H. Jon Benjamin in the flesh

Comic takes satire to street

H. Jon Benjamin, who has voiced characters on a myriad of ’toon shows, stars in his own live-action Comedy Central show. H. Jon Benjamin, who has voiced characters on a myriad of ’toon shows, stars in his own live-action Comedy Central show.
By Matthew Gilbert
Globe Staff / June 15, 2011

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H. Jon Benjamin is best known for his voice work on animated shows. He’s currently Archer on “Archer’’ and Bob on “Bob’s Burgers,’’ and his resume includes “Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist’’ and “Home Movies.’’ Why, he’s just about TV ’toon royalty.

But henceforth, I hope, Benjamin will also be known as the lead crazy in “Jon Benjamin Has a Van,’’ a new Comedy Central series in which he actually shows his balding head and bearded face.

This zippy satire, tonight at 10:30, goofs on those TV newsmagazines that talk to the “real’’ people of America and investigate quirky local customs. It takes its cues from the “On the Road With Charles Kuralt’’ segments that aired on CBS in the 1960s-’80s, with Benjamin and his crew grabbing their equipment and covering little stories out of a van. Of course, there’s nothing quaint or nostalgic about their results. These guys come up with twisted shorts and one longer and even more twisted feature per episode, some of them actual man-on-the-street interviews, some of them scripted, and most of them funny.

Tonight, for instance, Benjamin and his goons report on Little Little Italy, where miniature Italians are at war with the normal-size Italians of Little Italy. It’s a hard sketch for me to describe, which is a good thing. Benjamin lets his imagination run wild, so that his segments go to really strange places. In another upcoming sketch, the team looks into a camp called Poor Farm, where wealthy people go and pretend to be poor so they can appreciate their money. The sound man is kidnapped, and so much of the short is presented in silence. It’s a clever, unusual, and, given that Benjamin is a voice artist, witty piece.

The extremely short bits are one-joke fillers, such as when Benjamin stops people and asks, “Do you have a minute?’’ When they say yes, he just stands there with them for a minute, so we can see awkwardness ensue. A segment called “Old People on the Internet’’ chronicles just that, while another piece gives us a glimpse of a sidewalk jazz air guitarist. It’s all silly, but inventively so. The show moves along at the clip of a grouping of “Funny or Die’’ sketches, or of Comedy Central’s Web send-up, “Tosh.0.’’

Benjamin, who is originally from Worcester, has an engagingly dark demeanor. He looks like a mensch, with his big blue eyes, and yet he can also be angry, obnoxious, and mocking. You want to find a soft center and a sincere, dependable host somewhere in his cranky Paul Giamatti-esque demeanor, but no go. He and his crack news team are terminally cracked.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at


Starring: H. Jon Benjamin, Leo Allen, Nathan Fielder, Gary Wilmes

On: Comedy Central

Time: Tonight, 10:30-11