There are plenty of chuckle-worthy Internet videos in the fourth season finale—also the 101st episode and Christmas special—of Tosh.0. But the State of the Tosh only comes down to a quote from Daniel Tosh’s rundown of what we learned in 2012:
“Fifty Shades Of Grey proved you can write about a dude choking women and shoving stuff up their butts but heaven forbid if you tell a legitimate joke about it. Sure I doubled the number of feminists who hate me, but I also doubled the number of shows I have on TV. No regrets.”
That quote runs the gamut on my feelings toward Daniel Tosh, the controversy over his evisceration of a female heckler who spoke out against a series of rape jokes at the Laugh Factory back in July, and the group of comedians who swooped in to defend his right to speak freely as a performer. At the start, Tosh makes an intriguing and entirely legitimate point about how some mediums are treated differently than others when it comes to abuse in a relationship—though the idea that his attack on the heckler was a “legitimate joke” is questionable.
But then Tosh quickly reverts back to a different side of his persona, the cocky, overly arrogant douchebag who spits in the face of every media watchdog who held him accountable for normalizing sexual violence, basically making the argument that he’s more successful than ever. So fuck you very much feminists, Daniel Tosh has another show that nobody likes except the students at state colleges who will one day become the manager of a Verizon store. He may as well have flipped the camera double birds while he said it—though earlier in the show there was a shot of a Kenny G stand-in using Tosh’s penis as a saxophone, so that’ll do. The “No regrets” capper is a twist of the knife as well. God forbid Tosh would actually learn something from all the bad press, even with the (overwhelmingly male) comedy community swooping in to defend him.
He’s got his zingers, calling One Direction “a bunch of puppets who pretend to sing” like Dr. Teeth And The Electric Mayhem, and ragging on a group of kids who zip one friend into a suitcase, put it on a sled connected by a rope to a pickup truck, and drive it off a snowy ramp. The “What We Learned In 2012” segment is by far the episode’s best, chock full of well-earned laughs at the expense of ridiculous cultural moments from the year.
And like other season finales, there’s a big compendium video of Tosh’s favorite moments from the season, featuring plenty of crashes and projectile vomiting. The simple truth is that if you like watching funny videos on the Internet with just a hint of disgust, but still laugh a lot and joke around with friends, then you will like the structure of Tosh.0. But there was already a sizeable group of people who disliked Tosh from the beginning. They’re the same people who hate Anthony Jeselnik now, though both guys have done hilarious stand-up work. The rape comments toward the Laugh Factory heckler emboldened Tosh’s legion of young fans even as it turned off a bunch of people who only became aware of his existence after the heckler incident.
Tosh’s comments in the wake of the controversy, and the stance of his defenders, made one big important point: We should be able to find a way to laugh about difficult subjects. Tosh’s detractors essentially fired back that yes, that’s true, but it has to be funny to work that way. I think part of what makes Tosh.0 so appealing is that Daniel Tosh plays his comedian character so well and with so much vigor. He’s like a much lesser version of Sasha Baron Cohen in terms of his method, committing to an entirely unlikeable, uncomfortable character that fans will love anyway. But it’s the absence of any sort of humility or appreciation in Tosh’s persona on the show, and his apparent disdain for anyone who would dare question his success within a highly sought after demographic, that makes him so easy to hate for whomever doesn’t find his self-proclaimed “easy gig” funny.
In a 2011 interview with Splitsider, Marc Maron listed a few people he’d never had the chance to interview on his WTF podcast, and he named Daniel Tosh as someone who “doesn’t want to do it, not in a hostile way. He just doesn’t wanna go that deep and he likes where he’s at, and he likes having control over how people see him.” The heckler incident at the Laugh Factory was a moment where Tosh lost control of how people see him, but it was a moment where the vicious id inside him came out swinging. But ever since then, Tosh has been firmly in control over how people see his reaction to the controversy, performing a simple act of contrition via Twitter and moving on to more dumb web videos. In that one minute, taking a stab at Fifty Shades Of Grey, Tosh let a little bit of that true nature out again, and it showed that he still doesn’t realize the underlying criticism of his comments, and has found a way to defiantly frame himself as a victim who has since reached even greater heights of commercial success.