THE HANDHELD FOOTAGE is full of digital grain—a clip from YouTube, no doubt. It shows a woman in a wheelchair, holding herself steady while riding down a mall escalator. This can't end well.
But she arrives at the bottom unscathed. The next wheelchair-bound rider, however, fumbles near the top and tumbles brutally, end over end, thumping down the heavy and unforgiving churning steel steps.
Pulling away from the crumpled mess, the camera cuts to a grinning host.
"I'm guessing that's the second-worst accident that guy has had," says Daniel Tosh. "Oooh," groans his studio audience in return, a collision of guilt and delight.
And so begins every episode of Comedy Central's Tosh.0—with somebody getting hurt. Then being embarrassed. And then embarrassed again, as the clip goes from internet sensation to cable TV fodder.
But Tosh.0 is more than a collection of viral videos. The grab bag of painful, disgusting, and bizarre clips are worthwhile on their own, but the host's twisted charisma makes Tosh.0 greater than any aggregate blog.
The show's tone defines "snark," not unlike the internet's most vitriolic anonymous commenters. But the role is nothing new for Tosh, who for over a decade has honed his vain, bigoted, self- and celebrity-obsessed character in comedy clubs across the country. Like Stephen Colbert does to Glenn Beck and Fox News, Tosh's character pokes fun back at narcissism, hypocrisy, class, and political correctness.
By and large, though, Tosh's aim is far from overtly political. He's up for anything—pop culture, gross-outs, odd associations—just so long as the joke is surprising and well constructed.
Tosh's humor is so deeply reliant on looping sarcasm that when he does take political or social aim, those who are the target of the joke are often caught laughing the hardest. Certainly, Tosh likes to make people squirm.
In his 2006 stand-up special Completely Serious, Tosh tells a string of nasty jokes about abortion and race. Some in the audience, trained by political correctness, begin to groan.
"I enjoy watching the people who don't laugh make the people who do laugh feel shitty about themselves," Tosh tells them. "Because you're all hypocrites." Now he's taking aim directly at the audience. And somehow, through a combination of kink and charm, they like him even more.