Looking at Comedy Central’s Weird and Hard-to-Categorize One-Season Shows
We’ve reached the end of The Good, The Bad, and the Deeply Strange, our examination of the many Comedy Central shows that lasted just one season. Like all these shows, it’s being put out to pasture after one series, because after dozens of shows, there are no more to watch. Catch up with our looks at reality shows, sketch shows, and parodies and sitcoms. I now present the outliers, the shows that didn’t really fit in the other categories. Animation, standup showcases, and game shows are represented here. Speaking of game shows, Comedy Central broadcast a bunch of one-season game shows that can’t be seen anywhere on the internet. Pour one out for Don’t Forget Your Toothbrush, Let’s Bowl, Limboland, and VS.
Shorties Watchin’ Shorties
Shorties Watchin’ Shorties is a pretty airtight premise: Premium Blend with cartoons. Standup audio clips visualized through animation. Like reading a novel, standup creates a scene in the listener’s mind. Plus, it’s an easy show to make, because it’s already written. Just turn the recordings over to a few hardworking animators and there’s the show.
When the standup is good, Shorties Watchin’ Shorties is good. When it’s bad, it’s bad. It’s a simple formula. The real problem with Shorties Watchin’ Shorties is its frame device of two babies watching TV. The babies are voiced by Nick DiPaolo and Patrice O’Neal, and have those comics’ personas, but adapted to material about being babies (“the babysitter is a slut” is a premise). These bits are mercilessly unfunny, and DiPaolo and O’Neal sound half-asleep.
But the baby bits are avoidable. Shorties Watchin’ Shorties lasted one long season from April to December 2004, the year before YouTube launched and created the perfect platform for something like Shorties Watchin’ Shorties. It’s a format better suited for the internet than TV, which is why the show lives on as standalone clips (most without the babies, thankfully) on Comedy Central’s website.
Con ran for six episodes in the spring of 2005, and is one of the most effective “is this real or not?” things I’ve seen. Con presents itself as a documentary-style inside look at how a con man pulls off his schemes. The show never breaks character to say, “this is scripted,” but it also seems impossible that everyone conned would consent to being stolen from on television. Host Skyler Stone is a standup comedian in real life, but he never identifies himself as such on the show. On the show, he’s a professional con artist, pulling off elaborate schemes to avoid paying for stuff, like convincing amateur bikini models to clean his apartment by claiming that he’s a fashion photographer doing a shoot. When the aftermath of the cons is shown, which is infrequent (it would undermine the whole “conning is cool” thing the show needs to succeed), the victims seem genuinely upset.
The most compelling and authentic-seeming episode is the pilot, which Comedy Central never aired, probably because Stone appears to successfully defraud the San Francisco Giants. His hoax is elaborate and clever and sociopathic, and would have collapsed if anyone from the team had Googled him. It’s gripping, queasy viewing that the show in broadcast form never quite replicated.
Con is, for better or worse, one of the most unique shows Comedy Central ever broadcast. It’s not a bad show, and I’m surprised it wasn’t at least a minor hit. Skyler Stone uploaded several episodes to Funny or Die, and the pilot at least is worth checking out. If anything, watching Con reinforced the fact that the world will pretty much let a guy do whatever he wants as long as he’s confident enough.
Freak Show is a far less beloved show than I would expect an Adult Swim-style cartoon created by David Cross and H. Jon Benjamin to be. It was animated and produced by Radical Axis, the studio behind Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Squidbillies, and Sealab 2021. It came from the minds and mouths of the biggest name in comic voice acting and the guy from both Mr. Show and Arrested Development. It had a stellar supporting cast including Will Arnett, Jon Glaser, and Janeane Garofalo. It had a solid premise: a team of Pentagon-funded sideshow freaks incompetently carries out unimportant secret missions. So why does it have a 5.5 average IMDB rating, lower than much worse shows like American Body Shop or Secret Girlfriend?
The answer, most likely, is that it’s almost incomprehensibly weird. A lot of the jokes seem like they should be/are parodies, but they’re not actually parodies of anything. Take, for instance, the character Primi, a premature baby who looks like an overgrown fetus and lives in a glass box with robotic arms he never uses. He is voiced by Cross in a tiny fake-Italian falsetto. Why does he need an Italian accent? It makes no sense. It’s very funny, but if you come into Freak Show expecting a parody or dirty sitcom like Drawn Together, the Comedy Central show it most resembles, you will be confused.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the show it really most spiritually resembles is Mr. Show. Freak Show occasionally veers into straight satire, with appearances from some of David Cross’ favorite boogeymen, like George W. Bush and Larry the Cable Guy (known here as Danny the Plumber Guy). The show uses the Mr. Show parody name formula of “change the name of what you’re parodying a little bit.” The show’s main antagonist is Mal Watson, the CEO of Freak Mart, which is like Wal-Mart but is also heavily invested in the freakshow industry (this is a weird show), whose name is just a few letters away from Sam Walton.
