The 4 Requisite Jokes in Every Sitcom

Let’s face it: sitcoms by definition are pretty formulaic. Guideline is set, character breaks guideline, character learns lesson, character makes up with others. The originality is supposed to be in the delivery of the laughs in between, but as you can see, sitcom writers are just damned lazy.

4) “I’ll be frank.” “Can I still be Theo?”

Worst Offenders:
The Cosby Show, Full House, the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

Why It’s Supposed to be Funny:
You see, ‘frank’ is a rarely used word to mean ‘completely honest’, but these darn kids (or mildly retarded roommate, in Full House’s case) just see it as a name! What a delicious G-rated double entendre! This can come in any number of variations, such as the Cosby-classic “Can I still be Theo?” to the modern spins, such as “ooh! I’ll be Dave!”

Why It’s Not:
This tried-and-true line is basically one gigantic slap in the face to the American people, and a complete defamation of the character who utters the “punchline” to this “joke”. The second person in this back-and-forth is supposed to be so dim-witted that he doesn’t understand the word “frank”, automatically assumes that the person talking down to them is initiating some freakish role-play scenario, and, possibly evoking repressed memories from youth, immediately jumps on board with it.

What Would Make it Funny:
If Bill Cosby punched Theo in the face and the scene just fades to black while focusing on his son’s lifeless, bleeding heap on the ground.



I have no idea what’s going on in this picture. Wait, yes I do. That’s why I hate myself.

3) The Ironic “exact opposite of what I just said happens” Maneuver

Worst Offenders:
Every sitcom ever made.

Why It’s Supposed to be Funny:
You can’t really blame the writers for pulling out this get-out-of-jail-free card from time to time. After all, expecting one thing and experiencing the total opposite is one of the paragons of humor. This one happens so much, it’s hard to cite specific examples, but here’s an example:

Rational character: “Don’t do that, you might hurt yourself!”
Irreverent yet lovable character: “Don’t worry, I define smooth! I have a higher-than-average self worth for reasons unknown!”
(Character #2 falls down a flight of stairs)
Scene.

You can throw in any hapless, yet affable characters in the second position and you will see where I’m coming from. Urkel, Joey Gladstone, Tim Taylor, you name it. If a character is notoriously accident prone (which, inexplicably, there is always at least one such character), this is bound to happen fifteen to twenty times an episode.

Why It’s Not:
Reread the example I gave. If even one wrinkle forms around your mouth from the beginnings of a smile forming, you deserve a swift kick to the junk.

What Would Make it Funny:
If character #2 fell down the stairs and never got up. The next episode is a touching funeral service.

2) The “off-the-cuff birds and the bees” explanation

Worst offenders:
Full House, the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

Why It’s Supposed to be Funny:
Whenever a character gets pregnant on a sitcom, it’s always met with unbelievable surprise, even if it’s a known fact the couple has been trying to get pregnant for months. One of the shocked family members/friends will exclaim, “how did this happen!”. That’s where the funny begins. One friend will very bluntly explain “well, you see, when two people love each other very much…”. OH the sexual innuendos! I can’t even take it without bursting into laughter! Variations include the questioning buffoon catching his blunder, muttering “well of course I know how it HAPPENED…” with a cocked eyebrow and a suggestive smile.

Why It’s Not:
I don’t know if there’s anything easier to turn to for a cheap laugh than vague sexual references.

What Would Make it Funny:
If after the question is posed, the mom-to-be solemnly looks at the ground and says “…I was raped”.


GET IT?

1) The “I just inadvertently murdered my friend/roommate/loved one’s pet and sole companion, but I’ll just buy another one and he’ll never notice” Caper

Worst Offenders:
Family Matters, Seinfeld, Full House

Why It’s Supposed to Be Funny:
To be perfectly honest, I have no idea. Is this something that happens often? Sitcoms are entirely based around being able to relate, but I can’t think of one goddamned time myself or anyone I’ve ever known has lost or killed a pet or otherwise priceless possession of a friend and instead of fessing up, tried to cover it up with messy, last-minute wackiness. Again, this comes in a number of varieties. The pet is most common, but for no real reason, Family Matters seems to come back to this theme a number of times with inanimate objects. Cakes, laptops, you name it. The laptop one is actually unintentionally funny for it’s outdated-ness; Eddie wants to borrow Laura’s laptop because “I wanna go on the ‘Internet’; they have a new site: bigbooty.com!” And upon breaking it (a comical tug-of-war because Urkel wanted to play the latest “3D computer game”), Urkel explains Laura’s laptop is missing because he “gave it to a friend who will download it with the latest softwares”. …Actually, nope, even latent with early 90s views on the Internet as a passing fad, it’s still not funny at all.

Why It’s Not:
It’s in no way realistic, and also the person who commits this heinous borderline crime should really never be talked to again for how little they can be trusted. No amount of sappy piano music at the end of the episode would make me ever talk to this asshole again.

What Would Make it Funny:
To teach the friend a lesson, the victim skins him alive and stuffs him, assuring his parents that “there’s definitely nothing different about him”.

About the Author: Patrick is a writer, web designer, and graphic artist. You can check out more of his views on pop culture at his website, Adventures in Poor Taste.


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