The Best Panel in Panels, It’s Panels on Comedy Central’s The Jeselnik Offensive

Something special happens each week on The Jeselnik Offensivewhich ends its second season tonight on Comedy Central, whenever Anthony Jeselnik introduces his two guest comedians to the panel.

And it’s not just the fact that Jeselnik says the word panel over and over again to bookend each panel segment.

Few other places on TV, late-night or daytime, broadcast or cable, will you see something like this scene play out as organically as if it hadn’t been elaborately scripted and/or rehearsed. Even if it were, could you tell?

As Miller told The Comic’s Comic today: “The only irreverence left on Anthony’s show is to try and destroy the format itself, to unabashedly derail his imitation of the offensive.”

See for yourself how he follows that advice himself!

The episode earlier this month with T.J. Miller and Eric Andre certainly had its share of unplanned comedy mayhem — you can click back for more of the T.J. Miller and Eric Andre escapades with Jeselnik.

Here’s a sneak peek at tonight’s second-season finale, which features John Mulaney and Nick Kroll as Jeselnik’s guests. They might not explode literal fireworks or get naked (might not), but Miller reportedly reappears in a cameo, so who knows! Roll the preview clip.

You can see a panel full of comedians dish topical jokes five nights a week on E!’s Chelsea Lately. It’s not a new format, and it’s been duplicated elsewhere, to varying effect. From the loose spontaneity of The Burn with Jeff Ross on Comedy Central, to The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, to even in the mornings on shows such as Today or VH1’s Morning Buzz. But none of them provide laugh-out-loud funny moments as consistently as The Jeselnik Offensive.

I see two key reasons differentiating Jeselnik’s panels from the others:

  1. The Jeselnik Offensive keeps its panel to two comedians. Not three or four, fighting for airtime. And the twosomes usually already have an established connection and/or friendship, establishing immediate camaraderie and comfort.
  2. The “Anthony Jeselnik” persona (it’s difficult for some viewers to recognize this, perhaps, since Jeselnik wasn’t a household name before this show, or known like Stephen Colbert was to Comedy Central before creating an alternate “Stephen Colbert” for The Colbert Report) promises to be so horribly offensive, that everyone else on the show feels safe saying anything, knowing they’ll still come out smelling lovely next to “Jeselnik.”

Here you can see Thomas Lennon and Marc Maron throwing jokes around with Jeselnik about the idea of putting stand-up comedy on airplanes. They freely roast each other, as well as Todd Barry (not pictured) in this segment.

The Jeselnik Offensive is different from other shows in that it shamelessly just wants everyone to score with jokes,” Maron told The Comic’s Comic. “There is no real attempt to have a conversation or even a pretend conversation. It is a show about jokes. Jokes that are specific to the point of view of the show and not necessarily the point of view of the person telling them. As a comic you have to write to the point of view of the show in a way you can handle and in your voice if possible; if not, doesn’t matter. It’s about the joke. I was fortunate to be on with Tom Lennon and we got a good dynamic going and Anthony just grounded it and moved it all along. It’s a fun show to do. Especially if you’re not that kind of joke-teller. It gives you a nice opportunity to be wrong funny.”

Dave Attell, who appeared with Joan Rivers earlier this season, told The Comic’s Comic: “Dreams come true on that show. I got to work with Joan Rivers, and I got to make fun of Anthony.”

Segment producer Bart Coleman said with the exception of Rivers with Attell, “all of our guests were friends with prior collaboration history,” and that “pairing Nick Kroll with college buddy John Mulaney was a no-brainer, as you’ll see in our season finale.”

“Panel guest selection is the most important part of my job as segment producer,” Coleman told The Comic’s Comic. “During pre-production, I sit with Anthony and our executive producer Krysia Plonka to create a wish list. From there, we pair up names based on which comics are actually friends off-camera with known chemistry. Then it’s all about scheduling, which is often the hardest part, as everyone is busy working on various projects or touring.”

Why only two guests at a time? Coleman said it’s a better fit for a show that’s only 22 minutes long. “This way each guest gets optimal time to get their jokes out and keep it conversational with Anthony,” he said.

So you’ve seen Casey Wilson and Adam Pally, who co-starred together on ABC’s Happy Endings, bantering about the trial of George Zimmerman.

Murder also was the case they gave Comedy Cellar regulars Amy Schumer and Jim Norton, here talking about accused murderer and now former tight end for the New England Patriots, Aaron Hernandez.

A regular segment that’s always sure to provoke some great back-and-forth between the guests and Jeselnik is “Defending Your Tweet,” in which the guests’ past jokes on Twitter are thrown back into their faces. Here were Kumail Nanjiani and David Koechner.

And from the first-season finale this spring, here again is Nanjiani, this time with Reggie Watts, in a set of clearly unscripted moments:

“You can tell by watching the show, Anthony has a lot of fun with panel and he’s great at sharing the spotlight,” Coleman said. “I’m already scheming pairing ideas for season 3.  We’d love to hear suggestions from your readers.”

So readers, who’d you like to see pair up for some deliciously devious times on the as-yet unscheduled third season of The Jeselnik Offensive?

The second-season finale of The Jeselnik Offensive airs tonight at 10:30 p.m. Eastern/Pacific on Comedy Central.

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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