6 Weirdly Specific Characters That Are in Every Sitcom Ever
So you want to do whatever the opposite of cultural enrichment is and make your own sitcom. It’s not that hard — look how many shows premiere every fall. Your four major networks will probably pump out at least six sitcoms each, and within a month and a half they’ll be gone and your only knowledge of them will be a mild headache when you try to remember what happened last Monday at 9 on CBS. That headache is a little, rotten piece of brain matter that will never fully repair itself. It died so that you might not remember that they tried to make a sitcom out of those cavemen characters from Geico commercials.
Sitcoms are pretty easy to slap together because they’re all basically the same, in the way every game of Monopoly will be the same — same pieces, same layout, same sense of impending dread the longer it goes on. To save you some time, I’m going to lay out all the important sitcom characters you’ll ever need. Some shows only use a couple; you’ll want to take all of them if you want to ensure that your show really lasts. Or fails really fast, it can go either way.
#6. The Horny Character
The horny character is a perennial favorite of sitcoms since the 1970s, when sex was discovered. They exist to make awkward sexual jokes and innuendoes and seem to romp about solely in a world of base, debauched desires.
As Seen In: Blanche DuBois, Sam Malone, Kelly Bundy, Mona Robinson, Sandra Clark, Larry Dallas, Joey Tribbiani, Barney Stinson, G.O.B. Bluth
Why This Character: Sex is funny to people — just look at all the sex articles on Cracked. More importantly, sex should be funny. If sex is too serious, you may be an asshole. Any human who doesn’t crack a smile in the face of a queef is a soulless abomination. The horny character is able to express all those perverse inner desires and say those filthy things audience members want to hear but can’t express for themselves. Now sure, maybe you’re OK with striking up a conversation with a bus driver about fisting, but think of the average shmuck out there who probably gets red in the face when someone says “titmouse.” It’s for those people that perv characters exist, so they can live vicariously through their TV friend who never gets STDs but has porked the entire greater Los Angeles area thrice this season.
#5. The Crabby Old Fart
Old people are hilariously out of touch and have short tempers. Anger is funny when it comes from someone ineffectual and unimportant, like a grandparent or someone no longer valuable to society. These characters are often irrational and confusing, which is great.
As Seen In: Martin Crane, Sophia Petrillo, Frank Barone, every character Jerry Stiller plays, Mr. Roper, Walter Powell, Pearl Shay, Archie Bunker, Fred Sanford, Uncle Phil
Why This Character: Old people are a necessity because they keep us rooted in our own mortality. Who hasn’t watched Sanford and Son and thought, “I’m gonna be that asshole and then I’ll die.” And when you thought it, you thought “gonna,” not “going to.” Because as an old asshole, you don’t care much for grammar anymore.
Old people are hilariously faultless in sitcoms. Because they’re from a different time, like back when manners, understanding, empathy, thoughtfulness, and not being shitty didn’t exist, they can say and do things the average person would be vilified for. Archie Bunker was a terrible racist and is one of the most beloved sitcom characters ever. How did they ameliorate this? He met a famous black guy in one episode. Somehow that worked.
The reason we like cranky old shit characters is because they get their comeuppance somewhere along the line, usually at the hands of a more likeable younger character. If the old person tried to run the show alone, it would suck, and probably alienate everyone. However, pay lip service to the other side of the coin in a young and therefore correct character, and everyone is happy, because we know the younger star must be right, he’s younger. If the old person was right, he wouldn’t be so damn old.
Special notice should be paid to The Golden Girls, where somehow the younger character was Bea Arthur, who was as old as the sand dunes borne from her aged womb.
#4. The Servant
For reasons never adequately explained, a small but vocal percentage of sitcom producers are fairly certain audiences love rich people. They love them and want to see them abuse and be abused by their hired help, thus the fascination with butlers and housekeepers was born. It doesn’t make sense in any way, but maybe in the ’70s and ’80s every Hollywood writer living out of a shitty basement apartment had dreams of one day verbally abusing Tony Danza.
As Seen In: Mr. Belvedere, Geoffrey the Butler, Benson DuBois, Alice from The Brady Bunch, Bertram from Jessie, Fran Fine and Niles, Florida Evans, Rosario Salazar, Tony Micelli, Lurch
Why This Character: Servants are a gateway between two worlds that potentially opens up a lot of storylines. A story about rich people is one thing, a story about the working class another, but a servant bridges the gap and lets us see both interact. And, because you’re probably working class (the rich have different stations with better shows. Breaking Bad has been on rich TV since 1995), you can relate to the butler or housekeeper who, against all odds, is allowed to have a smart mouth and sass her employer, when in real life if a nanny tried to smart off like Fran Drescher, INS would be at the door before she got to the trite punchline. She’s not even a foreigner, but don’t you doubt they’d have her cleaning toilets in a Brazilian hostel by week’s end.
We like servants because they’re us and, even in the face of opulence, they don’t take no guff. Again with the poor grammar. Just because they work for a richer person doesn’t make them less human and, more importantly, rich people are dumb dickfaces at least 70 percent of the time and need a servant to keep them in line because if they didn’t have one, they’d be wallowing in their own twattery at every turn. Servants keep them real, yo.
#3. The Idiot
Arguably the single most famous and popular character in the entire history of comedy, the idiot is as timeless as it is hackneyed and predictable. But dammit if he still can’t make you laugh with his antics. Oh, that idiot and his antics. They are to die for. Take a moment to reflect and, perchance, chuckle. I know I will.
