A hidden camera show can only go as far as its host is willing to push it. Something as brazen as Money From Strangers requires a leader who's quick on the draw, able to avoid cliché, and above all else, willing to embrace some inner class clown.
Jeff Dye certainly fits the bill.
"There was constantly a note from the network saying, 'tell Jeff to stop making messes,'" the Money From Strangers host told PolicyMic Tuesday. "I'm incapable of not breaking or spilling things."
Dye and MTV are ready for the prank program's season premiere on Thursday. The show, which tests how far contestants will go for $1,000 through impromptu humiliations, was the number one original series in its time slot for teenagers last year. Participants take directions from Dye and guest comedians through an earpiece, wreaking havoc in public places with a string of gags and dares. Dye knows things will "get a lot bigger" in the second season.
"MTV encouraged us to be a lot more crazy and wild. People were kicked out faster, there was more confrontation," he said.
The orders Dye and friends give out are laugh-worthy — contestants were told to smash watermelons in an electronics store, clean their feet at a restaurant, and preach abstinence on the street, all in one episode — but it's the reactions of the onlookers that buoy the show.
Dye noted that many of those strong reactions come from people simply being uncomfortable with disorder or getting heated over seemingly irrelevant things. Money From Strangers pins different demographics together to embrace embarrassment. While the show intends on testing how far the contestants can go, it also reveals something about the tolerance of everyday people.
"Daily, when we were shooting, I was shocked and impressed with some people’s sense of humor and others’ lack of sense of humor," Dye said. "It constantly surprises me ... I think the show’s almost a social experiment with how people deal with weird confrontation."
Dye emerged in the comedy scene after sweeping through the Seattle standup circuit and advancing as a finalist in NBC's Last Comic Standing. Though he's relatively new to the improv game, his experience on other MTV programs like Numbnuts and Girl Code make him a natural fit for Money From Strangers. Of course, Dye's not on his own, with each episode featuring two other comedians to help devise the dares. He said his favorite to work with this season was Hannibal Buress, a traditional standup comic who impressed Dye with his proclivity to mess with people. Dye meets each episode's comedians before production begins to coordinate a plan and get a feel for their style of improvising.
Money From Strangers has found its niche audience and its formula for success. For Dye and MTV, a new season is nothing to sweat.
“It’s still funny every single time, in my opinion that never gets old. When we do editing, we range it all out so it stays fresh. There's a good mix of short fuses and long fuses, with everything from old moms to hipsters."
Social experiments aside, Money From Strangers functions best as escapism. It's irreverent and light-hearted, something that every length of fuse can get on board with for the summer.
Money From Strangers premieres Thursday, July 18 at 11 p.m. ET. Check out a sneak preview of the new season below.