Wednesday, July 27, 2011
At its core, Tosh.0, the TV show with Comedian Daniel Tosh riffing on popular you tube clips -- was always going to be a show about laughing at the unfortunate, the odd, the pathetic, the poor, the mentally-ill.
After all, so much of the Web is a cruel place. Its amateur humorists swarm around particular embarrassing pictures or moment, making every possible joke, stripping the subject of all flesh and dignity, then moving onto its next victim. A show about that culture – about laughing along with the Internet audience – will tend to mirror that cruelty.
Thus, last night’s last-show-of-the-Summer featured Tosh mocking what appears to be a mentally ill woman eating a hotdog after she drops it on the floor, and mocking a small teenager getting brutally knocked out by his much larger peer.
He’s one step away, essentially, from providing rimshot-heavy color commentary for Bumfights. Except at least the guys in Bumfights were paid.
It’s one thing just running these videos. But Tosh goes further. He doesn’t just let the audience laugh, he fires off witty punchlines, taunting the pathetic video . Even the “Web Redemptions” are more about continuing to poke fun at stars of embarrassing online videos than giving them some relief.
The catcalling and the sniggering jokes remind me of, well, the same sort of bullying that schools fight against. Bullying, as many a poster and PSA will tell you, isn’t just composed of swirlies and locker-stuffing. The witty – those with more social status – can be incredibly cruel with their words. And that’s what Tosh.0 is about.
There’s nothing wrong, inherently, with mean or politically incorrect humor. Half of comedy revolves around saying things that everyone knows you’re not supposed to say. But Tosh zeroes his humor on specific non-public people, whose only crime were having humiliating moment caught on camera.
The Daily Show is cruel in its mockery, but it focuses its mockery on unethical politicians or bloviating pundits. The Soup is cruel in its mockery, but it focuses its mockery on fame-thirsty reality show creatures. Tosh.0 focuses on the least fortunate. He’s there to afflict the afflicted in order to bring amusement to the comfortable. It’d be one thing if Tosh.0 was a subtle commentary on the most base, voyeuristic tendencies of the viral-heavy Internet.
Even fictional shows can have this problem. Chuck Lorre shows like Big Bang Theory and Two and a Half Men, where the writers create these pathetic characters, and then proceed to have other characters make easy jokes to mock the other characters he’s created. He’s a cruel god, truly: Creating idiots in order to have other characters he’s created sling lazy one-liners mocking them.
The best comedies bask smiling in the stupidity of the universe, the worst
shows have to point it out. In the Simpson’s golden years, everyone
laughs at Krusty the Clown and everyone cheers for the cliched
McBain action films. Family Guy, by contrast, would often have to use
an eye-roll or sarcastic one-liner from Brian or Stewie to point it out. Great humor often comes from creating empathy with the butt of the joke, not distance.
We, via our basest instincts, already laugh at someone unintentionally racking themselves on a tree truck. We don’t need to have Daniel Tosh’s smirking fratboy pile on punchline after punchline to highlight why he’s stupid. That’s when guilty laughter turns into just, well, bullying.