Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Happy (?) Thoughts about Daniel Tosh

I’m a big fan of comedy, but I’m hard to impress. I don’t find much contemporary American comedy all that amusing – it tends to rely on standard tropes and forms (particularly racism, homophobia and misogyny), rarely exhibiting any intellectual social commentary. So when I caught Tosh.0 for the first time, I was skeptical. While I enjoyed some of Daniel Tosh’s stand-up, there’s also a running problem with Comedy Central shows where they take a good stand-up comic who’s worked on an act for a year or so, produce a couple good episodes and then demand they come up with new material for a serial program each week. Not a good formula, and as a result, very funny people typically tank their comedy shows. But, due in large part to a format much like America’s Funniest Home Videos, Tosh.0 is usually pretty amusing. I could probably write a whole post on that, but I have a different point to make today. Intro over.

This fall Tosh came through my hometown on the 2010 Tour, and I bought tickets to see the live show. Pretty funny stuff. Now that the tour is over, Comedy Central taped and packaged the stand-up special Happy Thoughts which broadcast this past Sunday. Since I’d seen the live show, it was fascinating to observe the changes once it was polished and repackaged for TV format. First, throughout the live performance, he had several spots where he inserted relevant social commentary (particularly on celebrity status, gay marriage, women’s rights), most of which was cut from the special. There were a few lines here and there that stayed in because they were embedded within the narrative of a joke, but the ones that weren’t – the ones that were asides or set-ups were mostly cut. As a result, several of the jokes that were hysterical live came off misogynistic, homophobic or racist (despite them leaving in the piece where he claims to be an equal opportunity offender crossing comedic lines wherever it seems fit) which isn’t what I think he’s trying to do as a comic at all.

Second, he had three bits I distinctly remember that were edited out – one about crazy fans, appealing to the audience to quit doing stupid things like stalking his mother at the hospital she works at and then doing trust falls into her; one about intellectual property laws, telling fans to peer-to-peer share whatever of his stand-up they wanted because he’s insanely rich now and doesn’t need the extra money; and one about the process of putting Tosh.0 together explaining the darker side of the internet (something like, “do you ever wonder if a horse fucked a guy how much horse cock would kill that guy? I don’t have to wonder, I know.”) As a media scholar, I’m not surprised that these were the pieces chosen to edit out since they potentially impact/reveal the economics behind producing Tosh.0, and ultimately amount of money Comedy Central can make in the process.

Overall, this picture sort of captures my reaction. I’m curious to see if they put those bits back in when they go to sell the special on DVD/Netflix or what have you. Perhaps it was edited for TV broadcast only, particularly since it was being aired on Comedy Central. On the other hand, it could be edited entirely – which is a shame because some of the smartest commentary was void from what aired Sunday night.


  1. I have a reviewer's copy of the DVD, and the back copy says that the Comedy Central aired version is part of the bonus features, not the main content. The back cover of the DVD says, "Extended and uncensored, Happy Thoughts offers exclusive material not seen on Comedy Central," which may be the sections you are thinking off.

    I don't disagree with your take on why certain parts were edited out, but I also think that when media events like this are offered on television, compelling material has to be edited out for exclusive inclusion on the DVD, to get fans to spend the money to buy a version of the show they watched on TV for free. They also emphasize that the DVD is the uncensored version of the show, both in the jacket copy and a separate sticker on the cover - I wonder how much of that censoring was due to 'horse sex', and how much is due to encouraging fans to bootleg his stuff - which does Comedy Central find more offensive?

  2. Thanks for commenting Kris - it's good to know the DVD might still contain the parts I'm referencing. I agree with you on the economics - it's part of what I find fascinating about the process.