As a kid, I didn’t watch much TV.
In fact, there were stretches of time when my family didn’t even own one. And even when we did, it was a dusty old POS that my parents kept in the cabinet under the stairs, Harry Potter-style. It would appear for Reds games sometimes, or when my brothers or I were sick and home from school. But that was it.
No Saturday morning cartoons. No nightly news. No Disney VHS tapes.
The idiot box was persona non grata at the D-S house, and if anyone wasn’t sure, all they had to do was read the bumper sticker on my parents’ Subaru, which advocated for a “TV-Free America!”
As a kid surrounded by other kids who were in the glorious infancy of their Nintendo-era nerdom, I resented my folks for their TV protest. Basically, I didn’t give a shoot about my brain turning to chowder because I was dying to watch Ducktails and Tailspin and Ninja Turtles like every other kid on my block. For a 7 year-old kid, there was just about nothing in the world worse than sitting at home, missing out on stuff that other kids got to do.
It chapped my ass. Big time. Which is why these days I watch as much TV as possible.
Sports, sitcoms, HBO, I love it all. That’s right, in a subconscious (read:entirely conscious and mildly vindictive) showing of adult rebellion, I pack hours and hours of TV into my skull every week, with no intention of stopping. And though that admission will probably saddle me with a massive negative stigma in a lot of people’s eyes, I’d advise all of you to jump off your high horses, for three reasons:
1) My brain still probably has much less of a mush-component than everyone else due to the head start I got when I was forced to spend every day of my childhood making puzzle museums.
2) Even now, at least 80% of you watch as much TV as I do. There ain’t that much else to do after work on Tuesday and you know it.
3) TV is awesome.
Now, contrary to what you might be thinking, the purpose of this circuitous intro wasn’t to bore you, nor was it to make you feel bad for 7-year-old Reed. 7-year-old Reed played a ton of baseball, ate massive amounts of candy and had crushes on mad babes, so you could say he did just fine.
Instead, my intent was to explain that as a result of my young-adulthood TV renaissance, I’ve become somewhat of an authority. Enough, at least, to put down my emphatic two cents when a debate erupted at my job this week. The question was “who are the funniest characters on TV?.” And seeing as this clearly qualified as an office-morale-strengthening situation, I spent the next few days at my desk fashioning what I think is a very defensible list (while also taking the liberty of expensing my subscription to Hulu.)
My methodology was pretty simple: which characters (on shows that have not yet reverted to just re-runs) make me laugh the most, and what percentage of those laughs are genuine and not just half-ass chuckles?
So, here are my 10, in order. Sorry Tyler Perry, Mr. Brown didn't make the cut.
10. Kenny Powers, “Eastbound and Down” - When I started developing my list, I quickly realized that there are several types of funny. Kenny Powers falls into the “mix f-bombs with a bunch of racial/sexual/cultural ignorance and see just how far we can push the envelope” category. Kenny is 10th on my list mainly because I think sometimes he is almost a caricature of himself. TOO cracked out. TOO slovenly. TOO much of a fucking idiot. His gold lies in his subtlety. Like where you can hardly tell if his mumbling to Stevie’s Mexican girlfriend to go hop back on her donkey was scripted, or just another glimpse of Danny McBride’s demented genius.
9. Sheldon Cooper, “The Big Bang Theory” - Sheldon is to The Big Bang Theory as Lebron was to the Cavs and Justin Timberlake was to Nsync. That is, without him, the show would be a total ______ (insert loud fart noise). Sure, neighbor Penny is a total smokeshow, and the squirrely Walowitz has his moments, but Sheldon’s arrogance/social ineptitude are what propelled TBBT into “TBS wants to constantly play our re-runs” territory. Turns out nerds really CAN be popular. Bazinga, cool kids.
8. Dwight Schrute, “The Office” - Don’t get me wrong, The Office buh-loooooooooooooows these days. Like, extremely hard. Because as it turned out, trying to fill the hole Steve Carell left was like parking a bicycle in an airplane hanger. But Dwight Schrute (the great-great-great-grandson of Dwide Schrude, if you’ll remember) has paid his dues. When he was just an assistant-to-the-regional-manager, Dwight may have been the best of all. Now, unfortunately, he’s just window dressing as one of the best shows of our generation continues to be a staggering mess.
