violent Shit Ever.” As footage was queued of Tosh squatting on a toilet, once-again bottomless (for the second time this episode, and somewhat tiresomely, for the umpteenth instance since season one), I assumed the worst, until a horde of ninjas began engaging him in combat with karate and Chinese stars while he remained, as if meditatively, ass to bowl.
In moments like these, Tosh reveals that he is actually a Mel Brooks-loving nerd at heart who spent most of adolescence in his basement with a video camera. And Tosh.0 shows no signs of letting its inebriated faithful down, even if things were definitely in “see what sticks” mode this week. Which, unlike the more contented formula-abiding role of its competition, is all part of what has kept its audience loyal and forgiving.
- Was I the only one who caught that a viewer-submitted set idea came from a “John from Cincinnati” and wondered if that was an inexplicable reference to the failed HBO surfer-noir drama?
- “What’s the over/under on how many cats that woman owns?”
- You’ve gotta love Tosh’s commitment to a joke. He wore that Afro wig and do-rag way longer than was called for.
- “The hardest part about doing that bit in front of the children was my penis.”
- The “Welcome back Karl…” aside. Another great, blink-you-miss it bit of proof that Tosh has totally watched Kentucky Fried Movie. Many times.
- The Asian jokes were a bit fish-in-barrel.
- “Rape is just the same word as pear all jumbled up.”
- I forget how good Tosh is at playfully antagonizing his audience. He should do that more often.
- “Stop asking your fans and write your own shit.” Nice one, whoever Tweeted that.
• Am I the lone person curious if there were any actual repercussions from Daniel cutting one of his colleagues in the head with a fake angry bird?