White Men Got Punk’d
Jena Friedman Pranks the Patriarchy
I’ve never been a fan of the prank show. Maybe it’s because I’m an undiagnosed empath, a term I recently learned from an internet quiz. Or maybe watching smug people play tricks on unwitting fools seems like lazy humor. I didn’t even make it through episode one of Sacha Baron Cohen’s “Who Is America”, despite that show’s making fun of racist politicians.
Therefore, I watched comedian and former Daily Show producer Jena Friedman’s new Adult Swim show Soft Focus with trepidation. The show boasts a premise similar to a Samantha Bee news-satire bit. A comedian pretends to be a real reporter interviewing people about hot button issues like campus rape. Only in this iteration, Jena exclusively targets unsuspecting, arrogant white men. It is awesome.
They shoot Soft Focus like something Joan Lunden would have hosted in the 80’s, with Jena as the unthreatening blonde lady interviewer. Her low-key approach lets her subjects basically sink themselves. And they do. Like the sex-doll company owner who uncomfortably tells Jena that the dolls and real women are the same except for “body heat.” “So the only difference between me and her is my temperature?” she says, pointing at a rubber girl. Then she gives the doll to three moronic fraternity boys and later accuses them of besmirching it with their DNA. I won’t spoil the punchline.
Other interview subjects include the infamous cannibal cop, who Jena surprises with a Dating Game situation, sexist gamers, and psycho rich guy John McAfee. He seems to know that Friedman is putting him on, but still goes along for a truly awkward interview where she even references disgusting things he’s rumored to have done with prostitutes. He’s already tweeted out the link to his segment. You don’t need to know anything more about the male ego.
This iteration of prank show works for me. As a woman in America, I’m all for anything that takes down asshole men. I could watch that all day. But it’s also because Jena Friedman operates without fear. She deploys a straightforward toe-to-toe approach, not the winking-at-the-camera glibness we’ve seen so often. Not only does that type of humor entertain greatly, but it allows the powerful to make fools out of themselves without much effort needed. And that’s the best prank of all.