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Thursday, February 28th, 2013

'The Ben Show' and 'Nathan For You': Banging Gongs and Serving Poop

You can watch the series premieres of The Ben Show and Nathan For You online now if you desire. The shows will be making their debuts on television this Thursday on Comedy Central at 10 and 10:30 p.m. eastern time, respectively.

Maybe its because more cable networks than ever are running original comedic programming, or network brass is sick of relying on the same familiar faces for all of their original shows, but Comedy Central is rolling the dice and uncharacteristically debuting two new shows this Thursday, back to back, hosted by comedians that haven't already been showcased on one of the network's roasts or half-hour standup specials, let alone in front of a camera on any show most of the country has heard of. Key and Peele were both on MadTV back in the day, but they've achieved notoriety for the first time with their Comedy Central show, and if The Ben Show and Nathan For You are successful too, it might determine if the network continues to be more open in the future with who they choose to buy shows from.

No pressure, guys.

The Ben Show is hosted by comedian Ben Hoffman, a member of the writing staffs of The Sports Show with Norm MacDonald and last year's Roseanne roast. Hoffman comes off as an affable enough gentleman — he manages to get away with at times being a bit of a jerk by balancing it with the occasional self-deprecating remark and general silly behavior. Roughly half of each episode involves a plot that starts with Hoffman announcing that he suddenly has an interest in doing something like buying a gun or starting a band, kind of like the classic The Jon Dore Television Show. The rest is padded with bits that have nothing to do with the plot at all. Hoffman breaks the fourth wall repeatedly, speaking directly to the camera and making his confused guests introduce the next sketch.

The potential problem with the show is how all over the place the humor is, which is either a result of writers with disparate comedy personas that find different things funny, and/or an intentional attempt to please everybody. There are sketches that might be considered racist to some, like when an Asian woman crossing a street is scored to Ben hitting a tiny gong, or when a football coach is just over-the-top, uh, racist. There is a bit that is definitely cringeworthy that parodies those "last text before i was paralyzed by a driver" commercials, for the "so wrong it's right" crowd. There are bits that are for those that like their comedy David Letterman silly, that prove the old comedy adage that anything is funny if you repeat it long enough ("The Story of Fat Kyle" is a tragic tale of a corpulent man that no chair can take. It is funnier than it sounds), but even some fans of it will start to believe that no, that is not true and for the love of God I get what you are trying to do but I feel like suing you for the time lost watching it ("Deer on the Loose", a meandering song that is both endless and a little less than two minutes long to the video of different deer running amok in places that are not zoos, comes to mind). The Ben Show, at least for now, is awfully schizophrenic, but at least that means that there's a little something for everybody.

The amount of enjoyment you will get out of Nathan For You might be directly related to how uncomfortable you get from practical jokes, but it shouldn't. Nathan Fielder, a Canadian comedian who was in Seth Rogen's high school improv group, helps random businesses by proposing and carrying out incredibly misguided ideas to bring in more cash. Fielder showcases his freakishly large balls on multiple occasions (not literally), such as when he kept a straight face upon suggesting to a yogurt shop manager that he start selling yogurt that looks and tastes like actual shit, or when he did not cower in fear and wet himself when a man justifiably grew very angry after being informed that he was being videotaped in the bathroom. The way I just described it makes it sound kind of like The Tom Green Show — what with the Canadian background and the Andy Kaufman envelope pushing shtick — but Fielder comes off a lot more like a harmlessly wicked behavioral science major more than an obnoxious man that is clearly looking to stir some trouble, which gives him a lot more leeway. Besides, the stupid and/or purposely misleading ideas lead to amusing, unexpected complications and odd, interesting characters that are rightfully given more air time than initially suspected.

Nathan For You in its first few episodes provoked visceral reactions from me, one positive and one negative. There was a segment that made me uncomfortable enough where I pretended to check my Tweetdeck while only allowing myself to hear how the next minute or so played out, just to know that nobody got murdered. But there was also a sketch involving guest star Jon Benjamin, where from a nearby van the voice of Archer told Fielder everything he was to say in a job interview through an ear piece, with the dry humored, unflappable Fielder not being able to say anything else but the words provided. Benjamin uttered something so bad that Fielder, for the only time in the series thus far, broke character, and even then it wasn't to laugh uncontrollably out loud like I did — he refused to say the words at all.

  • jake

    thoses interviews in nathan for you were just too much. the shit thing was pretty boring but the progression of a seven year old, to jon benjamin to a turtle were just incredible to witness