Hovercrafts and Cows: The Black Avant-Garde of Adult Swim

The following is a transcript of a presentation I gave at the Graduate Center’s 2018 Lightning Talks.

Good evening everyone. My name is Anthony Dominguez, and I’m currently a MALS student in the film studies track.

Today, I am here to talk about the programming put on by the television channel, Adult Swim. Specifically, as you can see behind me, The Eric Andre Show.

Before that, however, I’d like to place this discussion within proper context. The initial idea for this project was born during a Q&A celebrating Film Quarterly’s special dossier, Dimensions in Black. An audience member questioned the mainstream appraisal of Jordan Peele’s Get Out as a comedy rather than a serious drama. This, in turn, led into further questions not just about high versus low-brow art, but also the lack of critical attention on experimental works from Black artists.

With this in mind, we then find The Eric Andre Show in this dangerous milieu of critically overlooked Black experimental media. But, what is The Eric Andre Show?

A surreal riff on late-night public-access talk shows, The Eric Andre Show follows its titular host performing a variety of comedic acts, from destroying his set every episode, to street-pranks captured by hidden cameras, and finally, “interviews” with celebrities who are verbally—and sometimes literally—poked and prodded so as to be made uncomfortable.

Perhaps hearing that description, alongside this image behind me, you would find it easy to dismiss the Eric Andre Show as juvenile, low-brow, and without merit.

But, I argue that by combining absurd humor with camera techniques that point towards a self-awareness, Eric Andre deconstructs the talk-show host format. Consequently, Andre becomes a radical figure within the world of television.

We can continue from there by explicitly questioning: Why does this matter?

Well, to begin with, Andre is bi-racially Black. Certain jokes of his then take on a new and sometimes political meaning, such as when he smokes a bong outside a police station or when he arrives to a Civil War reenactment as a runaway slave.

But please, do not mistake that I am saying the virtues of the Eric Andre Show solely lie in its hosts’ racial identity. Rather, the ultimate goal of this project is to first: map out a portion of Black experimental media that hasn’t been discussed in order to preserve its cultural significance for future scholars and fans alike, and second: to perform an analysis of said media to show its merits and the historiography of its influences.

In this case then, it is not just that the Eric Andre show deconstructs the talk-show host format, but that he is part of a larger group of radical Black artists who have utilized Adult Swim as a platform to create art which ruptures conventions.

Thank you.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s