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The seemingly unlikely comparison comes to mind as Tosh's Comedy Central show, "Tosh.0" – an Internet-driven mix with echoes of "America's Funniest Home Videos," "Jackass" and Funt's groundbreaking "Candid Camera" – kicks off the first of 16 new episodes Wednesday.
Media philosopher Marshall McLuan famously noted that the “medium is the message.” To Tosh, like Funt, the medium is the joke, providing a forum and a form for new comic possibilities.
In the 1940s, when radios filled living rooms, Funt created a show called "Candid Microphone," which squeezed laughs out of practical jokes captured on audiotape. Of course, he's better known for the sequel, "Candid Camera," which transformed the premise to fit the new medium of television and grew into a cultural touchstone along with the TV boom.
With the advent of affordable home video cameras, we saw a shift toward the do-it-yourself era two decades ago with "America's Funniest Home Videos," where funny moments were shared across the most prevalent medium, television. "Jackass" took this concept in another direction a decade later by staging filmed stunts for our sick-humor consumption – spurring copycats in the process.
Tosh's show is very much of its time, even while hearkening to its forbearers. “Tosh.0,” in short, compiles wacky videos from the Internet and puts the results on TV, to a soundtrack of snark. Meanwhile, the show enjoys another life on the Web, where viewers can submit videos, comment and find encouragement to add absurd fictions to the show’s Wikipedia entry.
Tosh is most effective in bridging the Internet and TV worlds when he pulls folks from viral videos for appearances on the show in a segment called “Web Redemption.”
So the gal in the prom dress who fell down the stairs gets another chance to make her grand entrance. The Miss Teen USA contestant who infamously mangled a question about geographic illiteracy gets another shot – and basically keeps her mouth shut. The boy featured in the “David After Dentist” YouTube smash extracts revenge on his father.
Tosh possesses a snide wit that would do him well on “Talk Soup” or “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” and a willingness to recreate Web video stunts that would earn him junior “Jackass” status. But when dealing with guests, he comes across as almost likable amid his chronic sarcasm.
Tosh’s shtick held up surprisingly well during a marathon of past episodes broadcast on Sunday – even if there's still a disproportionate amount of airtime dedicated to scenes of vomiting and men getting hit where it hurts most.
But that’s to be expected, we suppose, when sifting the wild world that is the Web for humor.
Perhaps the biggest difference between now and when Funt got his start more than 60 years ago rests in expectations. Back then, being captured on audio or film came as a surprise. These days, there’s a realization that all moments are potentially public, with video easily captured by handheld devices and almost instantly uploadable to the Web.
The humor may not always be as gentle as was in Funt’s day. But the measure of Tosh’s success is that, like Funt, he leaves us with a smile when we realize we’re all in the joke.
|Web Redemption Retrospective|
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NY City News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.