Combining the talents of “RENO 911!” alumni Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant, the popular website Funny or Die and “nerdist” comedian Chris Hardwick would seem like a no-lose prospect. Turns out it’s not. If you’re looking for late-night laughs, Comedy Central’s all-star jam “@midnight” is a cult hit in the making.
Conceptually speaking “@midnight” isn’t anything new. It more or less combines the comedian roundtable of shows like “Chelsea Lately” with the pop cultural commentary of clip shows like “Web Soup” (which Hardwick used to host). But by wrapping it up in a faux game show format and allowing its guests free reign to go nuts, it’s shaping up to be one of TV’s more addictive laugh factories.
The show finds Hardwick acting as snarky host and a rotating trio of comedians taking up the mantle of “Jeopardy”-like contestants. So far, it’s a pretty impressive roster of funny men and women: Patton Oswalt, David Koechner, Judd Apatow, Nikki Glaser, David Spade, Natasha Leggero, John Hodgman, Kurt Braunohler. Hardwick introduces a silly category, usually inspired by the day’s internet activity, and it’s up to the guests to ad-lib answers. Hardwick may, for example, start showing ridiculous (but real) Twitter posts. Guests must then guess if the hashtag is #stoned, #drunk or #pregnant. Or perhaps they’ll be asked to come up with the worst rap star names. Or determine if a line of dialogue comes from some actual fanfic dedicated to either Ryan Gosling or Ryan Seacrest. Or maybe they’ll craft responses to bizarre Craigslist ads. Hardwick assigns random points to the answers he thinks are funniest, and at the end of the show, someone is crowned the funniest person in the world for the next 23 1/2 hours.
It’s all in good fun. There are no actual prizes awarded, and the comedians really seem to feed off each other. Aside from the nominal game show format, it’s as if a bunch of insanely funny people are just sitting around joking with one another. I realize not everyone is a fan of Hardwick, whose hipster nerd personality splits the geek world right down the middle between lovers and h8ers. He knows his stuff, though, and he clearly loves goofing around with all his compatriots. Plus, the show keeps you abreast of all the idiocy going on in the world of social media. If you spend any amount of time on Reddit, few of the daily subjects will surprise you. But it’s still nice to see people ragging on today’s text, IM and Facebook-saturated world.
In the few weeks that “@midnight” has been on the air, audiences have increasingly warmed to the format, finding favorites among the show’s recurring bits. Comedians too have settled into it, treating it with the foul-mouthed flippancy it deserves. Think of it as the nasty kid brother to Comedy Central’s more mature, news-oriented options of “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report.”