Every Thursday, the actor, comedian and producer Tim Heidecker hosts open-line “office hours.” Fans of his absurdist comedy, most of which runs on Time Warner’s Adult Swim network, call in to talk. On most days, they run the gamut from fans to superfans.
But on Dec. 8, Heidecker took a call from Sam Hyde, the face of the comedy troupe Million Dollar Extreme. Its own Adult Swim series, “World Peace,” had been scrapped after a six-episode run.
“Didn’t you want the show canceled?” Hyde asked. “Didn’t you campaign against our show?”
For 12 minutes, live on Facebook, Hyde mocked Heidecker’s views and accused him of leading a lynch mob, including the actor Brett Gelman and director Judd Apatow, against him.
“Half of your audience tells me that I’m irrelevant, that I’m finished, that I’m worthless, then in the next breath they tell me I’m pulling strings,” Heidecker said. “It’s coordinated, consistent, nasty, violent, nasty . . . death threats coming at me.”
“The coordinated attacks against you are a result of you expressing anti-Trump sentiments,” Hyde said, pointing out that they’d begun after Heidecker released a parody song (“I Am a Cuck”) from the perspective of a weak, bullied liberal.
It was the first time Hyde had commented on the end of his show, and the start of MDE’s martyrdom — the first victim of a perceived Trump-era culture war. Every recap of the events surrounding the cancellation took on the same theme: liberal culture cops portrayed “World Peace” as a Trojan horse for the alt-right, a small, far-right movement that seeks a whites-only state. If a show was endorsed by the men’s rights website Return of Kings, if its star appeared in photos flashing a Nazi salute, it had no place on TV.
MDE’s following reveled in comedy that mocked political correctness, the traditional media and liberals who expected to be sheltered by both. One sketch, “The Wall Show,” had Hyde and co-star Nick Rochefort grilling women about what they would settle for before they turned 30 — i.e., hit the wall. Another was set at a wine party, where Rochefort tripped Hyde’s “field hockey wife” into a glass table and quickly convinced him that the woman was to blame.
The cancellation gave those sorts of sketches new meaning. They were not simply transgressive — they were banished. A comedian like Sarah Silverman could joke about 9/11 but wash her sins away by campaigning for Bernie Sanders. A comedian like Hyde, if he celebrated Trump’s victory, could never wash the stains off.
Hyde, 31, still busily recording comedy videos and YouTube monologues, was optimistic that MDE could get another buyer. “We have offers from a bunch of networks since this happened,” he said in an email. But before the election, his show seemed to have the full support of Time Warner-owned Adult Swim; it was after the election, according to Hyde, that he learned that a planned second season would never happen.
After the Heidecker call, Hyde co-wrote a story for conservative website Daily Caller titled “Adult Swim Fired Me For Supporting Donald Trump — Here’s How It Went Down.” He recorded a YouTube message about the effort to kill “World Peace,” then appeared on the Web show hosted by Vice co-founder Gavin McInnes, whose mainstream media career ended after he published an essay defending “transphobia.” Fans of the show, including McInnes, condemned Adult Swim for buckling. “The Nazis are the ones calling us Nazis,” McInnes wrote.
MDE, a loose comic collective based in New England, never positioned itself as “political.” Its sketches, released on YouTube and backed by crowdfunders, were loud and absurd, the latest fruit from the tree of HBO’s mid-’90s cult favorite “Mr. Show.”
It was fairly obscure until Hyde — and the troupe’s fan base — began playing with the media’s gullibility. In 2013, he got perhaps his best media coverage when he crashed a TedX event in Philadelphia and delivered a speech that was half parody and half futurist gibberish, claiming at one point that the 9/11 attacks proved “that sometimes great ideas are actually horrible ideas.”
In 2014, he performed a piece that lived on YouTube as “Privileged White Male Triggers Oppressed Victims,” in which he read loosely collected “facts” about the dangers of gay life and sex, heckling a New York audience as its members headed for the door. In 2015, he put on a KKK-styled robe and sarcastically challenged a liberal audience to accept more Syrian refugees, even if they thought some might be terrorists.
“If you see a picture of a dead toddler, you have to do anything you’re asked politically, because it’s sad, you guys,” said Hyde. “His family was in Turkey, but his father heard there was free dental in Germany, so he put them on a life raft, and now he’s dead. That’s your fault, white man.”
