YouTube officially became the America’s Funniest Home Videos of the web when it launched in 2005. With reality shows and programs-making-fun-of-reality-shows being big business, it was only a matter of time before television began to aggregate the best the web had to offer into its own lineup. Within days of each other in June of 2009, Comedy Central’s Tosh.0 and G4’s Web Soup premiered, doing that very thing. While Web Soup is still going strong, Tosh.0 is by far and away the more popular show.

The Tosh.0 Formula

Tosh.0 had 10 episodes to survive back then, and by the end of its initial run it was the second-highest rated cable show with men, 18-34, in its time slot. Comedy Central ordered 6 more episodes for that first season, then a full 25 episodes for its second season. Currently, Tosh.0 is in the middle of its third season and regularly attracts around or over 3 million viewers in its Tuesday time slot. It’s the most watched show on the network, beating stalwarts The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, and South Park AND, it’s all about online video.

The success of the show has been attributed mainly to host Daniel Tosh, a stand-up comedian who regularly crosses the line, but in such a good-natured way as to not appear mean-spirited. Racist and sexist humor is normal, but many times it is the audacity of the joke that is funny. The spirit of those kinds of jokes are personified by a running segment in the first two seasons known as “Is it Racist?”, where a video either accidentally or ignorantly blurs the line of racism. Tosh probably gets away with more because he is one of the most self-deprecating comics out there. He is never afraid to make a fool of himself.

The current format of the show has three main segments surrounded by smaller ones. One segment is called “20 Seconds on the Clock,” in which Tosh takes a (usually lurid or scary) video and tries to come up with a maximum amount of jokes in 20 seconds. Another popular segment is the “Video Breakdown,” where viewers are shown the main action of a video, then are taken through the “before and after” of the “plot” while Tosh offers commentary.

The centerpiece of Tosh.0 is the “Web Redemption,” in which the subject of an embarrassing online video is invited to the show to be in a skit with Tosh and get completely made fun of, but ultimately show that they are good sports. Past Web Redemptions include Chris “Leave Britney Alone” Crocker, the Boom Goes the Dynamite guy, and the David After Dentist kid.

Why Tosh.0 Works – Viral Video Curation

Perhaps what makes Tosh.0 most popular is its accessibility. A regular feature of the show is audience and fan participation. Tosh has over 2.5 million Twitter followers and 5.7 million Facebook friends. One segment had twitter followers write a “screenplay” starring Tosh after he wrote an opening line. After showing a half-naked picture of himself at his fake restaurant, “Tosh.Dough,” he had people go on Yelp to write reviews of their experience. For another segment he posted a phone number on Twitter and recorded people’s phone calls.

The audience gets in on the act, too. Tosh recorded a segment where he logged in to Chatroulette and came out of it believing that nothing but naked guys trolled around on the site. So he got his entire audience on Chat Roulette, where they bore witness to Tosh’s own experience. He got them to watch one of the sickest viral videos of all time, the infamous “2 Girls, 1 Cup,” to get their reaction to it. The most popular audience participation segment is Tosh’s spoiler-review of the gross-out film The Human Centipede. Shown censored and cut down for time at the end of a Season 2 episode, it invited viewers to log on to the website to see the entire uncut, uncensored, 24-minute review. It has pulled in 2.8 million views.

After Tosh showed off a comedy video he’d made called Surprise Trust Falls, he encouraged his fans to create their own versions. Here’s one from a fan that did just that, and this clip has over 700,000 views, 500,000 more than Tosh’s clip on has:

Several similar clips inspired by the show have been posted on YouTube and other video platforms and have themselves then gone viral, completing the circle. Tosh.0 is a show that is primarily about viral videos that often produces its own viral videos. It’s also a great example of how important video curation is. Viewers will continue to flock to sources like Tosh, who sift through the sea of online video to find the true gems.

Tosh.0 has created great viewer loyalty by being so interactive with its fans. The Tosh.0 blog is regularly updated, filled with new videos and more jokes. It offers people the chance to submit their own videos. The fact that there are so many extras outside of the show attracts fans and keeps them interested. Those people end up telling their friends about it, and the show hooks more.

It helps that behind all of the edgy jokes is a comedian who acts like one of your best friends when he tells stories. Everything about the show seems honest, when many shows that attempt to do similar things appear completely staged. Take a look at that Human Centipede review. Tosh describes that movie in such a way that you know he didn’t spend hours in a writing room getting it all down. He stumbles and has to backtrack and goes on tangents. Ultimately, it’s just a funny video.

Tosh.0 is about to take another break, and the last episodes of the third season will be shown in September. Comedy Central recently renewed it for a fourth season to begin in January 2012.