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Jeselnik offends with new hit-and-miss Comedy Central show

Comedy Central

By Alec Stern, Daily Arts Writer
Published February 26, 2013

It’s too early to tell if Comedy Central’s new program, “The Jeselnik Offensive,” is a funny show or not. The premiere episode is a classic talk-show pilot — there are bright spots amid the awkwardness of a new host figuring it all out. In time, “Tosh.0” and “The Jeselnik Offensive” could make for a formidable late-night pairing, but for now, the jury is still out.

“The Jeselnik Offensive” is a 30-minute talk show, featuring various segments and a panel of guests. The panel is definitely the show’s strongest part. As Jeselnik puts it, “(It’s) the panel that’s just like ‘Chelsea Lately,’ only better, because are you fucking kidding me?”

Anthony Jeselnik is a comedian most recognizable from his appearances at several Comedy Central “Roasts.” He’s known for his nothing-off-limits comedy, and with “The Jeselnik Offensive,” Comedy Central basically took the comedian’s signature offensive style and turned it into a television series.

If you are one of Jeselnik’s over 200,000 followers on Twitter, you know that he either tweets to promote himself or quip in the wake of some tragedy.

“@AnthonyJeselnik: Sad to hear about Jenni Rivera’s death. She could have been the next Aaliyah.”

“@AnthonyJeselnik: Whitney Houston dying is worse than when Michael Jackson was alive.”

If you think making jokes about recently dead celebrities is either acceptable or funny (or both), then watch “The Jeselnik Offensive.” If these tweets offend you in some way, or the type of humor just doesn’t sit right with you, Jay Leno may be a better fit. If Jeselnik can be that offensive in 140 characters or less, wait until you see what he can do with 30 minutes.

There are two issues with this kind of offensive comedic style, both of which Jeselnik falls victim to at various points throughout his show. The first: It takes more than just being offensive to be an offensive comedian. The second: When a nasty joke falls flat, it feels twice as unfunny.

In his “Who Wore it Better?” segment, Jeselnik compares President Obama to the Virginia Tech killer and Lucille Ball to the “Dark Knight Rises” killer. There’s not much of a punchline there — you’re just supposed to laugh at the shock of the comparison. Offensive? Yes. Comedy? Not really. Putting a picture of the President and a picture of a mass murderer side-by-side isn’t a joke. It isn’t much of anything.

The opening monologue, with topics ranging from Chris Brown to North Korea, was also a bit lackluster. Again, Jeselnik can go through all the controversial topics he wants, but that in and of itself isn’t a joke. It’s the writing and the delivery, which, for Jeselnik, isn’t always there.

That’s not to say the show wasn’t funny. Jeselnik’s jokes hit more than they miss. The pre-recorded segment “Sacred Cow,” where Jeselnik explores one off-limits topic in depth, was offensive comedy done right. The focus this week was cancer. Yes, cancer, the devastating illness. Jeselnik interviewed an oncologist and performed stand-up at a cancer support group. The jokes, while distasteful, were undeniably funny. Even the cancer patients were laughing, which somehow made it all OK.

Some standout segments, like “Sacred Cow” and the panel (featuring Amy Schumer and Aziz Ansari), proved there’s potential here. As gross and offensive as he might be, Jeselnik still somehow comes off as charismatic and likeable. It usually takes a while for talk-show hosts to find their groove, and Jeselnik is no exception. However, there’s enough promise in the first episode to give fans reason to stick with it.

The bottom line: If Daniel Tosh’s jokes or “The Howard Stern Show” make you laugh, you will love Anthony Jeselnik’s Twitter account. But “The Jeselnik Offensive”? Let’s give it some time.