The show ran for seven episodes in the fall of 2006, and it feels like a one-off. One of the main characters dies in the last episode, and it just doesn’t feel like it’s interested in going another season. What Freak Show really feels like is a show that was supposed to be on Adult Swim, where it would have fit right in, and somehow ended up on Comedy Central instead. It’s sort of an odd footnote in Cross and Benjamin’s careers, and I would strongly advise revisiting it on iTunes.
Log Cabin Republican, a Jon Glaser-voiced gay Republican whose super power is turning into a burly bear, appeared on The Colbert Report. Fun fact: his button references Leviticus 20:13, the infamous Bible passage, “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.”
The Gong Show with Dave Attell
The original Gong Show was a weird and wooly daily daytime game show that ran from 1976 to 1978. It is perhaps best known amongst people who weren’t around back then from the movie Confessions of A Dangerous Mind, the Charlie Kaufman-scripted, George Clooney-directed biopic about Gong Show host and visionary Chuck Barris. The original show itself remains beloved enough that it’s been rebooted three times: first in 1988, again in 1998, and most recently in the summer of 2008, when it was hosted by well-regarded comic’s comic Dave Attell.
The Gong Show with Dave Attell replicated the format of the original Gong Show, where amateur performers compete for a panel of three celebrity judges (who include such luminaries as Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, Ron “Tater Salad” White, and predictably wasted Andy Dick). If they don’t like the performer, they bang the titular gong to make them stop. The judges dispense an arbitrary number of points (the rating scale goes from 1-500), and the winner receives an arbitrary amount of money ($600). Attell’s version also kept the sensibility of the original show, with intentionally terrible or baffling performers and a loose, unbuttoned atmosphere. The show is edited so that Attell can occasionally be seen hustling onstage from the wings and picking up his mic or stubbing out a cigarette. In one episode, guest judge JB Smoove is chewing what appear to be nuts every time he appears onscreen, which seem to be coming from a bowl under his chair.
The performers are all on a continuum of funny/weird/actually talented, like the Amazing Trinket, a pretty lady who deep-throats a long balloon all the way down into her belly and then pulls a balloon animal out of her butt (the animal is just a bit, but she actually swallows an inflated balloon, and it’s truly astounding to see). Good or bad, they’re rarely boring, and the episodes zip along.
America didn’t seem to want the Gong Show with Dave Attell in 2008, as it was cancelled after eight episodes, but if history is a guide, we’re due for another edition in 2018. We’ll see how The Gong Show with Chris Gethard (you heard it here first, start tweet-campaigning now) does in four years.
The Benson Interruption
I tried to start writing about The Benson Interruption from a few different angles, but I couldn’t find a way in where I could avoid coming right out with this, so I’ll just say it: I can’t stand Doug Benson. I would call him lazy, but he’s not lazy; he’s one of the hardest-working, most shamelessly self-promoting comics in America, and he’s a huge stoner, which makes his work ethic even more impressive. But his comedy is not creative or funny. He has a catchphrase, and it’s “hey everybody,” and it’s not ironic. I feel like his success is based more on hard work and being a nice, likable guy than being a talented comedian, but I also don’t find him likable. He has an album called Smug Life, which sums up his punny, reference and namedrop-heavy, and, of course, smug sensibility. Sorry, Doug, but I don’t get the appeal.
The Benson Interruption, unfortunately, would have been a really good show without Benson. Of course, Benson was part of the package from the start, as he had been doing The Benson Interruption as a live show in LA for years before he got the Comedy Central show. The premise is good: a sitdown comedian interrupts a standup comedian while the standup performs. With the right combination of performers, it could lead to fruitful riffing and heightening and the joy of watching standups figure out what’s funny, but Doug Benson never interrupts with anything funny. It’s a bummer. This is a case where the host needs to have a Dorothy Parker-esque wit. Instead we have Benson making weed puns.
The show also suffers from awkward editing. Each episode has three standup sets, but they’re broken up over commercial breaks, so in addition to Benson interruptions, there are commercial breaks in the middle of sets. The guest tells a few jokes, and then the comic and Benson do a Tweet-off, where they read previously published tweets off their phones (I take it back about Benson not being lazy). In the Tweet-off, Benson and the guest comic read two tweets each, which breaks the rule of three and makes the segment feel unbalanced every time.
The Benson Interruption ran for six episodes in late 2010. It was reincarnated as a podcast soon after, which ran until 2013. It’s available on Amazon.