Pain and suffering have never been more popular on TV.  And I’m not talking dramatic TV violence or the nightly news. I’m talking real, reckless, self-induced agony done for the sake of a good laugh or a possible cable show spin-off.

By my count, there are currently 20-plus TV series with the philosophy that if it hurts, then it’s worthwhile viewing.  It can be as simple as bike-meets-collapsing-ramp, or chainsaw-meets-tree-falls-on-greenhouse. And let’s not forget the currently popular fail involving a skateboard, a railing, and a delusional teen. That one is as common these days as the classic ball-meets-groin.

You could view this trend as just old-time slapstick with a reality show spin. And there is some of that. But never have so many humans endangered their lives for our TV entertainment. Still, not every pain and suffering show should be created equal. For the uninitiated, they tend to break down into three very different categories:

MAN VERSUS NATURE

These shows take the found footage approach; airing YouTube-related video misadventures in which participants attempt to defy gravity, physics and the common sense that sets us apart from the animals. There are the failed roof jumps, the gravity-challenged skateboard stunts, the spontaneous pukings and the fart fireballs. It’s all stuff you too could attempt at home if you were an idiot. Or drunk. Or both.

These shows are like America’s Funniest Home Videos for a new millennium – a millennium where the all the idiots have cameras:

Heck, shows like MTV’s Ridiculousness (hosted by a skateboarder Rob Dyrdek) and Tosh.O (with comic Daniel Tosh) don’t even accept tape contributions from viewers. They don’t need to. They just pluck existing ones off the internet:

Which begs the question – is the desire for TV or even Youtube fame so strong that people are willing to endanger their lives? Apparently so.  Still, it’s a weird fame. Ridiculousness and Tosh.O spend much of their time crapping on these moronic video clip stars.  But I guess fame is fame these days – even if you’re the Skateboard-To-The-Head Kid:

MAN VERSUS MAN

These are the cruelest shows of the genre. They’re not violent in a nut-shot way. They’re just mean – manufactured meanness involving secretly filming people reacting to staged pranks aimed at making them look silly. Sort of like a YouTube fail but with a script. Oh no! A giant spider! Hey – why is that policeman wearing no pants? Puh-lease.

We can blame Allen Funt and Candid Camera for starting this, though Punk’d really took it to another level. Watching celebrities being jerks to other celebrities ain’t my idea of a fun time, but the success of Punk’d is undeniable:

Still, they’re celebrities. I’m not going to lose sleep over Taylor Swift’s hurt feelings.  However,  I do take issue with prank shows like Just For Laughs Gags, Betty White’s Off Their Rockers and Howie Do It, which terrorize regular people on the street. Do these people really deserve to be made fun of by well-paid TV crews and smarmy old people and Hollywood comics? No. They don’t.

Again, I may be alone on this. Even the celebrated The Daily Show likes to punk its naive interviewees with absurd questions and film their resulting reactions.  Essentially, they’re humiliating people for not being aware The Daily Show is a comedy. Hey! I’m in bed by 11:

Recently, I took some delight from a bit on Tosh.O in which an actor on a European prank show was kicked to the ground after picking on the wrong person in a mall. Take that, Allen Funt and Ashton Kutcher:

MAN VERSUS HIMSELF

I find it harder to criticize this brand of sadism. If TV people want to hurt themselves for my viewing amusement (and their own), I’m all for it.  Jackass – a TV show that spawned a movie series – is the undisputed leader in this field. Even during their most painful gags, Jackass’ cast of idiots seem to be having a great time:

Tom Green certainly was an earlier contributor in the hurting-myself-for-laughs category, though some have also pointed to another 1990s Canadian cable show, Cap’n Video, as a pioneer. Hell, the guy actually broke his neck on camera. That’s dedication. But be forewarned. This is definitely not funny. Well, maybe a little. He’s sooo stupid:

MTV has continued to turn sadists into stars with its new Careless Teens, in which a bunch of guys from Shelburne Ontario (!) collide face-first with pavement, set themselves on fire, then discuss it later in front of a studio audience. The X-Games/Prank show hybrid The Dudesons is also a notable contributor to this category, if only for its uniquely Finnish origins:

It’s nice to see North American vidiocy has found a home overseas.  But do we really want to make getting hit in the nuts our contribution to the culture of the world?  I suppose we could do worse. People of the Earth! This classic moment is for you:

Tosh.O returns for another season of pain and suffering February 5th on The Comedy Network.