All of that material was easily found online when Adult Swim picked up “World Peace.” When “World Peace” premiered, the network seemed to revel in its transgressiveness.
The troupe’s aesthetics, scrambled and surreal, felt a lot like Heidecker’s “Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job,” which ran for five seasons. In August, “World Peace” was slotted into a Friday night block with “The Eric Andre Show,” a stomach-churning satire of late-night TV. More than a million people watched the “World Peace” premiere, featuring Hyde as a TV reporter covering a school’s successful experiment with bullying.
The six-episode run of “World Peace” received steady ratings and aired the sort of sketches that, in the parlance of the alt-right, “dropped red pills.” One sketch cast Hyde as a pickup artist training a wheelchair-bound man in his ways, which included buying sweatpants from “the black person mall” and bestowing the secret name “David Duke.”
“That was a secret signal to the KKK, which is actually where a lot of my YouTube ad revenue comes from,” Hyde explained in an email to The Washington Post, insisting that he wasn’t being sarcastic. “It was a secret but now I can openly talk about the KKK.”
That same episode included a sequence in which Charls Carroll, the third main cast member, threw together a series of nauseating ingredients to make “fresh tap water” in the style of Flint, Mich.
“I like to emulate that sentiment of paying really high taxes and getting nothing in return,” said Carroll as pictures of men kissing and fondling each other played in the corners of the screen.
In the run-up to the Nov. 8 election, MDE was the comedy — the only comedy — of Americans who were about to lose the election. On MDE’s YouTube channel on Nov. 4, Hyde released a video recapping his heckles at a Chelsea Clinton rally in New Hampshire.
“Their grandma’s going to jail if she loses!” Hyde said after Clinton talked about her daughter. “You’re ugly!”
According to Hyde, Adult Swim said nothing about the extracurricular politics. Then, six days after the election, Brett Gelman announced that he was severing ties with Adult Swim after appearing on a series of shows and hosting a low-profile comedy special.
The reason, he said, was the revelation — contained in an article published by BuzzFeed — that Adult Swim’s president, Mike Lazzo, had dismissed complaints about the lack of women producing shows for the network. He said another reason was the forum the network had given MDE.
Three weeks later, “World Peace” was canceled. The scale of Adult Swim’s reversal isn’t clear. In an interview with alt-right writer Mike Cernovich, Hyde said the channel had “nine months” to decide the show’s future. In interviews since the cancellation, Hyde has said that the network had once greenlighted a second season and was ready for 100 episodes.
Adult Swim has declined to rebut him. Since the cancellation and the Heidecker call-in, “World Peace” critics have gone quiet. Time Warner did not respond to a request for comment. Neither did Heidecker, neither did Apatow, and neither did Gelman, who recently suspended his Twitter account after a torrent of mockery. Hyde had been among the mockers, agreeing with McInnes that Gelman was using his marriage to a black woman to deflect critics of his work.
“We call that El Classico, when you get a black wife to ward off the bad juju,” said Hyde.
That interview was part of a mini-media blitz by Hyde — the most attention that the show had gotten, more than when it had aired. Fox News covered the end of “World Peace” as a clear-cut censorship story. The Federalist and Taki’s Magazine, conservative outlets that had ignored the show when it aired, held up Hyde and MDE as victims of political correctness.
This month, a student attending a speech by the Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos asked what he thought of the cancellation. Yiannopoulos said that MDE was targeted because of its politics, and the market, he promised, would make amends.
“Trump won, and these people aren’t stupid,” said Yiannopoulos. “They ultimately care about money.”
That had been Hyde’s theory, too. “I knew that when Trump won, the show would get more views because of it,” he said. But before the election, jokes about social justice were transgressive. After the election, they were in line with the president-elect. Pop culture had nuzzled up to the White House in the Obama years. If anyone was situated to speak for Trump’s America, it was Sam Hyde.
In the sketch that opened the final episode of “World Peace,” Hyde played the ludicrous leader of a new “social movement” called “the toss-it project,” in which people wrote the worst insults they’d ever received on Styrofoam cups, then threw them out as litter.
“My race is done, you’re inheriting the Earth, along with some other undesirables,” said Hyde’s character, pointing at a small Asian boy. “And that’s cool, bro. High-five. But check it out — just remember who built this place, all right? Remember to pay homage to the white man. Thank you, whitey!”
The sketch faded out as Hyde delivered one more lesson.
“We can all be victims!”