Most know Comedy Central for its beloved staples like The Daily Show, South Park, and Tosh.O, but people often forget the gems it brought us for a mere season or two. The network is notorious for airing unique, hysterical shows only to pull the plug before they get a fair run.
Sure, some shows are a tad too specific, and it’s about ratings after all. Critics tend to be harsh on different, “experimental” sorts of comedy. Audiences are generally smaller, though very devoted. Above everything Comedy Central is a business, and they’re not exactly making a killing off these more cult sort of shows. Therefore, a lot of classic comedic programs don’t get attention until long after their cancellations; others end up forgotten.
I don’t want anyone to miss out on such treasures. I’ve put together a list of the finest Comedy Central programs which were cancelled too early. Some are available on streaming apps. The majority will require some serious searching.
Bear in mind comedic taste varies greatly. This is a list compiled by me, a man of his own opinions. I picked these particular shows because I enjoy them, and I’d like to think most readers could get something out of them as well. Many of these are very near and dear to my heart (namely number 2). All slight favoritism aside, each and every one of these shows is exceptionally funny and worth your watch.
10. Sports Show With Norm MacDonald (2003)
I had to list this one solely for Norm MacDonald. If you enjoy his comedic genius you’ll like the show. It’s difficult for me to imagine people out there who aren’t familiar with Norm, but I’m sure they exist. If you’re not hip to Norm I feel deeply sorry for you and your family. In seriousness though, do yourself a favor and search everything he has been apart of, and catch him live if the opportunity presents itself. Start with his late night appearances, stand-up, and video podcast. The man is an unmatched delight.
Sports fans and comedy fans alike can find some entertainment in Norm’s quips on Sports Show. As a “sports comedy” program, it is what it is. Norm’s brilliant (one of a kind) cynicism levels it a cut above any other show of its nature, however, and for that reason it’s worth watching even if sports don’t entice you.
9. TV Funhouse (2000-2001)
A short-lived series spin-off of the recurring SNL skit “Saturday TV Funhouse,” created by writer Robert Smigel and hosted by Doug Dale. The set looks like that of a children’s show program. Each episode Doug picks a theme for the day like “Hawaiian Day,” “Caveman Day,” or “Western Day.” A group of his talking puppet friends known as “the Anipals” never obey his theme and end up getting into shenanigans. You can always count on them drinking, cursing, and getting involved in some prostitutes or other suspicious characters. They crack on everything from celebrities to politics, and certainly don’t shy from the most offensive social commentary imaginable. I would place it in the field of “Adult Swim” humor; so if you like weird stuff, TV Funhouse is probably for you. You can find many, if not all of the episodes on YouTube.
8. Halfway Home (2007)
An improv reality mockumentary series following 5 ex-cons who live together in a halfway house. That premise alone should be your draw. The cast has no real standout names, aside from Oscar Nunez (The Office), but they all prove to be phenomenal comedic actors. The majority of the series is improvised, too. I went into viewing this without the highest of expectations and ended up pleasantly surprised.
Halfway Home may have only lasted 10 episodes, although they’re a hysterical “10.” It’s by no means among the greatest sketch shows, but it’s a fun worthwhile watch. Fans of goofy sketch comedy – this will definitely be up your alley. If my write-up didn’t persuade you, the show’s probably just not for you, and that might explain its very short life.
7. The Jeselnik Offensive (2013)
For those who don’t know, this was comedian Anthony Jeselnik’s two season late-night show. It’s typical topical humor late-night TV, but the host is Anthony Jeselnik. If you’re not familiar with his stand-up, may God have mercy on your soul. Please look into it. In fact, he just released a new special, Thoughts and Prayers, which is available on Netflix. As a comic and colossal comedy nerd, I watch a frightening amount of stand-up. His new hour instantly made my top 3 specials of the last decade.
Now back to the subject at hand. In a sea of celebrity ass-kissing, bland late-night hosts making safe joke after safe joke, Jeselnik’s brilliantly dark and twisted wit is more than called for. His presence on Comedy Central was important, quite frankly. Unfortunately, the higher ups at Comedy Central didn’t see it that way. It’s safe to assume he’s on to bigger, better things anyway.
6. Dog Bites Man (2006)
Another improvised mockumentary series, this one following a struggling news team from Spokane, Washington as they travel the country shooting segments. Much of the show is comprised of skits, though it also features improvised bits with non-actors who believe they’re with a real news crew. Those portions perfectly encapsulate the “awkward” brand of humor so many have come to love.
