Sketch comedy is perhaps the single hardest thing a critic can write about, but Andy Milonakis’s brand of humor is particularly daunting because so little of it has a context anyone living outside of his head can seriously relate to—which means it’s incredibly personal, and your response to the material is likely to originate from a subjective place as profound as that of the funnyman’s delivery. Take New York Daily News TV editor Richard Huff, who has this to say about the MTV show: “Milonakis looks like a pudgy 16-year-old. Think Wayne Newton. But instead of singing, Milonakis attempts comedy—attempt, of course, being the key word.” Incapable of truly pinpointing what’s right or wrong with the show, a flabbergasted Huff spends much of his review threatening suicide or suggesting illicit substances to anyone wishing to enjoy Milonakis’s humor, which might include pouring syrup over his head or having tea with the parents of his turtle in order to convince them that their son is old enough to live on his own. Because Huff doesn’t “get” Milonakis, the humor can’t be funny. For sure, much of it is random, but it’s certainly not nonsensical, at least if you’re willing to make sense of it.
Like the Numa Numa guy, the Star Wars kid, and to a lesser extent, the Dancing Machine, Milonakis enjoyed insta-celebrity when his “Superbowl Is Gay” video flooded hipster email inboxes across the country two years ago. Unlike his fellow online fucktards, though, Milonakis wasn’t some flash in the pan; he actually wrote his own material and his other shorts were just as funny. Jimmy Kimmel came calling, offering Milonakis guest spots on his ABC show before spearheading the kid’s MTV arrival. Except he’s not kid; he’s a 29-year-old man with a growth disorder, something I didn’t learn until the second episode, a fact that may or may not effect the way you appreciate his show. I thought he was a comic genius after the show’s first episode, a DIY smorgasbord of self-flagellating skits ingeniously tied together by sight gags involving his pet dog. How could someone so young have such a disarmingly pronounced appetite for the absurd? In retrospect, the episode is still every bit as funny, but my feelings for Milonakis himself are different. Before he was just some kid way ahead of his time. Now he’s one left behind. Appreciating him, then, becomes almost an act of compassion.
Asking someone to take your picture is a dangerous thing insofar as the person holding your camera might run away with it; in Milonakis’s case, he hands people his camera and he runs away from them. In this way, Milonakis thrills on subverting expectations and his best stunts involve catching people off guard, like rewarding a pizza delivery guy (with pizza, natch) for being the 1,000th delivery guy to come to his apartment. Then there’s the great balloon experiment: They’re typically handed out to children by clowns or creepy old men (in a sense, Milonakis is both); here, adults are rewarded with Milonakis’s helium-filled trophy, but not until he has viciously insulted himself. The adults are so shocked to be getting the balloon in the first place (you wonder what the thought bubble might say: “Shouldn’t my kid be getting this?”) that Milonakis’s self-abuse scarcely registers. In this way, Milonakis is an absurdist, and a perverse one at that, and like all great comedy, his show is filled with surprises. Sometimes the comedy even turns in on itself. “I have no soul!” he screams at a man on the street before handing him a balloon, to which the man replies, “Me either.” The clown laughs and you wonder if the light bulb above Huff’s head has finally turned on.