Comedies are often seen as simply light entertainment, and awards are rarely given to comedy programmes. Which is a shame, because, when you get a good one, they have the power to change the world, one giggle at a time.
While it might be a stretch to say that watching comedy shows is educational, sometimes we can learn some really important life lessons while having a laugh.
Here are 10 things you might have learned from watching comedy shows on TV.
10 It’s OK to Be a Woman
I Love Lucy was a ground-breaking show in more ways than one. For starters, it was her show, and her real-life husband, Desi Arnaz, who played her on screen husband, was always only a supporting act. Which, in the 1950s, was unusual. Arnaz did manage to get second billing by the time the late 1950s, when the show was reinvented as The Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Show. Which isn’t quite as catchy.
When their marriage ended in 1962, Lucille Ball bought out her ex-husband to own the production company outright, one of the few women to do so at the time. She was also one of the first women to appear on TV while pregnant, although she was not allowed to use that term. She was only allowed to be ‘expecting’, which was considered a much more seemly description.
The show featured a cooky Lucy doing silly things, while her straight-laced husband tries, and fails, to make her act like a married woman should. While those around her were sipping wine, she was having fun stomping the grapes the made it.
Sounds like much more fun.
9 It’s OK to Be Gay
Before Ellen Degeneres was a talk show host, she had her own sitcom, Ellen, which was incredibly popular. And then, in 1997, she told the world that she was gay. Almost at the same time, her TV character also announced that she was gay.
It’s probably fair to say that the announcement received a mixed reaction. The now famous ‘Puppy Episode’ where the announcement was made, led to her receiving death threats. It also won her awards. The show was picked up for a 5th season, but each episode now began with a warning that the comedy featured ‘Adult Content’.
Despite eventually being scrapped, the show has been widely applauded, and credited with paving the way for shows such as Will and Grace, which increased the representation of gay people on screen. Her contribution was rewarded by a Medal of Freedom, presented to her by President Obama in 2016.
Her show may have been cancelled, but Ellen Degeneres went on to become one of the most successful talk show hosts in the world.
8 It’s OK Not to Have a Life Plan
Friends changed a lot of things. The show made drinking coffee, in boutique coffee shops kind of cool. It made the term ‘on a break’, the subject of a million arguments between couples around the world. It gave a whole new meaning to the term ‘pivot’. But most of all, it said, it’s OK to be 30 and not have your life all mapped out.
With the exception of boring old Ross, all the friends had a go at a number of different careers before finding something that they loved. It was OK if they were broke, or out of work, or doing menial jobs to get by.
None of them (except Ross) knew what they were going to be doing in 5 years’ time, and they were OK with that. Sometimes its just nice to hang out with friends.
In a coffee shop.
7 It’s OK to be Bored at Work
Sometimes work is boring. And sometimes it’s REALLY boring. The Office did more than any other programme set in a workplace to show just how dull work can be.
So dull, in fact, that you might be compelled to hold your own Office Olympics.
With 8 hours to fill, and an endless supply of paper balls and coffee cups, what else are you going to do?
Not work, that’s for sure.
The Office showed that it is OK not to be enthusiastic about your job. You are there for the money. You are not really a team player. Don’t worry. No one else likes doing Team Building Exercises either.
Except, of course, Michael Scott.
And that’s OK too.
6 It’s OK to Be Neurotic
Seinfeld has regularly been voted the best sitcom ever. A fantastic achievement for a ‘show about nothing’. Despite the fact that almost every character on the show is neurotic in one way or another, the characters appear to be universally loved.
A group of psychiatry students ‘studied’ the programme, and concluded that Seinfeld himself suffers from OCD, with his obsessive compulsion for neatness, and Kramer probably has a schizoid personality disorder, while George is ego-centric to a fault. And then there is the original single-white-female “social justice warrior”, Elaine. She certainly has anger issues, but then she is the child of an alcoholic, which is a common trigger.
Despite the fact that the characters display some alarming mental health issues from time to time, they all seem to manage just fine.
Which is reassuring to the rest of us.
And it’s funny, too.
5 It’s OK to Be Pretentious
A programme about a couple of pretentious psychiatrists whose hobbies include wine-tasting, opera and not getting girls, doesn’t sound like the perfect recipe for a hit show. And yet Frasier, the most successful spin-off show ever, made it through 11 seasons of fierce sibling rivalry, classism, and constant references to Frasier’s Alma Mater (Harvard, just in case you didn’t know) in order to win an impressive 37 Primetime Emmys.
