The Absurdity of the Eric Andre Show (Harriet Pollard)

 

This clip begins with host Eric Andre starting his talk-show monologue, making offhand and questionable jokes about Michael Jackson and Beyoncé. When his sidekick of-sorts, Hannibal Burress, questions the integrity of his Beyoncé joke, this apparently triggers an existential breakdown in Andre. The scene finishes with Burress commenting on the finite nature of all human life before the intertitle cuts in with its jolly music, effectively rendering that sentiment meaningless.

In The Absurd [1],Thomas Nagel defines a situation as absurd “when it includes a conspicuous discrepancy between pretension or aspiration and reality.” In the clip, this seems to happen on multiple levels. First of all, the structure and expectations of a talk show, something that we are all familiar with, is completely subverted and dismantled. This is partly caused by their lack of purpose, which is another concept discussed by Nagel – the chain of justification. Almost all of the actions undertaken by Andre and Burress in the show are seemingly without an identifiable purpose or justification; they do things just for the sake of it. As Nagel states, it is when we are confronted by actions without reason that we start questioning our purpose in life.

Which leads to the second level of absurdity. Whatever semblance of a talk-show structure there is left is completely undermined by the existential breakdown of the last 20 seconds. From Nagel’s argument, it seems that all absurdity is either borne from, or inevitably leads to, a sense of existentialism, and that is evident here. The absurdity of the train-wreck monologue is interrupted by existentialism, but this is then interrupted by the abrupt intertitle, giving the breakdown its own sense of meaningless. The Eric Andre Show employs different elements of Nagel’s understanding of absurdity, taking an absurdist concept (existentialism), and using it as part of an absurdist technique (discrepancy between aspiration and reality). It then takes Nagel’s ideas even further: existentialism is used to subvert expectations and render actions meaningless, but that existentialism is, in the end, left meaningless itself.

 

[1] Thomas Nagel, “The Absurd,” The Journal of Philosophy 68:20 (1971), 716-727.

5 comments

  1. This is a great example of Nagel’s theory of ‘the absurd’. It would be interesting to dissect the intersection between absurdity and comedy, and what in particular makes this scene comedic. Is it the subversion of a common trope or is it more than that? Your discussion provides a strong foundation for further exploration.

  2. The Eric Andre Show is perfect for a discussion of the absurd. Watching the clip it’s interesting to see the interplay between the absurd and the known format of the talk show. With the absurd butting in and disrupting it, but ultimately the talk show conventions undercut the absurd with the “we’ll be right back” screen.

  3. I also wrote about the Eric Andre Show and I very much agree with what you have said here. I focused more on the actual subversion of talk show conventions but I like your broader connection to existentialism. I find that the comedy stems more from his subversion of these conventions rather than the existentialist tendency behind them.

  4. I like how you break down the clip into different levels of absurdity, as well as how you connect the train-wreck monologue to existentialism. You talk about how everything on this show is done just for the sake of doing it, rather than having a real purpose, but I am wondering if this is how they want it to be and are just playing into people wanting to see the absurd?

  5. The Eric Andre show does nothing but expose it’s audience and guests to unfiltered absurdity. Through various interviews I have previously seen with Andre, he genuinely seems like a very intelligent person who probably, in some shape or form, would have considered especially your reading of his show as existential. On that theme, I have heard him talk about the nihilism of his comedy before and I think this clip is a great example of that as their is an aspiration to do a good monologue but in the end, every is pointless and there is no point showing us anything else- so we are left with the intertitle.

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