Only seven years have passed since The Ben Show first aired but it has been all but forgotten since then, and out of all of the obscure comedy series I’ve talked to friends about it seems to be the one which barely anyone I’ve ever met has even heard of, let alone seen. I always thought that was an awful shame as well as I had very fond memories of it, but upon rewatching the first episode I found myself unexpectedly cringing a few times.
It’s not that there aren’t any funny moments, it’s a show which made me laugh a decent amount, but there’s aspects of it that I now find myself uncomfortable with and I’m not convinced that at times host Ben Hoffman doesn’t exploit members of the public, or just rip the piss out of them in a manner which seems cruel rather than funny, and there’s a couple of moments which I really wish had been cut completely.
The idea behind the show is that in each episode Ben would pick a subject and then explore it in depth, with a mixture of sketches and interviews with various people. Sometimes it was individuals from his own life, with his parents featuring heavily along with his therapist, and other times it was just random people he met on the street or vaguely famous types. In this first episode the topic is “How to buy a gun”, so is in no way controversial or anything like that and there’s a lot of self-deprecating humour with Hoffman admitting that he’s only buying one as he has a small penis and a terrible personality, and he hopes it’ll make him more attractive to women, a sentiment which few agree with but that doesn’t stop Ben trying to find someone who will.
There are a good few funny moments in the show, from Ben getting strangers to read out introductions to either the series or individual sketches, with one woman more than happy to say “My New Year’s resolution was to quit smoking and not use the n-word or the c word. Zero for three. Welcome to The Ben Show”, though at least a few people turn him down and aren’t ready to either say something offensive or just plain ridiculous. A segment where he interviews a gun shop owner is pretty funny too, with Hoffman asking him if he’d heard the saying: “A gun’s like having a second (bleep) but this one can reach your mouth”, which is a running gag throughout the episode and which pays off when his therapist claims he actually has heard it, while the gun shop owner comes out with some amusing anecdotes about the celebrities who have been in to his shop.
Yobitcharies sees a rapper comment about recent deaths and coming out with lines like “William Frazer, friends call him Paul. But now his friends call him nothing because he drank too much alcohol” and “Gary Heller, was a motherfucking Mensa, little good that did when he got influenza”, which made me laugh, though at the same time I found myself hoping that said people were made up and didn’t actually die, though alas a cursory google search failed to answer my query. Also funny was a badly sung song joking about how if a deer is on the loose it’ll be covered on the local news and which contains the lyric “Deer on the loose, deer on the loose, tonight my deer you’re going to be on the news”. Also amusing enough were an interview with a penis enlargement surgeon where the joke is definitely on Ben, plus a fake audition for a film called “Gangster Granny” worked well, if only for the fake gunfire noises the actors make.
But on the downside there’s a very unpleasant segment called Todd Bridges’ Animated Crack Stories where the Different Strokes actor narrates an ugly story about giving crack to a woman for the first time, which apparently was true, and it’s bleak stuff indeed. Laughing at someone’s deeply damaging addiction is all kinds of problematic, and though Bridges might have been game for sending himself up as he had been able to overcome his issues, the unknown woman and her reaction to crack is unsettling and not funny in the slightest, and I’m surprised anyone involved in the making of the show thought it was.
Also poor is a sketch about The Retweeter who retweets celebrities tweets and mocks them contains a really horrible gag about Kirstie Alley, I’m no fan of her due to her being a Scientologist but it’s a crass and lazy moment, and though the joke is on Ben once again at the end it doesn’t make up for what came before. There’s also a couple of sketches which make fun of members of the public and have the basic idea of “Hey, let’s laugh at fat people” and which really rubbed me up the wrong way, there’s nothing smart or clever about them at all, they’re just plain mean.
It’s a shame that the show has this more obnoxious moments as otherwise it would be something I’d wholeheartedly recommend and would suggest that it’s something of a lost gem. But due to the very deliberate choice to make fun of the less fortunate it’s impossible for me to do that, if you can look past and be more forgivable than me then it might be a show you like an awful lot, but otherwise this is an acquired taste and a comedy series which may even annoy or anger you.