As Seen In: Cousin Balki, Joey Russo, Joey Tribbiani, Dauber Dybinski, Matthew Brock, Woody Boyd and Cliff Claven and Coach, Theo Huxtable for the first several seasons, Mallory Keaton, Rose Nylund, Buster Bluth, Buddy Lembeck
Why This Character: The idiot is the perfect comic foil. Unlike the aggressive old fart character or the unseemly horny character, the idiot is very often good natured but just so bag of turds dumb that when he falls into misfortune, you enjoy it, because morons fail in ways those of us who don’t need helmets and never stab our faces with forks while eating never do.
The key to an idiot is the lack of realism. It’s slipping on a banana peel. Have you ever done that? Of course not. First of all, who the fuck leaves banana peels on the ground? Do you live with Donkey Kong? And even if one were on the linoleum, why are you windsprinting through the kitchen in the dark such that you can’t even see it in front of you? And then, even if you were so negligent as to not see it, what kind of Teflon-coated floor do you have that a banana peel, a not inherently slippery object, would send you flying? Why, you’d have to be some kind of idiot! Boom! Comedy noose just got tightened, bitches! That feeling in your loins, that’s me, breathing deeply, right down there with comedy. In your loins. No need to thank me.
We like idiots because they make us feel superior. No one wants to watch a show and feel like Scott Baio is trying to be smug and in charge of them as viewers. I swear to God, if Scott Baio tried to come over and make dinner and tidy up my place, I would end him so hard, he would cease to exist retroactively, and shit he did yesterday would unhappen. That’s how much he’s not in Charge of my shit.
We need dumbass Buddy Lembeck to come into the kitchen and accidentally eat a dirty sponge because maybe he didn’t get enough oxygen when he was a baby or he has a really unfortunate accumulation of heavy metals in his brain. It doesn’t matter the reason, it’s just funny and allows us to point and laugh and say, “Oh man, I’d never do that. Betty White, you’re some kind of chucklefuck!” Of course in this instance we’re switching from Buddy Lembeck on Charles in Charge to Rose Nylund, or you just get Willie Aames and Betty White mixed up sometimes.
Note: Betty White seems like quite a smart lady in real life, but man was Rose a dummy on The Golden Girls.
#2. The Fish Out of Water
The fish out of water is a classic character we can all relate to. The out-of-place character is that guy or girl who just never seems to fit in, and because of that, hijinks ensue. Oh man are hijinks fun. It’s like when an online comedy writer hangs out with attractive women and people are like “He must have money” or “They must have no self-esteem” or whatever. Hijinks.
As Seen In: Alex P. Keaton, Frasier Crane, Steve Urkel, Will Smith, Tony Micelli, Alf, Webster, Vicki the Robot, Mork, Penny, Charles
Why This Character: Because homogeny is for suckers, you need to throw a monkey into the wrench or a Frasier into a dive bar. It doesn’t even need to make sense why that character continually hangs out with everyone who is so very different from them. In fact, it will never make sense, and questioning it will kind of ruin the whole joke. For instance, why is Alex P. Keaton a staunch conservative when the rest of his family are borderline hippies? Why do the Winslows not lock their doors to keep Steve Urkel out? Why didn’t Willy sell Alf to the government for a fortune in secret government alien money? Just shut up.
Out-of-place characters draw attention to the problems and weirdness of the “normal” characters. Penny on The Big Bang Theory is neither a geek nor physically hideous. She just walks into the room and suddenly a joke is written. Admittedly, it gets old to compare nerds to a hot girl all the time, but still, it’s something. Better than what Homeboys in Outer Space had, anyway.
#1. The Straight Man
This is the foundation for any comedy, a touchstone to which we all relate and empathize. These characters are the fuzzy, warm center of the sitcom universe that you identify with because they’re normal. They may act out on occasion, they may have idiosyncrasies, but that just endears them to you further, because so do you! It’s like James L. Brooks and Marcy Carsey peered into your very soul and then cast Valerie Bertinelli and Jim Belushi as opposite sides of your personality! Amazing! And hey, who the hell is Valerie Bertinelli?
As Seen In: Ross Geller, Chandler Bing, Jerry Seinfeld, Dan Connor, Carl Winslow, Dorothy Zbornak, Danny Tanner, Ray Barone, Tim Taylor, Cousin Larry, Michael Bluth
Why This Character: This character needs to ground the entire sitcom universe and temper everyone else. The idiot is only an idiot compared to this character. The horny guy is only horny compared to this guy. And the straight man may be a complete tool sometimes, or boring, or the smartest, most interesting and enviable human ever, but only because of the nutters he surrounds himself with that make him shine.
The best part about the straight man character is how much you’ll start to dislike him over time, depending on the success of the show and, curiously, how much the actor will probably start to dislike the role as well. Do you think Bob Saget is happy about what he did on Full House? On one hand, from a career standpoint, it made him a household name and probably paid a lot of bills, but I want to say, with nothing more than a hunch to guide me, Bob Saget fucking hated Danny Tanner. And David Schwimmer probably hated Ross Geller, because everyone hated Ross Geller. The straight man becomes a bit of a wet blanket after six or so seasons and you just wish they’d die already. Like Dan Connor did. Or Cousin Larry. He died, right?
Now that you have an appropriate cast of characters for your sitcom, remember to make storylines that people will find interesting and unexpected, like about in-laws coming to visit, bad dates, getting fired from work, new neighbors, old friends coming to town, a marriage, kids getting in trouble, a misunderstanding that potentially ruins a relationship, and a health scare. No one has ever done any of those stories. Your show is going to be a hit