Daniel Tosh is a douchebag. That’s not necessarily an insult—he’d probably be the first one to describe himself that way, and his whole comedic persona is kind of built on the idea that he’s an arrogant jerk. But watching him perform live in front of an adoring crowd, the product of the huge success of his Comedy Central series Tosh.0, it’s a little hard to separate the douchebag persona from the real thing.
Tosh took the stage at the Mirage in Las Vegas to huge cheers, and while he hasn’t quite reached Dane Cook circa 2007 levels of fan adoration, there was at least one audience member yelling out a Tosh.0 catch phrase (“High fashion!”), and the applause for fairly innocuous jokes was often thunderous. Has Tosh’s success gone to his head? If it has, he certainly isn’t bothering to hide it. There was plenty of dark material in Tosh’s show, dealing with subjects like suicide, abortion and violence, but somehow it kept coming back to how important Tosh himself is. In an early segment about suicide, Tosh joked that of course his mother would be sad if he killed himself while his brother remained alive: “I’m pretty confident she doesn’t want her famous son to die.”
Was that a joke about the absurdity of selfishness, or was it just the first of many references to how well-known and successful Tosh is? Probably a little bit of both, and Tosh rode that fine line between annoying self-aggrandizement and self-aware confidence throughout the show. Sometimes it was completely obnoxious, as when, during a sporadically amusing segment about the laziness of the typical American, he completely ripped into aspiring comedians who approach him. “I have a gift from God,” he semi-sarcastically explained by way of dismissing anyone who expresses an interest in doing what he does. “Your dream is stupid.”
Tosh’s casual misogyny wasn’t much worse than the attitudes of many, many other comedians, but that same brash arrogance made it somehow more insufferable. Launching into a fairly tired bit about the gender difference in attitudes toward long-term relationships, Tosh chastised a woman who cheered at his assertion that women like sex just as much as men. “I have a very gender-specific slant to my act,” he warned her as other audience members, likely aware of the sexism to come, started to cheer. Tosh’s subsequent jokes about how men find their long-term partners increasingly repulsive in bed didn’t disappoint on the misogyny front.
At other times Tosh’s cockiness came off as endearing, especially during the rare moments when the audience was less than supportive. After a whole series of sometimes startlingly confrontational jokes about abortion, Tosh speculated on why not everyone in the audience was laughing. He asked if perhaps people were in town for the NASCAR races going on at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, which was met with surprisingly strong boos. Forced to respond to some actual negativity, Tosh handled himself ably, turning the audience’s indignation back on itself.
Mostly, though, the show was one big echo chamber, making Tosh’s rants about people’s oversensitivity seem petty and self-serving. He went on a long tirade against anyone who believes that certain subjects are off-limits for humor, but no one in the audience seemed to have a problem with his jokes about 9/11, Jerry Sandusky or Kobe Bryant, probably because at heart they weren’t really offensive at all. It was easy for Tosh to build himself up as some sort of bold truth-teller when he had the entire theater on his side, and when his truths were that rape and molestation are not cool.
In keeping with his relatively newfound position as the king of dumb internet videos, Tosh’s best bits were about pop culture and other ephemera. He mined solid humor from talking about various reality shows, including especially funny takes on Man vs. Wild, Hoarders and Dog Whisperer. A throwaway line comparing people who reproduce too much to rabbits turned out to be hilarious when it led to Tosh naming every fictional rabbit he could think of. As much as they may love Tosh as a bro-tastic host, people tune into Tosh.0 to see random absurdity, and Tosh was most appealing when he delivered a bit of that in his performance.
Eventually his jokes about the show turned around to once again be about himself, how long-lost friends call up and ask him for jobs, and how he can’t believe how much success has come to his dumb little program. The humblebrags (notwithstanding a moment of what appeared to be genuine appreciation to all his viewers) might have been more irritating than the full-on arrogance, but both showcased Tosh’s favorite comedic subject: his own awesomeness. Luckily for him, it was the audience’s favorite subject as well.