Turn on your Twitter machine sometime after midnight Monday through Thursday, and you might notice a particular brand of dark comedy taking over your feed. The hashtag-based gags riff on topics like “#sadtoys,” where Twitter users worldwide weigh in with their own jokes, such as “Guess Who . . . Is the Father of Your Child,” “Strangers With Candy Land” or “Mr. Potato Famine.”
The cause of the sudden burst of crowdsourced humor is Comedy Central’s new late-night talk/game show “@midnight,” hosted by Chris Hardwick. As its name implies — being both an indicator of time slot and its own Twitter handle — it’s a show custom-made for the current state of interactive, social-media enabled TV viewers who aren’t content to be just a passive consumer of comedy.
The show is a half-hour slice of Internet life, which is thrown in front of a panel of comedians who feast on it with witty comments and humorous quizzes. A typical show might feature a video with the latest YouTube star of the day, or a dissection of something that went viral the night before (Pharrell’s hat during the Grammys, for example).
But the most popular part of the show — online, at least — is the segment called #Hashtagwars, where Hardwick throws out a topic for the three-comedian panel to riff on in sort of a joke lightning round. Hardwick, and the show’s Twitter account, also asks the audience to keep the game going. The gags on Twitter come from a mix of established stand-ups (Judah Friedlander, formerly of “30 Rock,” sometimes chimes in), up-and-comers and just regular funny folks at home.
Then @midnight retweets some of the good ones and shows the best tweet on the next night’s show. It’s a formalized riff on what is already a popular Twitter game, basically an online, pun-heavy version of Scattergories.
It shows off a model that could become more common in TV in the digital era, one that feels native to the inclusive crowd of the Internet instead of some cultural voice on the mount booming at you from the television.
And, @midnight deserves credit for pulling off a real feat of comedic achievement: Getting nine out of the 11 members of the brilliant 1990s MTV sketch comedy show “The State” reunited on screen on the Jan. 27 episode.