The best thing about Anthony Jeselnik’s comedy is that he is fearless, willing to take on any topic, from cancer to rape to necrophilia, because he believes no subject should be off-limits for comedy. Scouring the darkest areas for laughter is bold and incredibly difficult to get right. The worst thing Jeselnik has going for him is that to some people he comes off like an overly smarmy pretty boy douchebag aiming for targets that push easily offended viewers’ buttons. If you fall into the latter camp, then his act is not for you; but if you can correctly separate Jeselnik the stage persona from Jeselnik the person and appreciate his act, then significantly more of his material works.
The Jeselnik Offensive isn’t a show that will grow or change significantly as it progresses past more than one season. It has a format, it’ll stick to it—like Tosh.0, which Jeselnik takes several spot-on shots at during this episode—and the strength of each week largely depends on the material provided by the news and the panelists. This second season premiere isn’t as gut-busting as the first season finale, but it’s still chock full of laughs, plenty of which are derived from unlikely or typically taboo subjects.
The easiest illustration of how Jeselnik will continue to push his work into dark places is the first “Sacred Cow” segment of this season on necrophilia. Jeselnik interviews a paraphilia psychotherapist and a mortician, and nudges each of them with uncomfortable questions about the psyche of necrophiliacs and whether morticians ever take hospital gowns off corpses slowly, you know, in a sensual way. All of these segments bait the easily offended, and to a certain extent, they’re self-serving to Jeselnik’s desire to explore the darkest depths of comedy and looking extremely satisfied while doing it. But all of that belies the fact that it’s incredibly funny, wringing laughs out of getting the mortician to begin listing his Top 5 fantasy corpses (the female psychotherapist refuses). That segment caps off an atypical monologue for Jeselnik in that it doesn't have as many belly laughs as usual—though his use of a “Bootylicious” lyric in a story about a stripper’s miscarriage struck the right level of sardonic humor.
When Amy Schumer appeared on the debut episode of The Jeselnik Offensive with Aziz Ansari, Jeselnik didn’t bring up his relationship with Schumer. But now that they both have successful shows that earned renewal, they spent most of the panel segments trading comedic barbs about their relationship. For other comedians, this could be a self-conscious, awkward, bitter road to travel down, but somehow Schumer and Jeselnik keep it light, friendly, and hilarious, right down to Schumer’s retort during “Defend Your Tweet” that she doesn’t believe Jeselnik ever loved her. The two of them have successful shows on Comedy Central and they appear capable of helping each other out while keeping the laughs going.
Jim Norton, on the other hand, comes back to the show after a particularly tumultuous appearance on Totally Biased With W. Kamau Bell where he “debated” Jezebel writer Lindy West about rape jokes. Norton attempted to outline a rational defense of those jokes like a sane, intelligent, well-meaning comedian, but in light of Patton Oswalt’s paradigm shift essay about his own opinion toward those jokes, that patch of ice is slowly melting to the point where nobody can stand their ground on it. But Norton holds his own once again as a Jeselnik panelist, playing along with Shumer in a re-enactment of a roommate scenario involving a female artist who collects her menstrual blood for five years for an art installation, and continuing to one-up Jeselnik when riffing on a news story that toddlers with guns killed more Americans in the past year than terrorists.
Unlike nearly every other episode of this show, there’s a moment during the panel segment where Jeselnik veers off course too far, when discussing Aaron Hernandez. No, it’s not the line about how Hernandez shouldn’t have needed to hire a cleaning crew because of his last name, but the moment when Jeselnik makes a connection between Hernandez claiming innocence by falsely outing himself as the first gay NFL player. It fails to earn a laugh and doesn’t track in the same way most of his usual “offensive” humor does. Jeselnik has an uncanny ability to lead an audience down one path where they know the beats of a joke, then pull the rug out from under them by taking the punchline in a totally unexpected and hilarious direction. That Hernandez joke only served to depict coming out as a catch-all excuse to deflect attention away from any wrongdoing in major sports.
The Jeselnik Offensive is still one of the most consistently funny shows I’ve seen all year, and it elicits so much laughter and pulls in so many great guests that, like The Daily Show, I know I’ll be watching every episode. Jeselnik’s persona isn’t for everyone, but for those who find his “dark for the sake of being dark” humor even remotely funny, this is a must-watch show. He has a purpose in seeking out the most difficult or seemingly unfunny topics, to prove there is humor in the most unlikely places. And while that cocksure attitude may be off-putting, the confidence and determination to mine laughs from off-limits subject matter is most often thrilling.
- A wonderful use of the non-sequitur “Best Of” tag segment: “Oh I’m sorry, I don’t work here.”
- According to the Wikipedia page for the show, the upcoming panelists include some favorites from the first season as well as some new guests like Eric Andre, Happy Endings’ Adam Pally and Casey Wilson, and Childrens Hospital’s Rob Hubel. But the best pairing looks to be Pete Homles and Marc Maron, where Jeselnik will spar with both comedians while presumably trying to keep them from killing each other.
- Jeselnik’s overuse of the word “panel” when introducing the Panel segment has grown increasingly indulgent and wild, and this week was the craziest yet. I don’t laugh as much at that bit of constructed humor, but I am impressed by how long Jeselnik sustains the gimmick.