The Man Show, created by Adam Carolla and Jimmy Kimmel, harnessed male resentment towards women and turned it into "comedy," propelling Kimmel to late night stardom—and, eventually, multiple Oscars hosting gigs.
Proudly crass, racist, and transphobic, the show also celebrated chauvinism by treating women as disposable fuck puppets. In a recent interview, Kimmel maintained that The Man Show sketches were created in jest but acknowledged that viewers were divided in their ability to recognize the show’s satire. Half the audience "really thought we had an agenda," he told New York Magazine last October.
Sexism on The Man Show was so blatant and over-the-top that its creators could easily invoke the defense that it was all a hyperbolic send-up of male entitlement. But Kimmel has never been made to answer just how he thinks groping women on camera, making fun of their weight, mortifying them on the street, and objectifying them on trampolines functions as "satire."
When New York Magazine’s David Marchese asked the comedian whether looking back at The Man Show makes him cringe, Kimmel replied, "I look back at every show I’ve ever done and cringe. My vision of hell is a bunch of monitors with my old shows running on them. But yes, of course, and not necessarily for the reasons you think. I just think, Oh, we could’ve done that better….[W]e did a lot of funny stuff. We also did a lot of stupid stuff."
On this point, Marchese doesn’t push Kimmel further and only pathetically offers: "I don’t think people would be particularly kind to that show’s idea of humor." He doesn’t ask whether a revival of The Man Show’s attempt at satire that punches down—a failed attempt at that, since half of its audience didn’t understand it—would do more harm than good.
In his response, Kimmel reveals himself as someone who probably doesn’t care either way: "It would absolutely result in a shitstorm, and there’s absolutely nothing better for ratings than a shitstorm."
In honor of this year's Oscars, which will be hosted by the ratings-loving Kimmel, I’ve distilled some of The Man Show’s past shitstorms—at least the parts I could stomach—here.
The First Episode
The Man Show’s premiere begins, dramatically, atop the Hoover Dam. After speechifying about the brave efforts of dam workers (all male apparently), Kimmel and Carolla proudly proclaim, "just as these heroic men did 60 years ago, we are building a dam: a dam to hold back the title wave of feminization that is taking over this country; a dam to stop the estrogen that is drowning us in political correctness. A dam to urinate off of when we’re really drunk. We call this dam: The Man Show."
This epic opening is followed by aggressive agitprop against women of all kind, including Oprah ("she needs to do a little less brainwashing and a little more sock washing") and Ally McBeal ("more like Ally McBullshit!") as well as proclamations about what men actually want to see on TV ("girls jumping on trampolines, monkeys, and midgets"). In its myopic view of what men want, The Man Show demonstrates "a sexism so extreme that it demonstrates the flaws of such a position," writes feminist academic Ann Johnson. Still, she writes, "The threshold for what is too much is different for each viewer, and thus multiple, contradictory readings are possible, a fact that likely contributed to the good ratings for the program."
To break-up the onslaught of "ironic" sexist jokes, Kimmel and Carolla turn to an old man on a piano perched atop the bleachers. "Hey lolly lolly lolly, hey lolly lolly ho," the old man sings, instructing the crowd to join him in a song that means nothing and says nothing, signifying only drunkenness. We’re essentially in a hellish frat house—one that really hates women but also pretends to be joking about it.
It’s also hard not to despair at a segment called "The wife’s perspective," in which Kimmel checks in on how his (actual) wife Gina is handling this show and then cuts her off before she’s had a chance to speak. This is followed by a segment in which Kimmel tries to get women to sign a petition to "end women’s suffrage" (the joke is that suffrage sounds like suffering). Throughout the episode, Kimmel and co. seem to alternate between making fun of male insecurity while also reinforcing the ideas that cause and perpetuate it.
The smattering of women in the audience look dazed and confused; maybe they like it, maybe they didn’t know what they were in for, maybe they saw an ad for a live TV taping and thought it would be something—anything—else. But the men, my god: they hoot and holler in a deafening chorus that sounds like the gay version of hell.
The Man Show Boy
Of all the recurring sketches, the Man Show Boy is probably the most recognizable. In this bit, an 11-year-old boy with a prominent mullet asks prying, hideous questions of strangers—mostly women, of course—that belie a general misanthropy.
