The Ben Show With Ben Hoffman and Nathan For You debut tonight on Comedy Central at 10 and 10:30 p.m. Eastern.
Comedy Central will debut a pair of similar new shows tonight: The Ben Show With Ben Hoffman and Nathan For You. Each centers around a young guy whose chief comedic trick is fucking with regular people, though never with any sort of teeth or any sense of stakes—the hosts are the ones who look dumb here, and that’s by design. It’s also a trap that’s going to make both shows difficult to sustain for any length of time.
Nathan For You is the funnier of the two, though may be the harder to keep afloat given its limiting concept: Nathan Fielder is a nerdy young Canadian whose mission is to help small-business owners—the joke is that he’s very bad at it. The businesses and business owners he visits are real, and presumably they’re told beforehand that they’re part of a comedy show. In the first episode, Fielder visits a frozen-yogurt shop that’s struggling to attract customers, and his idea is to create a controversial new flavor: poo. That he actually contacts a flavor-creation lab to make the extract—it contains no real feces, thankfully—is pretty funny, as is the focus group he tests the flavor on. Fielder is deadpan throughout, which makes the bits play much better than they otherwise might.
The second Nathan For You segment features a pizza place that Fielder convinces to offer guaranteed 8-minute delivery or they’ll give customers a free pizza; the trick is that the free pizza is tiny, and they’ll still need to pay for the big one. It’s the kind of joke that might make a decent sketch, but here it’s really only saved by the real-life personalities that Fielder encounters, particularly the young pizza-delivery guy with whom he bonds. Outside of the show’s tight conceit, Fielder does better: He goes on a pair of job interviews, determined to tell the interviewer exactly what a hidden earpiece instructs him to say—on the other side of the earpiece is a 7-year-old kid in one part, and H. Jon Benjamin in another. (Later, there’s also a turtle, which goes a long way in illustrating the type of humor Fielder is ultimately going for, which is just completely absurd.) He’s likeable, and so in limited doses, it plays really well. It’ll be interesting to see where he takes it, and whether the fake-reality-show scope will prove too narrow.
Ben Hoffman, of The Ben Show With Ben Hoffman, isn’t nearly as likeable—which also seems quite deliberate. He speaks like a more abrasive Zach Galifianakis, hinting at the same cluelessness, but with a more knowing bite. (Galifianakis once told us in an interview that some of the meaner bits on Dog Bites Man nearly made him cry—I get the sense that Hoffman might like to make some of his interviewees cry.) The Ben Show will feature its star doing a different activity each week, starting with “Ben Buys A Gun.” Some of the steps involved are very funny: His interaction with the gun-shop clerk, in which he celebrates the size (or lack thereof) of his own dick is great. But he stretches the idea a bit far, talking with his psychiatrist about his decision, and Skyping in his dad to disapprove.
With the sketches that sit outside the theme, Hoffman does both better and worse than Fielder: A hip-hop video about obituaries (called “Yobitchuaries”) is a knockout, and there’s an absurd animated sketch featuring Todd Bridges and a crack house. Then Hoffman tries to get a little too direct: A sketch called “The Retweeter” is good for a couple of giggles but not much more, and then there’s a longer sketch that’s basically one joke: A fat guy breaks every chair he sits in. If you sit around and wait for the wink, or the admission that the joke is dumb and/or non-existent, you’ll be waiting all night.
All of that said, both The Ben Show and Nathan For You could develop in interesting ways, depending on how well each comedian’s personality wears on viewers. After half an hour, I don’t want to spend much more time with Ben Hoffman, but interesting subjects could make for funny half-hours. Nathan Fielder I’m slightly more confident about: He’s a bit milquetoast on the surface, but at points reveals an absurdist edge that really works. Here’s hoping he plays to those strengths.
The Ben Show: C+
Nathan For You: B