In 2015, in an era when Office-style cringe comedy is the norm, where the President can appear on Between Two Ferns, and Tim & Eric’s basement public access style has become a Madison avenue fixture, The Eric Andre Show‘s ferocious assault on conventional comedy manages to stand out as something entirely new.
The Andre Show, which recently concluded its third season on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim programming block, is a ramshackle parody of the talk show format, with a host (Andre) who tells offensive, unfunny jokes and is pained and awkward in his interviews, a seemingly stoned cohost (Hannibal Buress) who only undercuts Andre’s jokes and criticizes him; and hidden camera bits that are more disturbing than funny. This description is particularly apt; the show really isn’t funny, or clever, or even particularly pleasant to watch, and most of its laughs come from how truly outré the show is willing to get in its provocations. Andre’s interview with former Hills ickar Lauren Conrad, probably the series’ high point thus far, is illustrative of how tasteless and go-for-broke this series is willing to get—in it, Andre asks the reality star whether she’s a fan of Waka Flacka, whether she has any nudes of her husband on her phone, and finally (fake) vomits onto his desk, then eats it, prompting her to nauseously yell out “nope!” and run off the set.
What makes The Eric Andre Show so funny—and despite those earlier criticisms, it really is a riot—is exactly this, the fact that every single moment is abrasive or unpleasant, the way that Andre and Buress push so far past the bounds of good taste that their poop jokes start to acquire a sense of poetry. The Andre Show‘s appeal is a lot like that of free jazz, with an assemblage of unpleasant, dissonant notes that all combine to something strangely beautiful.
One of the problems with so much abrasive comedy, be it Borat or Between Two Ferns, is whether the guests are in on the joke, whether things are staged are real. Through his audacity, Eric Andre (which by all accounts is completely unstaged and real) manages to bypass this question entirely. When Andre introduces Seth Rogen with his (pixelated) penis hanging out of his pants, it doesn’t really matter whether Rogen knows what’s going on—Andre’s penis is hanging out of his pants.
And while ascribing any sort of message or satirical content to Eric Andre seems like giving it too much credit, the point must be that the show is one of the only shows currently on television with a majority African-American cast. The show has had numerous hidden camera sketches featuring Andre and Buress as drunk police officers abusing their power; given the position that police brutality and racism has played in American life of late, it’s hard not to read a bitter satirical element to these sketches.
One might even read something of that satire to Andre’s signature opening bit, in which he manically destroys his set. Like many other bits on the show, this isn’t funny, and seeing Andre do it over and over before every episode makes it even less so. But perhaps there’s more to it; perhaps this is Andre’s attempt to really shake up the stale atmosphere of late night television, a metaphor for the prevailing norms he’s shattering. Whether it exists as bitterly subversive satire, or merely as an exercise in extreme crassness, The Eric Andre Show is certainly something utterly unique.
A PCP fever dream of a talk show