In one episode, he plays a boy scout intent on helping older women cross the street. When the women—who are all too young to require his help-- turn him down, he unleashes a kind of fury. "You’re old, you need to accept it!" he yells at one woman. "We all get old, I mean, some sooner than others," he tells another. In a different segment, the boy aggressively propositions women in a park. When they decline, the kid says, "Oh you’re turning me down? That’s a laugh." He says this in a flat affect one might associate with a toddler who’s also a serial killer.
Nobody wins in this sketch. The women lose because their mortification and disgust at being catcalled is repackaged as "entertainment"; the boy loses because he’s made an ass of himself on national television; I lose because I watched it. I also feel bad for this literal child, whose lines were probably whispered into his ear by a creepy producer; it looks like the kid was only able to land bit parts in three other non-notable shows before his acting career petered out in 2005.
The Juggy Talent Show
On The Man Show, women are purely ornamental. (Fun fact: this show aired while Roosh V was still in college.) Nothing encapsulates the show’s view of women more blatantly than The Juggies, a group of bikini-clad babes who do the hosts’ bidding.
In this segment, the hosts decide to throw a talent show, which, of course, doesn’t even feign interest in the contestants’ personalities. Most of the talents involve women putting things in their mouths and contorting their bodies in ways that evoke complicated sex positions. After one Juggy showcases that she can "eat an entire banana in one bite," Kimmel leans over and whispers something into Carolla’s ear, who responds out loud, "That’s right, it could be a penis!"
One prays to an absent god that a Juggy might take the talent prompt in a grotesque or subversive direction—perhaps lighting their hair on fire and burning the whole set down—but alas.
Special Report: Toplessness in America
This 60 Minutes-style segment takes a deep-dive into a made-up phenomenon: What would happen if topless women were a stigmatized minority, forced to congregate at Topless Shelters (i.e. strip joints)? As a crude gimmick for showing blurred-out B-roll of boobs, this is about as clever as The Man Show gets. It manages to offend homeless people, as well, by treating toplessness as a social ill on par with destitution. (If we were playing a drinking game corresponding to how many times we cringed, we’d be so drunk that the next sketches would appear as a blurry montage.)
Can I Guess Your Weight?
I was genuinely disturbed by this clip, which has Kimmel dressed as a carnival barker beckoning women to his cartoonishly large scale. The joke here is that women (and women only) hate being told they’re fat, especially by men and especially on camera. But it gets a lot weirder than that.
The segment gives Kimmel an excuse to flirt with and berate women according to their attractiveness: He tells a French women that "chubby" actually means slender, he guesses that a middle-aged women is obese, and he asks one woman wearing overalls to unbutton them before saying, "You know what? I’m not even going to guess your weight. Why? Because I’ve got an erection!"
It’s impossible to watch this segment without being creeped out by Kimmel, whose "character" comes across as an aggressive sexual harasser, especially when he simulates rapidly humping a woman (what are the odds she was asked beforehand if she wanted to be humped?).
Like many segments on The Man Show, this one imagines its protagonists engaged in a heroic battle against a particularly nefarious foe: feminists. Viewers are encouraged to see themselves as members of a resistance movement, rising up against the increasing domination of liberated females. As Johnson writes, "Many jokes, skits, and entire episodes draw on [the] assumption that women exercise dominance over men in interpersonal relationships by controlling food, alcohol, and sex."
Here, unruly wives are trained to better serve their beer-bellied husbands through something called "Wife School," which includes classes like "Who cares what Oprah says?" and "Infidelity: He Can, You Can’t." The montage is so bereft of nuance that it’s actually painful, following the transformation of wives from scolding nags to docile hausfraus who live to give foot massages. It’s hard to see how this joke is aimed at anyone but women.
Guess What’s In My Pants
In this bit, women grope Jimmy Kimmel on Sunset Boulevard, scrounging around his pants to try to guess what’s inside. I love a bulge as much as the next gay guy but some of the things Kimmel sticks down his pants—like pastrami—are downright unsanitary and shouldn’t be fondled by anyone. "Maybe it would be easier if you put your mouth on it," Kimmel tells one woman. Lovely.
Household Hints from Adult Film Stars
A recurring segment featuring porn stars giving nonsensical household tips, this is by far my favorite offering from The Man Show because no men are involved! I feel like I’m watching a softcore chaturbate channel that occasionally dabbles in ASMR. Get rid of the hootin’ and hollerin’ and we’re good to go!