I have vague memories of giving Comedy Central’s Tosh.0 a tepid review when it premiered, coming up on five years ago, and I wouldn’t remember those 491 words at all except for two reasons:
1. The offense taken by Tosh and his current or former staff (and his fans) about that review, which to this day reaches me through a second- or third-hand source when I least expect it.
2. My pangs of regret about that review, seeing as how Tosh.0, which returns for its sixth season tonight, eventually became one of my off-duty shows that I watch every week simply for the sick, cruelly cool pleasure of it. Therefore, it’s not entirely fair that the only words I’ve published about the show were dismissive.
On camera, Tosh, who is now 38, appears to be everything his detractors say he is: jerk, troll, obnoxious man-brat, complete jackass. He wants only to say what one should not say, but unlike other comedians who specialize in that sort of thing purely for shock value, he instead has come to personify our worst impulses as anonymous online commenters.
In his television and comic persona (and perhaps in life), he accesses what could, in a humorless clinical sense, be described as rationalized examples of racism and sexism: He affirms long-standing and socially unacceptable stereotypes and then weakens those beliefs by making himself the smart-mouth who declares it so.
Tosh.0 thrives on that kind of blundering exploration of race, class, gender, life. It is really a TV show about a man who never quite got past his post-graduation jadedness – or who has made a splendid act of pretending to be the guy who enters the world and immediately sets about disliking it.
But let’s not overthink it, either. Tosh.0 is still primarily a TV show about the Internet, literally and thematically.
It is filled with videos that capture moments of terrible decisions and painful outcomes: Skaters and urban acrobats and base jumpers mauling themselves in amateur stunts; a man attempting to slice a watermelon with a machete who instead cleanly slices his hand open. Broken bones sticking out of flesh; dogs defecating on car seats. Successful Tosh.0 videos are the stuff of Russian dashboard cams capturing car accidents and convenience-store security cams capturing all of the idiocy that can possibly occur in a convenience store. It’s people accidentally setting themselves on fire. It’s a whole lot of vomiting.
When I first reviewed Tosh.0, I thought that a TV show built around online content and the nature of the Internet was an unnecessary, even cheap example of clearinghouse programming. Later, I started to see Tosh as an essential misanthrope. Television is filled with comedians and hosts who all cultivate an image of rudeness and cutting remarks but who still never manage to be half as mean as the anonymous vultures who gather in the Internet’s shadows.
Tosh’s hilarious use of cruelty feels as black as the online soul, and as fleeting and ephemeral. The unfortunates in those viral videos get hauled off to emergency rooms with broken bones and concussions, and Tosh is unafraid to rub it in and make it worse with his jokes. Can we in all honesty praise this sort of thing? Somehow, eventually, yes.