The History and Influence Of 'The Tom Green Show'
For a brief moment in the late 1990s and early 2000s, a tall, lanky Canadian with a trademark goatee was one of the biggest comedy stars in America. Tom Green took pranks and gross-out humor to the next level during his run on MTV as the host of the eponymous The Tom Green Show.
From sending his parents a cow's head to taking the No. 1 slot on Total Request Live with a music video for "The Bum Bum Song," Green pushed the envelope over and over again. That commitment to comedy on the edge led him to success after success - until it didn't. Tom Green might not be on top of the show business pyramid anymore, but he left his mark on entertainment and comedy in numerous ways.
Tom Green Was A Rapper, A Radio DJ, And A Stand-Up Comedian Before He Became a TV Star
Tom Green started his comedy career at 15, performing stand-up in his native Canada before deciding to focus on, of all things, hip-hop music.
Green hosted a college radio show, then formed a rap group called Organized Rhyme, in which he took on the persona of MC Bones. You may never have heard of Green's rap group, but they were surprisingly successful in Canada - even receiving a nomination for a Juno Award, the country's equivalent of the Grammys.
'The Tom Green Show' Was Originally A Public Access Show In Canada
Music would take a backseat to comedy when Green developed and hosted the first version of The Tom Green Show as a public access series in Canada.
Public access TV developed in the 20th century as local government-funded TV stations that offered free time slots and studio equipment to anyone with the time and inclination to put on a show. In a sense, public access was the precursor to the internet of today. Video sharing sites like YouTube and Vimeo fulfill a similar function to public access, giving amateur creators the platform to hone their craft, earn income, and be discovered by the entertainment industry.
The Tom Green Show was eventually discovered, airing on Canada's Comedy Network for two seasons. The show was similar to the American remake, though it was more of a traditional variety show than the pre-taped madness of what was to come.
In 1999, MTV, a cable channel that defined youth culture at the time, came calling with an offer to take The Tom Green Show global.
MTV Brought Tom Green To America During An Era Of Brash Shock Comedy
Tom Green was a natural fit for MTV in the late '90s and early 2000s. The cable channel's brand was brash, edgy, and fiercely iconoclastic. No show better exemplified that than Beavis and Butt-Head, an animated series about two teenage heavy metal fans.
Beavis and Butt-Head drew huge ratings for MTV, but it also brought controversy. Parents groups were outraged by the raunchy content, even getting the show to ban the use of certain words that were deemed triggering for young audiences. The controversy paid off, though, and Beavis and Butt-Head became a pop culture phenomenon that even spawned a successful movie adaptation in 1996. The series wrapped up its initial run in 1997, which left MTV searching for its next youth-oriented hit.
The Tom Green Show was a perfect fit. Green's persona was youthful, mischievous, and manic. Many of his most memorable segments revolved around Green tormenting his hapless parents in Canada. When he wasn't teasing his parents, he'd mercilessly rag on his sidekick and childhood friend, Glenn Humplik. The rest of the show consisted of man-on-the-street segments in which Green would prank passersby, or surrealistic, nonsensical stunts, like when he commandeered a department store intercom.
That sort of casual rebellion was catnip for teenage audiences of the era and The Tom Green Show became a huge success for MTV. Green was so popular that he was able to engineer the infamous moment when his novelty single "Lonely Swedish (The Bum Bum Song)" took the No. 1 spot on TRL in 1999. At the time, MTV was dominated by sticky-sweet boy bands and pop divas like the Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears. Green was the opposite of all that.
It should have been a great moment for Green, who got to live out both his comedy dreams and music dreams all at once, and for MTV, which had its biggest comedy talent on its most popular music show. But, there was one problem.
“We got a call at the office,” Green explained on the Joe Rogan Experience. “They said, ‘Guys, we want you to play ball with us here. We need you to go on the show and retire the song, take it off the countdown.'”
Because Carson Daly, TRL's host, would be on the road for a week, MTV had simply taped a week's worth of shows and made up the music video rankings. The fact that Green's "Bum Bum" song was soaring in popularity would throw a monkey wrench into that plan. So Green says he was forced by MTV executives to scrub the video - a decision he came to regret.
“I didn’t want to get fired,” he told Joe Rogan. “Everyone was already mad at me over all this sh*t, screaming at me all day long because I wanted to suck milk out of a cow’s udder. We were arguing nonstop. It was the most stressful time of my life. I played ball.”
The Show Ended After Green Was Diagnosed With Testicular Cancer
The Tom Green Show's run was far shorter than most people remember. A little over a year after MTV brought Green to America and made him a huge star, the show was ended due to a health scare. Green was diagnosed with testicular cancer, which, true to his commitment to mining reality for comedy, became a special episode of the series. Green produced a documentary about his experience, which even included footage of the surgery that saved his life.
On top of that, Tom Green was now a TV star, which meant it was next to impossible to stage the kinds of stunts he became known for, like pretending to do a tour of celebrity model Fabio's home. Without those segments, there was really no show. Plus, during Green's cancer hiatus, MTV debuted a new show that mined a lot of the same humor as The Tom Green Show called Jackass, itself destined to become a massive success.
In March 2000, The Tom Green Show ended its run on MTV, but Green already had his sights set higher: movies.
- Photo: 20th Century Fox
Green Starred In And Directed The Cult Movie Comedy 'Freddy Got Fingered,' Which Halted His Film Career
Green began dating movie star Drew Barrymore and set up his post-MTV career, which would be launched via a supporting role in the movie Road Trip and the star vehicle Freddy Got Fingered. He wrote, directed, and starred in Freddy, a movie about a would-be cartoonist's efforts to grow up, move away from his parents, and get a job.
It wasn't a high-concept premise, but it showcased Green's particular sense of humor. The movie was dark, weird, and, according to Green, a more cohesive vision in its original cut. Producer Arnon Milchan and studio 20th Century Fox were pleased with that first cut, but then the studio scheduled a test screening for the film in Phoenix. To say the response was negative would be an understatement.
Green told VICE that the film was designed to elicit just that sort of reaction. "Every question on a traditional focus group page, we were trying to do the opposite of what you’re supposed to do," he said.
The movie was drastically edited following that test screening, which changed the vision of the film from what Green wanted. It was released in 2001 and received a vicious reaction from critics. "The critical onslaught was immense. Everyone said it was the most puerile, offensive, grossest, worst movie ever made. It was very extreme," he said in 2014.
Green's career never reached those heights again. He attempted to resurrect The Tom Green Show with a different format on MTV in 2003. The New Tom Green Show, as it was called, was a more traditional talk show, similar to The Tonight Show or The Late Show.
Green got to live out a dream and fill in for David Letterman on the Late Show with David Letterman in 2003, which put him in line to possibly replace Craig Kilborn when he left The Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn, the talker that followed and was produced by Letterman. Instead, that job went to Craig Ferguson in 2005.
Green went on to host a few web talk shows before he went back to a full-time career as a stand-up comedian.
'The Tom Green Show' Influenced Eric Andre, Tim And Eric, And Countless Other Modern TV And Online Shows
Though The Tom Green Show only lasted a year, and Green has faded into the background of comedy since then, he remains a massive influence on the generation that grew up watching him.
You can see shades of Green's manic, no-holds-barred comedy in the work of Eric Andre, Tim and Eric, and Nathan Fielder. Fielder's Comedy Central series Nathan for You took Tom Green's inherently gentle Canadian-ness and fascination with regular people and expanded on it.
Fielder's show, which featured him playing a version of himself devising elaborate scenarios designed to help small businesses, feels very much beholden to Green's brand of reality-based prank comedy.