I watched The Show (Ze Frank's one-man daily Web comedy short series) a couple of times when it was first gathering Internet buzz; some blogger called it a zippier version of The Daily Show, which sounded good. That description was inaccurate: it was a dumber, less daring version of The Daily Show that presented quick readthroughs of news stories without analysis and with a large dose of hipster irony. It was, in short, a total waste of time. That was months ago, maybe a year; honestly I can't remember, and can't now find the post that drove me there.
Today's episode, on the other hand, is a clever and funny parody of David Attenborough's Life on Earth-style nature documentaries; I won't spoil the joke. Go and watch it. Then follow his Popular Shows link for a sense of what The Show is about. The first four are solid, consistently funny and inventive bits of comedy; the last two are tiresome and content-free, though Frank sings a song in one of them, which is apparently neat.
Now the question comes up: is The Show anything special? Apparently (real name Hosea) Frank is heading for Hollywood, and will be trying to make a feature film. He may have good comic timing as a performer, but you wouldn't know it from the show, which is cut to within an inch of its life by Frank himself, and like The Simpsons derives some of its feeling of breathless 'cleverness' from sheer velocity. The Show is performed for the most part in a monotone, which is both hugely annoying and an effective setup for his occasional lapses into a more conversational tone - which are more effective, then, than they otherwise would be. His glosses on daily news stories aren't interesting; snark delivers rapidly diminishing returns, and even the impressive deadpan delivery of 'Condoleeza's Magic Satchel' doesn't make the content of that episode less vacuous. The opening greetings from readers (and Frank's answers to questions from online forum posters) have charm sometimes, but there's an in-jokey quality to them that gets boring fast.
Is it good comedy? Well, it's sometimes funny and sometimes deadly boring. You won't get too far back in the archives before getting annoyed and bored, unless (like the executive in the Observer profile above) you have nothing in your life that isn't valueless and spiritually dead, i.e. you're a Hollywood producer. But formally the show is worth understanding, since it's the best example yet of what a streamlined website and willingness to engage your tech/hipster/artiste viewers can do popularity-wise. Frank bemoans his lack of cash in the Observer article, but note that he's making a living off the website - and, crucially, his speaking gigs at festivals like SXSW and PopTech. Technologically The Show is dead simple; contentwise it's pure narcissism coupled with a sense of common style. It helps that Frank is cute. What people respond most strongly to, I think, is on the one hand the speed and cleanliness of the production (not a millisecond is wasted in any episode), and on the other hand the novel feeling of involvement that comes from The Show's two-way communication lines and very 'personal' mode of presentation (episodes consist largely of extreme closeups of Frank's face as he rattles off his lines in something akin to 'reality' TV's confessionals - specifically evoking The Real World in tone, I find). It's nice to feel part of something, and Frank's fora certainly encourage that, as do his shout-outs to his viewers and correspondents.
On the other hand, look at his complaints in the Observer piece again (maybe it's not his fault, but he comes off as whiny in it):
And last year he began producing his daily show. Today, he can't leave his studio apartment without being recognized. What's more, he says, because of the personal nature of The Show, people feel comfortable approaching him for a casual chat. For the same reason, he was compelled to disconnect his phone, whose number had been listed. The other day, Mr. Frank went to see the Ron Mueck exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum. On the subway ride from his apartment in Cobble Hill, one of his many devoted fans — 25,000 to 30,000 people watch his online show each day — approached him to say whassup. Upon returning home, he opened his inbox only to discover that another fan had been eyeballing him from afar as he took in Mr. Mueck’s sculptures. "It kind of freaks me out. I get a lot of the negative aspects of celebrity, but not much of the positive," said Mr. Frank — the positive being, among other things, the "cash."
It's clear Frank is in love with his own image; he'd have to be. But the last line there makes clear a certain surprising, disappointing lack of introspection as well - which also evokes 'reality' TV, with its 15-minutes-of-semi-fame. The performance of/on The Show isn't deep or broad, and it's not the funniest thing online. What it is, is consistent. People like that, I suppose. Unfortunately, it's only consistently about Ze Frank, and liking the show is liking this dumb false closeness. He doesn't like being recognized out on the street? Then he shouldn't have set up a digital shrine to the sound of his own voice and the shape of his own face. (This is what he first got 'famous' for - millions of hits to a silly Flash animation.) Is that so complicated? The Show is kind of funny (sometimes very funny), and small, and has an expiration date that was never far off and may in fact have gone by already. It's basically a nothing. It is its form. And that is the location and extent of its interest.
Try and imagine staring at Ze Frank's face on a movie screen for even the length of one episode of The Show. Unbearable even to imagine, I say. Nearly as bad as reading the fora at his website, in fact.
To answer the earlier question: No, The Show is nothing special from a comedy standpoint, nor a web-diary standpoint, nor a community-interaction standpoint, nor (beyond its indicative value) formally. It's special only if you think homegrown entertainment that grabs a smattering of mainstream media attention is special by definition. Is Ze Frank talented? Well sure! He does good 'bad' dancing, and has a charming voice, and has a way with a counter-rhythmic joke. And best of luck to him trying to do things like 'monetize' his devoted audience of 30,000 tech-savvy bored 30somethings in Hollywood. Personally I think The Show is all that it could have been, given Frank's apparent primary interest. And that's as far as it goes.
I'm Wax Banks, watching so you don't have to.