Despite living with his working-class ex-cop father and even more working-class British housekeeper, Frasier never quite manages to enjoy the less fine things in life. At the end of the 11th season, Frasier and Niles were just as pretentious and just as competitive as they had been at the beginning of season one.
There was that time they decided to write a book together. Or run their own restaurant. Or join the wine club. Every social occasion became an opportunity to get one over on each other or, even better, on someone else.
Despite that, the Crane boys were extremely likable, and painfully honest.
If only Frasier could manage to hang on to a relationship.
Happily, we can look forward to more from the hilarious brothers, as Frasier is set to return to our TV sets in a new series, date TBD.
4 It’s OK to Be a Nerd
The Big Bang Theory is said to have done more than any other TV programme to make scientists cool. Which is strange, considering that the cast consists of one genius with anti-social tendencies, one genius with anxiety issues, a genius who would like to be cool but knows he’s not, and an engineer.
Although they do share an unhealthy interest in dressing up like superheroes, watching science fiction and playing improbable games of chess, The Big Bang Theory really celebrates being smart.
And not only is it OK to be smart. You can also be a nerd. It’s OK to have your own spot on the sofa, or knock 3 times on a door. The characters bring academic rigor to the most banal situations, testing out theories that, really, just don’t need to be tested.
But it’s not just the characters who like to get the science right. The show employs scientific consults to ensure that the science is accurate. Because of this the show has regularly featured guest appearances by real-life scientists, including Stephen Hawking, who appeared on the show in Season 5 and had an entire episode named after him.
The show was so successful in making science look, if not cool, at least interesting, that interest in Physics received a huge boost in classrooms around the world.
3 It’s OK to Be a Dysfunctional Family
Although animated, The Simpsons is a classic sitcom based on the lives of a working-class American family. Having completed 32 seasons, and almost 700 episodes, the family have suffered almost every disaster it is possible to imagine. The father is lazy, a poor father and a worse husband. His wife doesn’t seem to notice. Possibly because she is so busy keeping the home and the children together, which, considering the children she was blessed with, is no mean feat.
Not only was The Simpsons the story of a family, however, it was also the story of an ever-expanding community of neighbors, work-colleagues, churchgoers, politicians and the media. Luckily for production costs most of the actors plays several characters, and celebrities compete for the honor of guesting on the show and being turned into a yellow caricature.
While The Simpsons are not the sort of neighbors you would want to live next to in real life, (what with the dog barking, saxophone playing and constant yelling), they have come to be one of the most loved families in America.
The show spawned a million memes, most of them beginning with Homer’s favorite word ‘D’Oh!’, but the phrase that made it to the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations was one of Groundskeeper Willie’s. He described the entire French nation as ‘cheese-eating surrender monkeys’.
2 It’s OK for Old Women to Like Sex
In 1985 any sitcom that starred 4 women, was unusual, but a main cast of 4 old women was unheard of. The Golden Girls was a ground- breaking show. The 4 friends were all, one way or another, single, and, shock horror, they all quite liked sex.
They talked about having sex, about not having sex, good sex, bad sex and boring sex. Sex in all its forms, in fact.
The show was just as novel discussing gay issues, same-sex marriage, porn, and sexually transmitted diseases. Though the subjects were often thought to be controversial at the time, The Golden Girls managed to explore them with a mixture of innocence, interest and irony that made the show less threatening to many viewers.
Some audiences found the idea of people watching porn uncomfortable. But group of elderly ladies sitting in their living room watching a porn movie seemed somehow disarming.
Until, that is, one of them suddenly stood up, pointed at the TV and said, ‘I did that once’.
1 It’s OK to be silly
In 1969, Monty Python’s Flying Circus was like nothing ever seen before. In fact, the show is still considered to be the wildest, funniest, strangest sketch show ever made. Only 45 episodes were ever made, but they spawned a new brand of surreal comedy that inspired a generation.
The show has been a particular inspiration to astronomers, who named 7 asteroids in honor of the Pythons, and to paleontologists, who discovered a dinosaur-python fossil, and named it “Montypythonoides Riversleighensis”. John Cleese even had a woolly lemur named after him.
The term ‘Pythonesque’ was defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as “resembling the absurdist or surrealist humor of Monty Python’.
Their lasting legacy, however, is the popularization of a word that does not describe an asteroid, a dinosaur, or a lemur. The word, certainly, is a Pythonesque one, that is used daily by millions of internet users to describe something that is unwanted and unappealing.
Thank you, Monty Python, for giving us Spam.