Over the past decade, Adult Swim’s brand of weird has become somewhat predictable. The irreverent, vulgar, or simply tripped-out is simply expected of its programming, which interrupts Cartoon Network’s kid-friendly programming from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. Every several years, however, there are touchstones in the evolution of the brand, from “The Boondocks” to “Tim & Eric: Awesome Show, Great Job.” Now in its third season, our latest dose seems to be a 400 microgram boof of “The Eric Andre Show.”
The show’s host—a half-Haitian, half-Jewish Floridian who trained at Berklee—begins each episode with the requisite off-camera announcer belting out the name of the show, promptly followed by Andre screaming onto the generic set, destroying his desk and backdrop, tackling the house band’s drummer, fucking a mall Santa, eating the innards of an unconscious cop, and a number of other violent, outrageous acts. Each bath-salts-fueled frenzy ends with Andre panting desperately, resigned to taking his seat and getting on with the show as stage hands hastily replace every bit of the set he’s just demolished.
Stand-up comedian Hannibal Buress (whose recent hot take on the latent Cosby rape allegations helped reignite that discussion and deep-six the comedy legend’s legacy), is the McMahon to Andre’s Carson. In each episode, Buress emerges post-freakout and forces Andre to do talk show things like deliver those pesky monologues, yelling “Do the show!” and booing the host when a joke doesn’t land. While these first few minutes of the show effuse the compulsory weirdness of Adult Swim, “The Eric Andre Show” slathers the weirdness on in dense layers, sometimes quite literally. The season two finale found Andre telling Buress that he’s too busy to do the show, forcing the co-host to play previous episodes over top of each other, creating a total mind-fucking mess that was unlike anything ever seen on TV.
The guests on the show range from the completely illegitimate (e.g. “Jay Z and Beyoncé” were definitely not Jay Z and Beyoncé) to bewildered household names past their time, such as former MTV reality star Lauren Conrad (who runs off the set when Andre eats his own vomit, apparently unaware of the sort of show she agreed to do).
A recent season three episode found an exasperated Seth Rogen attempting to promote something only to be asked by Andre if he thinks “Woody Allen should get Chinese castrated so he stops jerkin’ off his ex-kids?” Before he can even respond, Andre screams “IT’S VELCRO TIME,” and Rogen is forced to don a velcro suit and jump onto a velcro wall. Rogen immediately calls it out as a decades-old “Late Night with David Letterman” bit. Andre’s response, which seems to nail the innovation vacuum of mainstream entertainment is, “If it works, it works!” And when Hannibal Buress is not dressing up as Morpheus from “The Matrix” and rapping as the musical guest, “The Eric Andre Show” will have, say, indie singer-songwriter Mac DeMarco on to briefly perform before being beaten by men in kimonos wielding bamboo and ropes.
The heartiest laughs come from Andre’s man-on-the-street segments, which raise the stakes of “The Tom Green Show” gross-out and old “Letterman” causing-a-scene/accosting-strangers angle: Dressed as a cop, Andre desperately asks people to hide evidence for him; sporting plaid shorts, flip-flops, and a fluorescent green crop-top, he approaches Wall Street types and asks them if they “Wanna hit the quad later, ranch it up and bang some Cherokee chicks on the Trail Of Beers”; in tattered clothes, he drags a body bag trailing blood, and devilishly tells mortified onlookers, “Finders keepers!”
That he does all this as a black dude is somewhat mind-blowing. Without being heavy-handed, Andre, as a black comedian, brings the absurd nature of black comedy, of blackness in general, into sharp focus. In an age when a brother can get smoked for wearing a hoodie, blasting his music in traffic or holding some Skittles, one could say that this is irresponsible, but more accurately, it is Andre seeing what he can get away with because, as a black man in the United States of America, what’s he got to lose? Hopefulness in the face of bleakness has kind of been our bread and butter for centuries. Unlike, say, “Black Dynamite,” the animated Adult Swim series based on Michael Jai White’s whip-smart blaxploitation riff of the same name, “The Eric Andre Show” doesn’t feed into stereotypes of blacks as pimps, hoes, or killers (even if only for comedic effect), nor does it wield a Cosbyesque pull-up-your-pants-or-perish agenda. Rather, it serves as a comedic analogue to lifetimes spent striving, but not necessarily thriving, a theme as American as apartheid.
This is the spiritual successor to stuff like Rev X’s “The Spirit Of Truth,” Glenn O’Brien’s “TV Party,” and an endless procession of wingdings on public access in the pre-internet age. If anything, the shows on NBC, ABC, and CBS have themselves become diluted and, at times, unwatchable. I cringe whenever I see Jimmy Fallon (or whoever really) stroll up in a suit to run his mouth, like a living, breathing answer to a question no one asked. “The Eric Andre Show” does and says what many of us would like to, but probably wouldn’t even if we had a late-night spot and that Ted Turner bank backing them. Two brothers smartly sending up a very white platform is no small feat.