The show as a whole is just brilliant. There aren’t many other words for it. With a cast like Zach Galifianakis, Matt Walsh, A.D. Miles, and Andrea Savage, you can’t deny the brilliance. Truly a treasure. I already know you’ll be looking it up if you have any sense. Luckily some charitable soul uploaded many of the episodes to YouTube.
5. I’m With Busey (2003)
Writer Adam de la Pena befriends renowned crazy actor, and his childhood hero, Gary Busey. There’s nothing quite like this show. It’s sort of a documentary series in which Gary Busey shows de la Pena the world. He brings him along to exquisite places and offers advice, which always ends up being incoherent rambling. Adam immerses himself hoping to learn from Busey and capture his “philosophy on life.” He does just that. Every episode is a joy to watch. Busey showcases his craziness and the gold within it. Adam’s along for the ride, contributing to the hilarity, and growing as a man.
I’m With Busey is in a league of its own. The brief description I provided should have indicated that. Due to the specificity, it doesn’t surprise me this isn’t a more widely known show. Better late than never. Pleased to inform you YouTube does in fact have the whole series.
4. Strangers With Candy (1999-2000)
The story of a 46-year-old former junkie and runaway named Jeri who returns to high school as a freshman. The premise, you could say, is spoofing 70s and 80s after-school specials., the sort in which a long-time drug user would share their story and be exploited as a warning to kids.
Every episode has a bit of a moral lesson, and a whole lot of hilarity. The humor’s wonderful. It remains very sharp despite the wackiness. And yes, the wackiness is overtly present. At times it’s outright bizarre. However, it’s not a “too weird to enjoy” humor. There’s nothing to “not get.” It’s just different, and excellent because of that strangeness. A creative genius you don’t see often in television these days. I can’t recommend the hilarious journey that is Strangers With Candy enough. You can find it on HULU, which I also can’t recommend enough.
3. Upright Citizen’s Brigade (1998-2000)
Sketch comedy done extraordinarily. This shouldn’t be surprising coming from the likes of Amy Poehler, Matt Besser, Matt Walsh, and Ian Roberts (four of UCB’s founding members.) Today they’re legends in the improv realm and all very successful actors. Upright Citizen’s Brigade was the first project to really put them on the map and display their greatness.
In earnestness this is one of the greatest sketch shows to bless television. It has unquestionably inspired much of the sketch comedy that followed it. You can’t compile an authoritative list of the best sketch shows ever without including this. I don’t know how much more I can sell you on it.
Many of the skits from the Upright Citizen’s Brigade still remain some of my favorite comedy bits ever – bong boy, poo on a stick, etc. I re-watch episodes and crack up like it’s my first time seeing them. All 30 are great. Get on it.
2. Stella (2003)
Hands-down my favorite television program of all time. I’m not joshin’ either, you guys. Stella holds a special place in my heart, as the comedy trio of Michael Ian Black, Michael Showalter, and are 3 of my largest comedic influences. They have a brand of humor that’s all their own, and it’s perfect.
Never have I seen a show that packs so many subtle goofy jokes into 30 minutes. Chances are you’ll be laughing hysterically through every episode. I show Stella to almost everyone I develop a friendship with. Their reception to the show provides me with an accurate judgement on how successful our relationship will be. Nearly every single person I’ve showed has been in stitches. The trio have a knack for cocooning so many different styles of clowning into what I can only describe as “enchantment.” David Wain wrote Wet Hot American Summer, so if you enjoyed that you’ll probably like Stella.
1. Tough Crowd With Colin Quinn (2002-2004)
The ultimate show for stand-up comedy fans, or really anyone who likes top-tier comics turning social issues into comedy gold. Really who doesn’t? Quinn commands open discussions on religious, political, and societal issues with a lineup of comedy heavyweights each episode. Regulars include the late Patrice O’Neal, the late Greg Giraldo, Nick DiPaolo, and the always delightful Jim Norton. Need I continue?
This show was vital in its time, but it’s needed now more than ever. Unfortunately if Tough Crowd were ever were brought back, the PC police would have a field day with it. Nobody veers from the jugular on Tough Crowd. I promise you’ll spend hours on YouTube digging through these episodes. I don’t blame you one bit.