“The Eric Andre Show” is TV’s hardest sell. Sure, it airs on Fridays at midnight on the adult-oriented version of Cartoon Network — and that sentence alone has surely already lost me a few readers — but I’m so ardent in my “Ranch!” fervor that it’s a wonder my proselytizing hasn’t gotten me blocked from multiple contacts. Yet, despite innumerable pleas to friends, family and coworkers, my conversion rate is dispiritingly low.
I can’t say I’m surprised. Eric André’s (“Man Seeking Woman”) underappreciated series, which recently completed its fourth season, is a collection of compact, 12-minute bursts of pure, unbridled energy. It is (at the risk of using up all my adjectives too early) at once explicit, uncomfortable, hilarious, graphic, deadpan, raunchy, disgusting, absurdist, ironic, awkward, progressive, horrifying, manic and the televised embodiment of WTF.
It is, in one word, a miracle.
Ostensibly a parody of public access talk shows, “The Eric Andre Show” is the brainchild of the irrepressibly insane comedian whose name — and sensibility — it bears. Each episode features André as the odd, insecure host of a late-night show alongside comedian Hannibal Buress (“Broad City”), who literally does nothing more than stand on the side of the set and chime in with random asides. The title sequence features a live band, and then André subsequently tackling the drummer of said live band, as well as destroying his purposely cheap-looking set, on every single episode. And guests — many of whom simply have no idea what they’ve signed up for — are subjected to “interviews” that are abruptly spliced between on-the-street segments.
That’s about as much formal structure as the show cares to have; beyond this, anything goes. Prerecorded segments are YouTube-ready, hidden-camera sketches that transgress the boundaries of comfort and good taste and, in some cases, the law. A few personal favorites: the aforementioned recurring series, “Ranch It Up,” in which our host spouts non sequiturs borne of an untethered writers’ room to passersby on the street before chugging a bottle of Hidden Valley Ranch; one in which André, covered in cereal and adorned with a dog collar, moans to subway passengers that he “did not, unfortunately, get the job at the Froot Loops factory” and proceeds to pour milk all over his crying face; another subway sketch in which André, dressed as a mailman and rocking Heelys, begins to rip apart letters and fake mail to the horror of people nearby, all the while screaming “I HATE MAIL! I HATE MAIL!” and ending with a lovely performance of the pan flute; and the crown jewel, a recurring sketch called “Bird Up!” that, in one episode, inexplicably ends with André, in a neon-green super suit and a toy bird glued to his shoulder, fingering the mouth of a woman on the street while repeatedly chanting the phrase, “YAH BOOBAY.” Yes, I know what you’re thinking — 126 years of editorial freedom, all culminating in that sentence.
Celebrity interviews are similarly odd. André’s stated mission is to make his guests as uncomfortable as possible. And by extension that means his viewers, too. Just as the camera often jarringly cuts to Buress doing something incredibly stupid, like screaming into a bite of a Hot Pocket, we are often treated to the most intimate, awkward and discomfiting of host-guest interactions. André alternately cranks the heat up on his set to sweltering levels, places cockroaches underneath his guests’ seat cushion, literally flashes Seth Rogen or, in one notorious sequence, prompts a genuinely heated walkout from Lauren Conrad after eating fake vomit from his desk.
The series’ comedic sensibility borders on nihilism, and it is the medium’s most fully formed simulacrum of utter anarchy. And in between moments of complete disgust, you realize that there’s much more brains behind the art.
It’s entirely plausible to detect, in André’s show, a scathing critique of the concept of modern American celebrity, or a cleverly disguised satire of racial politics in late-night television. And that subtext belies André’s prodigious perceptiveness and intelligence — something not normally associated with a show so devoted to lowbrow dick jokes and 420 references.
If the static sameness of late-night television is the unquestioned norm, then “The Eric Andre Show” is here to detonate the status quo with a brashness that veers toward hyper-masculine arrogance, but is nonetheless revolutionary. Since their inception, talk shows have been constructed to mitigate the masses, to cast the widest net and reel in the largest audience by substituting inoffensiveness where dissidence might be more potent. This show isn’t interested in that.
A Berklee College of Music graduate, André toys with conventions like the “in-house band” in ways that are ostensibly base but slyly subversive. The host, who traded in the stand up bass for stand up comedy less than a decade ago, is more concerned with in-your-face humor than the air of smugness that often permeates shows like “The Daily Show” and “Last Week Tonight.” His influences are less Johnny Carson and more “Space Ghost Coast to Coast”; the show operates like an absurdist’s pastiche of “Jackass,” “Da Ali G Show” and Tyler, The Creator’s short-lived “Loiter Squad.”
And while there’s much to deconstruct, there exists the timeless pleasure of simply appreciating a show willing to traffic in comedy that is at once gleefully tasteless and legitimately boundary-pushing.
I find it difficult, however, to write about this marvel of a series and capture the distinct and exhilarating experience of actually watching it. To put it bluntly, this is the only show not named “Veep” currently on air that can elicit sincere tears of laughter in the solitary confinement of my bedroom.
So while the arbiters of good taste might deem “The Eric Andre Show” too niche for a mainstream audience, I bristle. That’s a fair characterization, sure, but it also misses the point. “The Eric Andre Show” is brilliant, uncomfortable and proudly, defiantly not for everyone. I plan to keep watching.