Before The Eric André Show came along, I always thought acting like a complete lunatic on television was mostly a white-people thing. As a culture, African-Americans generally frown upon the idea of being unabashedly clownish for the masses — black folks call it “showing your ass.” All those years of early–20th century performers such as Stepin Fetchit, shucking and jiving for the amusement of white audiences, have made later generations of African-American performers cautious about how they present themselves to both black and white crowds. Even the most successful African-American comedians carry themselves with a dignified poise. It’s OK to make people laugh — but don’t be a complete buffoon.
The biracial and bushy-haired Eric André apparently didn’t get the memo on how to act like an African-American comedian. Instead, he proudly acts like a shameless, gotdamn fool. The comic and part-time actor (you may have seen him on the surreal FX sitcom Man Seeking Woman) is a one-man wrecking crew, a comic anarchist. He is a guy who literally has no problem walking around butt-bald-nekkid just to get a laugh. (His Instagram page was covered with pics of him au naturel until the site eventually noticed and took them down.)
Since it hit the Adult Swim airwaves in 2012, The Eric André Show may be the most literal example of a performer deconstructing the talk-show format. Every episode begins with André wildly obliterating his set, from smashing his desk to fighting with the drummer in his house band to demolishing everything he sees, sometimes completely naked. When he’s all tired out from the madness, a new set — complete with desk and chairs — gets wheeled into frame.
But the madness doesn’t stop there. The show is mostly made up of on-the-street, hidden-camera pranks, with André pulling ridiculous stunts and wreaking havoc on unsuspecting New Yorkers and celebrity interviewees. In the first season, which was crafted to resemble a cheaply made, lo-fi public-access show, André and typically nonplussed co-host Hannibal Buress welcomed unknown performers and had them pretend to be celebs like George Clooney and Russell Brand.
Now several seasons in (its fourth is currently airing on Friday nights), The Eric André Show has managed to book B- to C-list celebs. But sometimes these interviews can be entertainingly uncomfortable. A disgusted Lauren Conrad ran off the set when André threw up fake puke on his desk and slurped it back up. Lou Ferrigno got visibly agitated during his interview. All through her segment Maria Menounos had a shock collar strapped to her arm, giving her scream-inducing jolts.
But even when the guests are in on the joke (rapper and fellow African-American shit disturber Tyler, the Creator seemed quite at home), André doesn’t make the experience easy on them. He usually asks lewd, nonsensical questions (“You familiar with bukkake?”) as beads of sweat form on guests' foreheads (the studio’s temperature is purposely high) and weird shit happens all around them. Nick Cannon was witness to a tense reunion between Buress and his “long-lost” dad, who turned out to be white and have his genitals sticking out of his fly.
Produced by anti-comedy team Tim and Eric’s Abso Lutely Productions, the show is as structurally oddball and aggressively transgressive as Tim and Eric’s most out-there work. Episodes run at least 11 minutes, and the editors (including comedian and longtime Tim & Eric editor Doug “DJ Douggpound” Lussenhop) cram each with exaggerated sound effects, bizarre graphics and frantic jump cuts to make the whole thing look strangely, hilariously unsettling. The various insane ways they abruptly cut to a “We’ll Be Right Back” freeze frame often make me giggle like an idiot.
What André is doing is definitely not new. Before the Jackass boys came along with their poop-enhanced pranks, crazy Canuck Tom Green was MTV’s resident enfant terrible in the late ’90s and early aughts, fucking with guests, subjecting New Yorkers on the street to his shit-filled shtick and basically acting deranged. The only major difference between Green and André is that André is, of course, a person of color, which makes everything he does seem more subversive.
While André isn’t known for doing race-based comedy (the most racially charged bit he’s done on the show involved his pretending to be a runaway slave during a Civil War re-enactment), being an African-American who mostly traffics in absurdist, transgressive humor — proving that white folks don’t have the market cornered on that type of comedy — makes him something of a light-skinned punk daredevil. On The Eric André Show, the man goes all out to show that it’s OK for black folks to show their ass — figuratively and literally — on TV.