7. “Sweet” Dee Reynolds, “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” - I’d be lying if I said I didn’t choose Dee partly because she’s a woman. I did, but only because female characters are almost never funny, and that's not even a little bit of an overstatement. Charlie or Mac or Dennis could all make separate cases to be on this list, but I went with Dee because she’s by far the most hilarious female on television, and I think that should count for something (honorable mention goes to Amy Poehler.) Whether she’s dating a retarded person, learning amazing dance moves from inflatable signs, or dry heaving (Oh sweet baby Jesus, the dry heaving), Sweet Dee routinely makes me soil my boxer briefs. In a good way.
6. Adam Demamp, “Workoholics” - Demamp’s qualifications for Funniest Newcomer honors include: spitting chewed-up candy onto a dead woman, making pee-flavored beef jerky, bringing prostitutes to a Chucky Cheese, being willing to blow a guy for $900 bucks, and doggystyling a girl off a high-dive. The Academy approves.
5. Tom Haverford, “Parks and Recreation” - Played by successful standup comedian Aziz Ansari, Tom Haverford is one of only a few on this list who wouldn’t be considered a main character, which I think works to his advantage. See, while Tom is fine in large doses, he’s much more effective popping in and out of episodes and contributing virtually nothing to the plot. This affords him time to put on office fashion shows, come up with the sickest pick-up strategies, and just be generally innovative. Not to mention, he calls eggs “future birds.” When in doubt, ladies n’ gents, TREAT YO SELF.
4. Fred Schmidt, “The New Girl” - First of all, who knew Schmidt’s first name was FRED? GOOGLE did, that’s who. Second, who ever thought Zooey Deschanel’s pet project would last more than four episodes?? Not this guy, mainly because Deschanel herself is incredibly irritating. Enter Schmidt. Once a fat college geek, “New Girl” shows us Schmidt in the prime of his young adulthood; chasing skirts, listening to house music, and working on his core. However, it’s the other side of Schmidt that’s responsible for all the buzz (and, ostensibly, gotten him nominated for an Emmy). The side that craves a good moisturizer. The side that calls sweaters cardigans. And, ya’ know, the side that just can’t seem to escape the Douchebag Jar. Croquet cleats. Classic.
3. Phil Dunphy, “Modern Family” - Schmidt’s overstated ridiculousness might be his bread and butter, but Phil Dunphy, the dad on the best sitcom on TV, relies instead on subtlety. Like a lot of television dads, Phil plays the “lovably clueless” role. But unlike a lot of shows, Modern Family’s writing is outstanding, so instead of just seeming like a one-dimensional dunce, Phil’s also able to drop one-line bombs like this one with regularity.
2. Barney Stinson, “How I Met Your Mother” - At some point, HIMYM will have to end. Jason Segel is too famous, Alyson Hannigan can’t stop getting pregnant, and Josh Radnor by himself would be lamer than Whitney. It’ll be a shame, though, when it happens, because Neil Patrick Harris is freaking comedy gold. Frankly, Stinson won me over as soon as I saw the life-size Stormtrooper costume in his apartment. That would have been all I needed. But then he went on to give us the slap bet, “legendary”, and the idea to make a child’s middle name “Wait-For-It.” Hard to find a character on TV with more laughs per second.
1. Cam Tucker, “Modern Family” - The best way to make the the general American populace feel OK about watching gay guys on primetime is to make one of them absolutely hilarious. And ever since he introduced his adopted Asian baby by dimming the lights and blaring the Lion King theme song, the sleep-clowning, Meryl-Streep-loving Cam has continued to fit the bill. Cam is everything you want in a comedy actor; he’s endearing, he’s believable (for a heterosexual, actor Eric Stonestreet plays a gay guy extremely well), and his timing is spot on. I’m not exaggerating when I say I would watch a show that was nothing but Cam screaming. Seriously, not sure why someone hasn’t made that yet. 2010 Emmy in hand, Cam Tucker runs away with the top spot in this list, and looks like this doing it.
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Disagree with the order? Think I left someone out? Let me know in the comments section, or hit me on Facebook -- if you make a convincing enough case, I’ll make the change, and possibly even add you as a guest contributor. You can’t beat that.
JOURNEYMEN Editor and Rotten Tomato Cultivation Specialist