Funny, Funny Relationships – Part 1

Jay Cole image

Humor is our most enjoyable form of truth.

Relationships can be sad, loving, crazy, enduring, hard-to-explain, hot, hotter-than-hot, chaste, unwise, comfortable, platonic, respectful…

Are you seeing a trend here yet?

Relationships can be anything. However, funny and relationships have a very special…er…relationship.

Say that ten times really fast and you’ll have wasted thirty seconds.

We can all picture a funny relationship in our head. We watch them on television and film, and in reality. We read about them regularly in novels and magazines and blogs. And when we choose to write something funny, relationships are revealed in a whole new light.

However, this is easier to explain by example:

The television sitcom is familiar to almost all of us because most new shows are broadcast in Prime Time. If a sitcom survives studio executive cowardice long enough to become popular, it’s often revived in syndication and we get to see reruns rebroadcast daily. Sometimes, reruns are rebroadcast more than once a day, and sometimes all day long in a so-called marathon, which is Greek for add more commercials.

Check this list of twenty-five funny relationships from various sitcoms. How many of these do you recognize?

  1. Lucy and Ricky Ricardo
  2. Fred and Wilma Flintstone
  3. Morticia and Gomez Addams [My all-time favorite!]
  4. Rob and Laura Petri
  5. Darrin and Samantha Stephens
  6. Genie and Major Nelson
  7. Fonzie and Pinky
  8. Herman and Lily Munster
  9. Archie and Edith Bunker
  10. Louise and George Jefferson
  11. Cliff and Clair Huxtable
  12. Roseanne and Dan Conner
  13. Dick and Joanna Loudon
  14. Frank Burns and Margaret Houlihan
  15. Paul and Jamie Buchman
  16. Niles Crane and Daphne Moon
  17. Tim and Jill Taylor
  18. John “J.D.” Dorian and Elliot Reid
  19. Chris and Carla Turk
  20. Frank and Marie Barone
  21. Marge and Homer Simpson
  22. Eric Foreman and Donna Pinciotti
  23. Al and Peg Bundy
  24. Will Truman and Grace Adler
  25. Leonard Hofstader and Penny

The above is by no means a comprehensive list. In fact, you may find some of the omissions rather glaring. You might also remember some of the details of these character’s lives, such as Daphne Moon’s belief that she was psychic, or Frank Burns’ nickname being Ferret-face. Still, if you recognize all or most of these characters, it’s safe to say that you’ve spent a lot of time watching comedy!

When writing comedy, we relate one thing to another, or one person to another. Without these relationships, the humor fails.

That’s a rather strong statement, and it’s certainly wholly or partly contrary to many other theories of comedy. However, using the list of people above, let’s take a closer look at the funny relationships in sitcoms, and perhaps a few other venues. What can we learn about comedy from these relationships?

Comedy is truth.
Afraid not.
The Addams Family did not keep real entrails in the kitchen cupboard. Samantha Stephens was not a genuine witch; Genie could not fit in a bottle; and The Simpsons are drawings. How much truth is there in these relationships?

It’s actually very easy to see that although truth plays a part in humor, it’s not a requirement.

Cover image: "Sexual Evolution"
One can also easily find non-sitcom examples where relationships were exaggerated or fabricated. Look at some of the earlier standup routines on relationships. While certainly trite now, “That’s no lady; that’s my wife,” and “Take my wife, please,” were at one time very funny lines. Comedian Henny Youngman routinely disparaged his wife, Sadie’s virtues, habits, cooking, etc. throughout his comedy career…and throughout their sixty+ year marriage!
Sixty+ years! So much for the truth being that Sadie was unbearable!

More About Funny and Fabricated
In the 1950s and 1960s, sitcom couples and the fanatically religious were the only married couples in the country sleeping in twin beds! And the actors on these sitcoms were often required to keep one foot on the floor on opposite sides of any bed at all times.

The only couple to ever successfully make love in this position was
also this year’s winner of the Couple’s Twister World Championship.

Studio executives, show sponsors, and network censors demanded that sitcom marriages be ridiculously idealized and wholly chaste. If these funny relationships were a true depiction of human sexuality, Charles Darwin’s book on humankind would have been entitled, “Oh Crap, We’re Extinct!”

    To be continued…

Parting Funny: We gave our kids old-fashioned names. Our little boy is Hunter, and our little girl is Gatherer.Brian Kiley

Next Up: Funny, Funny Relationships – Part 2

New TidBITS posted!

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