It’s quite obvious to anyone who’s watched more than five minutes of Eric Andre at work to realise that he’s a punk at heart. And I don’t mean the corporate-funded bubble-gum emo of acts like Green Day and Sum 41, who have found success by sanitising punk rock of its glorious chaos. No, Andre is the real deal. His comedy draws obvious inspiration from the anarchic bathos that infused 1980s punk and hardcore, scenes that revelled in confrontation and nihilist absurdity.
The set destruction that opens each episode of The Eric Andre Show — his nightmarish send-up of the late-night talk show — harks back to the on-stage violence that often happened at hardcore shows, later exemplified by Nirvana’s ritual evisceration of their instruments at the end of every set. His love for absurd confrontation — like asking far-right radio host Alex Jones to sleep with his wife at the Republican Convention, or interviewing reality TV star Lauren Conrad while wearing a lipstick swastika on his forehead — is part of the same situationist lineage as Malcolm MacLaren (of Sex Pistols fame) or transgressive punk artists COUM Transmissions.
But the most direct comparison I can make is to punk provocateur GG Allin, with whom Andre shares a love for physical danger. At his peak, Allin was a nightmare tornado of extreme nudity, violence and self-harm, (in)famously shitting on the stage, cutting himself, and pushing the audience’s buttons till his shows descended into all-out brawls. Andre’s comedy is much more benign than the antics of “the most spectacular degenerate in rock and roll history”, but it shares the same impulse to shock and awe, with the body as an instrument of chaos—just take a look at the aforementioned Lauren Conrad interview, where he pukes before eating his own vomit, or the episode where he beat up a naked personal assistant in front of Wiz Khalifa. It’s that same sense of unexpected danger that elevates his debut Netflix special Legalize Everything from absurdist comedy to something that closest resembles performance art.
The opening sketch, a street segment straight out of The Eric Andre Show, sets the tone for the next 50 minutes. Andre drunkenly tumbles out of a New Orleans cop car in full uniform, tries to convince passers-by to join him in consuming various drugs he “stole from the evidence room”, and drops his pants to “find the glory-holes around the city.” He keeps that same manic energy going as the action shifts to the stage in a warehouse venue in New Orleans, immediately launching into an off-the-walls spiel about excessive drug use that showcases one of the key skills that make Andre’s comedy tick — his ability to create his own reality. Many of the jokes here start off as familiar, everyday anecdotes (for a given drug-friendly version of ‘everyday’), but quickly escalate into surreal spectacles — like dripping CBD oil in a baby’s eyes, or his brother transforming into a schoolyard stockbroker after brushing his teeth with cocaine.
“I’m like you guys, I like acid,” he sets up one bit, evoking cheers before he catches them out with “every time I drop acid, I jerk off to anime.” Even though you know what’s coming, you can’t help being taken in by Andre’s complete sincerity as he sets up increasingly bizarre situations. Many of these touch on important current issues — feminism, #MeToo, police brutality — but at an absurd tangent. That, combined with Andre’s penchant for blending sincerity and farce keeps you constantly wrong-footed, such as the anecdote about smoking weed with his mom, which switches gear from stoner comedy to dark conspiracy in seconds (“Bill Cosby didn’t do it, I did it.”) His willingness to indict himself for a laugh may not find approval from every viewer, but Andre (mostly) ensures that he’s the butt of the joke, punching in rather than down.
There’s also a lot of physical comedy. Andre is most in his element when he’s screaming at the top of his lungs and wildly jumping around the stage, often miming explicit sexual acts. This, along with his sketches on The Eric Andre Show have drawn natural comparisons with Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat, but there’s another comedy forebear whose shadow lurks all over the special: Bill Hicks. The two share the same penchant for demonically possessed impressions and psychedelic story-telling — I was reminded of Hicks at his most manic at multiple points during the skit.
The two also share equally compelling bits about the TV show Cops, which was finally — and serendipitously — cancelled just a couple of weeks before the release of Legalize Everything. I recommend watching the Bill Hicks bit, which Andre has alluded to in interviews. But Andre’s take is just as hilarious, as he riffs on the fundamental disconnect between the show’s content and it’s reggae-inspired theme tune. He juxtaposes increasingly violent impressions of police brutality with bombastic reggae choruses, before collapsing to the stage.
A similarly deranged highlight is the bit about missing Tupac’s hologram at Coachella while blacked out on Xanax, which segues into a fellatio impression as he talks about the homo-eroticism of blunt rolling. It’s peak gross-out humour, combined with a sharp eye for cutting insights and obscure pop-culture commentary — like the time he calls 16th century theologian John Calvin “the original incel.”
As expected, Legalize Everything includes a lot of audience interaction, ranging from Andre writhing on top of an audience member to getting on a voice-call with another attendee’s mom and asking her to flash her credit card number. There’s also a fair bit of nudity, an essential element to Andre’s work, so — if you didn’t figure this out yet — this is not a show for anyone with fragile sensibilities. But if you can handle a touch of depravity in your humour, then you’ll enjoy Legalize Everything for the insane, balls-to-the-wall roller-coaster it is. Legalize Everything is (mostly) brilliant experimental comedy by a comic unlike any other in the world. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s an easy contender for the best special of 2020 already.
This article was first published in DeadAnt, an online publication and new-media venture focused on stand-up comedy in India.