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Pushing the envelope: A primer on Eric Andre

Subversive comic expands boundaries of late night

Dean Cahill, Special to The Quad

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This is my humble attempt at explaining “The Eric Andre Show,” a program known for, if nothing else, its absurdity. As such, this article won’t mean anything to readers without appropriate context.

What defines comedy? What makes something funny? I would argue that humor is built around a subversion of audience expectation. Leading the viewer to a conclusion and then shoving them into a completely different conclusion is the nature of humor. We like being surprised.

The difference between “humor” and “comedy” is the intent of the subject. Comedy is a specific form of humor in which the subversion is performed deliberately, with the intent of amusing the audience.

This is where the largest issue with defining Eric Andre as a “comedian” comes from. His style of subversion is not built around the amusement of the audience, but their discomfort. Andre is trying to distance himself from the word “comedy” because that’s where he is most comfortable.

“The Eric Andre Show” is a contained universe built entirely on subverted principles (the idea of the “late night TV shows,” first and foremost). The only places in which reality seeps into the show are through the bewildered reactions of the tortured guests and in the show’s “straight man,” Hannibal Buress, who himself is prone to bouts of insanity.

But how does this make the show funny? Well, at the end of the day, that’s personal preference. While I defend Andre’s program, I acknowledge that it is not the most accessible show on television. The show constantly feels as though it is falling apart, like the executive cancellation has been lost in transit for the past two seasons. This is where the beauty of Andre’s humor comes from.

He is aware of the fact that most people won’t enjoy the show and he revels in this. The constant pushing against the definition of humor, entertainment, and even the definition of sanity is so new to the world of comedy, especially in the mainstream, that Andre has managed to find an audience for a show that literally begins with him trashing the set. In a manner of speaking, Andre is subverting comedy itself for his humor.

We live in a culture dominated by postmodernism, a philosophy built around skepticism, objectivity and the very nature of humanity. While this is by no means a perfect philosophy (science, built on objective reality, is a great counterexample), it does have its place in the arts.

Andre is an example of this, and I would not hesitate to call him the first “postmodern comic.”

I think that “absurd” really is the best word to describe the show. In the world of existential philosophy, “the absurd” refers to the conflict between humanity’s search for meaning and their inability to find any. People will always over-analyze, as I have done here, in an attempt to explain the unexplainable. A lack of intrinsic meaning does not mean that “The Eric Andre Show” is worthless as art, it means that Andre has created a show in which the burden of meaning is shifted to the audience.

Dean Cahill is a first-year student majoring in English literature track. He can be reached at [email protected]

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The Student News Service of West Chester University
Pushing the envelope: A primer on Eric Andre