Move it, Stewart! Tosh is New King of Comedy

The show is called “Tosh.0,” and you can be sure updated versions that are smarter, more sophisticated and more user friendly will be available in the near future.

That’s because Comedy Central would be insane not to fill increasing consumer demand with its hot new product. Even though “Tosh.0,” which debuted in June 2009, is not delivered via disks or downloads but rather in prime time on Comedy Central, the web-centric half-hour laugher starring stand-up comedian Daniel Tosh is showing up on an increasing number of screens.

The episode of “Tosh.0” that aired Aug. 4, for instance, was the most watched show on all TV in the men’s 18-24 and 18-34 demographics, according to Comedy Central. And the “Tosh.0” blog is drawing eyes as well: It is the third most popular among Comedy Central’s digital sites, behind “South Park” and “The Daily Show.”

Comedy Central makes most of its headlines from the rapier-like satire of “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” and “The Colbert Report,” the demented mirth generated by “South Park” and “Futurama” and a bevy of stand-up specials. But the cable net may have another flagship program in its port, and perhaps even for the long term. “Tosh.0” is finishing ahead of Stewart and Colbert, and currently is Comedy Central’s No. 3 rated show, behind only “South Park” and “Futurama.”

“ ‘Tosh.0’ is one of those cable programs that comes along every so often and hits a bull’s-eye with its target audience,” explained Rick Kissell, who covers prime-time ratings for Variety. “While crime dramas on broad networks like TNT’s ‘The Closer’ and ‘Rizzoli & Isles’ might draw three times as many viewers, their viewership is not nearly as concentrated among target demos as younger-skewing programs on more niche-oriented cable networks.

“ ‘Tosh,’ for example, drew just 2.65 million viewers overall (for the episode that aired July 28) but stood as the No. 3 show on all of television — broadcast and cable — among men 18-34, behind only ‘Jersey Shore’ and ‘True Blood.’ Comedy Central has good reason to believe it has found its next star.”

Comedic vivisection
The format of “Tosh.0” borrows from other shows that look for videos on the web to skewer. But Tosh has the advantage of applying his own unique brand of good-natured snarkiness that has been honed from years of performing standup in clubs and at colleges. The show also has regular features like its “Web Redemption” segment, in which somebody is given a chance to atone for embarrassing themselves on video.

“I really do think so much of the success of the show comes from Daniel and his particular take on these viral clips, the stuff from the web that gets passed around,” noted Charlie Siskel, executive producer of the show. “People come to expect something different.

“Now you see comments in the web comments of a video that is being passed around saying, ‘I can’t wait to see how Tosh is gonna handle this.’ ”

The show highlights web videos both prominent and relatively unknown, then uses Tosh’s special brand of comedic vivisection to rip them apart for laughs. The result often can be that a video that might not have been noticed before suddenly has its 15 minutes of infamy.

Siskel gave the example of a video that depicted a frat-guy drinking-game phenomenon involving Smirnoff ice bottles. Tosh’s slightly darker take on it involved him breaking off a bottle, cutting a guy’s throat and then pulling a bottle of Zima out of his pocket. “We mentioned that the phenomenon was out there,” Siskel said, “and we wanted to put an end to it.”

Getting twisted
Much of Tosh’s appeal rests in his amiable comic-assassin persona. He is at once charming and twisted — not always a winning combination — yet he manages to pull it off with aplomb.

John Wenzel, who covers comedy among other topics as an entertainment writer for the Denver Post, had seen Tosh’s standup act and interviewed him before “Tosh.0” had even aired.

“He has a sharp sense of humor,” Wenzel said. “In most comedy nothing is sacred, but he’s relentless when he goes after things. He just twists something until it’s red-faced and sweating.

“I think his personality is suited to that. It seems pretty effortless for him to give out quick little sound bites, just sort of sharp, well-crafted barbs. It’s sort of why ‘Chappelle’s Show’ worked so well, even though that focused on sketches. It’s one thing to another, with very little connective tissue.”

All for laughs
And that evil twinkle in Tosh’s eyes? That likeable leer? Does it help to ease the trauma of his well-placed jabs?

“He’s doing it all under the guise of comedy,” Wenzel explained. “I think you should be able to get away with anything under the guise of comedy, or else it’s insulting. Part of it all is that All-American, Midwestern smiling nice guy with the sparkly eyes and rapid-fire demeanor and the sick, prurient mind that will go to these really dark places at a moment’s notice.”

Yet no matter the host or the manner of delivery, the show is working because it apparently satisfies a fundamental comedic requirement: the creation of guffaws from the bellies of viewers.

“Ultimately these are jokes,” Siskel said. “This show isn’t trying to change the world, just make people laugh. I think that’s part of why we’re able to poke fun at stuff without people getting too (offended).”

Michael Ventre is a frequent contributor to He lives in Los Angeles.

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