Getting ‘Problematic’ with Moshe Kasher
Moshe Kasher has already checked comedian, author, podcaster, producer, and actor off of his career checklist. Now he has his sights set on a new title, “the Phil Donahue of the internet generation.” Comedy Central’s new talk show, Problematic with Moshe Kasher, premieres tomorrow night at 10:00pm. The show is an attempt to utilize the best elements of old daytime talk shows to tackle some of the internet’s most contentious subjects, like cultural appropriation, gun control, impeachment, and the dark web. Inspired by his podcast The Hound Tall Discussion Series, Problematic brings experts into the ring with Moshe and his comedian friends to have real, meaningful, and hilarious conversations. I talked to Moshe about his inspiration for the show, the importance of mindful discussion, and the problem with far left “comedians.”
Problematic premieres on Comedy Central next week. How do you feel?
I’m very excited. I feel good.
We talked about a year ago and you mentioned that you were working on a pilot for Comedy Central. Was this it?
Yeah, this is the one. Alex Blagg, one of the co-creators of @midnight, came to me and wanted to do a show. Comedy Central wanted me to do a show with them that kind of occupied the space between The Daily Show and @midnight intellectually. Something slightly sillier than The Daily Show and a little more serious than @midnight. I was already doing Hound Tall, which is definitely a kissing cousin to the show. We created this thing that, if all goes well, I think it’s a new category of TV. It’s Comedy Central-level comedy that’s mimicking the era of daytime talk.
Talk shows have been around almost as long as TV. What are you doing with the format to make it new and relevant?
Well, first of all, we’re going to fuck on film, live, hardcore, XXX. Second, people are really desperate and thirsty for real conversation now. The question of what we’re doing to change the format is a bit of a misnomer. We’re going back in time a little bit and grabbing elements of things that are lost: the slow conversational depth of Dick Cavett, the audience interaction of Phil Donahue, with a hyper-modern internet digitization of it all. The show will be super modern and super nostalgic feeling all at once.
Daytime talk now is mostly either very exploitive, reality show stuff or superficial chat. Late night talk is so overproduced and predictable.
Yeah, people like real conversations. It’s been proven on TV. I remember when everyone was sending around that clip of Trevor Noah talking to Tomi Lahren. Everyone couldn’t believe that two people who didn’t agree with each other were having that conversation. I got happy when I saw that because I realized that people really want these kind of conversations to happen. The topics are cool. We already filmed one that’s all about cultural appropriation. The question we were asking is, “Where is the line when it comes to cultural appropriation?” Next week we’re talking about how the internet is changing our brains and whether technology is good for you or bad for you. They’ve been really, cool, funny, dense, and engaging. Our studio audiences get to ask questions and make comments. I’m excited because this is a show I didn’t have to sacrifice anything intellectually or creatively to make.
Clearly we have a lot of fucked up stuff happening in our country right now. I think one of the biggest problems is that opposing sides are polarized and are refusing to talk and listen to each other with open minds. I think people need to see people of opposing viewpoints talking it out. Are you planning on bringing that element to your show?
Absolutely. I don’t think we are particularly trying to be a political talk show. We’re trying to be a talk show about big ideas. There are so many political talk shows out there that are doing such a good job that it would be foolish of me to try to get in the ring with them. John Oliver, Trevor Noah, Samantha Bee…they’re all so good. The only reason to add another voice into the fray is if you feel there’s something not being said that could sway things. We don’t want to talk politics. We want to talk about the tectonic plates beneath the politics, the cultural and social forces that affect politics. If we can get into that we can get away from the polarized, binary, right/left aspects of politics and get into something that is more socially charged. That’s what I’m interested in doing. And by the way, let me not oversell what this show is. I also want to have some pulpy good times like they do on daytime talk. I wanted to be like Phil Donahue for the internet generation.
Things move fast on the internet. What are your plans for keeping the show up-to-the-minute?
I’m not tied to the news cycle. I can do an episode on cultural appropriation, not on Rachel Dolezal. We might make a joke about her, but that’s not going to be the focus of the conversation. The Dolezal story lies on top of the ice sheet that is cultural appropriation, which lies on top of the ice sheet that is racism in America. So you can go deep without being tied to the news cycle.
What type of guests make up your panel? Is it largely comics?
So far every show has a lead guest that is not a comedian. On the appropriation episode we had Kenya Barris, the creator of Black-ish. This week we have Nicholas Carr, the Pulitzer Prize finalist and author of the book The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. The week after that we have Reza Aslan, a Muslim scholar, to talk about Islam. It’s basically experts and then comedians come to keep the show light and funny.
Are there any topics that are off-limits in terms of what the network will allow you to do?
Look, I can’t really tell you that. [laughs] The network has been really cool in allowing us to go places that you would think they wouldn’t be comfortable with going. I can’t think of a good example of something that they didn’t want, but I can tell you what I don’t want. I’m a strong believer in free speech to the degree that I support everybody’s right to speak, including those whose views I find disgusting. But I don’t necessarily need my television show to be a platform for white supremacy or racism. That’s not to say I don’t think racists should not be allowed to speak. They can do what they want. But I don’t need to have them on. As a comedian all I care about is, “Can I make this funny and will I be able to sleep at night after I engage in it?” So I don’t think Richard Spencer will be invited on my show. Although, who knows? Maybe the future will change my views on that.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Richard Spencer started doing standup soon.
Richard Spencer claiming he is a comedian would not be that much different than these people on the far left that are like, “I’m a systemic racist, slam poet, social justice deconstructor, Molotov cocktail thrower, and a comedian.” I’m like, “Are you sure you’re a comedian? Because I do comedy a lot and I’ve never seen you.” the left has taken the moniker of comedian and run with it. All you have to do is be a slightly clever activist and you can call yourself a comedian on the left. I don’t think you’re wrong in saying that Richard Spencer calling himself a comedian is that far off.