100 Memorable TV Characters…Part 2

I hate television. I hate it as much as peanuts. But I can’t stop eating peanuts.  –  Orson Welles

 

 

 

Welcome back!! If you haven’t checked out Part 1 yet please do. I think you’ll enjoy it.

As I’ve been working on this project I’ve been amazed just how varied & wide-ranging my television watching habits have been, and the span of time we are covering. I certainly have a preference for comedy and am an undeniable child of the 80’s, but have been fortunate to have been exposed to a wide variety of things in my lifetime. Syndication has helped me to appreciate programs that I may have otherwise been too young to have seen, and I can’t help but think about how kids growing up today have the advantage of streaming, which is cool on many levels. At any rate, we reach the halfway point today. Enjoy.

 

 

 

 

 

75     The Castaways (Gilligan’s Island)

Gilligan’s Island is probably best remembered these days for its catchy theme song, but a funny show has to have more than that, right?? However, that tune does do a great job of introducing us to the group of folks who are aboard the SS Minnow for “a three hour tour” when they become shipwrecked on a remote Pacific island after a tropical storm. The eponymous Gilligan is the ship’s first mate, a bumbling screw-up (FYI…remember Jerry Van Dyke?? He also turned down the role of Gilligan. Oops.). Captain Jonas Grumby…simply known as The Skipper…served in the Navy with Gilligan, who once saved his life. The Skipper often becomes exasperated with the other castaways, especially Gilligan, but he’s also a good friend and big brother figure who affectionately calls Gilligan “Little Buddy”. Thurston Howell III & his wife Lovey are eccentric millionaires who hilariously try to retain their affluent lifestyle despite being stranded on an island. Ginger Grant is a famous movie star clearly based atleast somewhat on Marilyn Monroe. She insists on wearing expensive gowns at all times. Mary Ann Summers is a beautiful Kansas farm girl who won her “three hour tour” in a contest. She is the classic girl-next-door, much more practical & less haughty than Ginger. Professor Roy Hinkley…referred to as The Professor by the others…is a high school science teacher who joined the “three hour tour” to do research for a book about botany. He has a list of college degrees a mile long, and uses bamboo & coconuts to construct all kinds of creature comforts for the group…but can never come up with a way to get them rescued.

 

74     Denny Crane & Alan Shore (Boston Legal)

Boston Legal is an underrated dramedy that aired on ABC more than a decade ago. It was a spinoff of The Practice, which was another overlooked show. Two of the attorneys on Boston Legal are Denny Crane & Alan Shore. This was William Shatner’s big TV comeback after the 80’s cop show TJ Hooker, and James Spader’s initial foray into television after a mildly successful film career that included 80’s classics Pretty in Pink, Mannequin, Less Than Zero, Wall Street, and Sex, Lies, & Videotape. Denny Crane is a senior partner and a self-proclaimed legend in the legal profession. He’s also nuttier than a damn fruitcake, which he attributes to mad cow disease. He has questionable ethics, enjoys shooting a pistol in his office, and loves to say his own name. Alan Shore is a brilliant legal mind who, like his colleague, also has dubious ethical standards. He is neurotic and routinely finds himself in hot water for his unconventional courtroom antics. At the end of each episode Alan & Denny relax on the balcony outside of Denny’s office smoking cigars, drinking scotch, & discussing the events of the day. Alan & Denny are one of the most peculiar duos in television history, but despite the show winning its fair share of awards it never got great ratings and only lasted five seasons. That’s a shame, because even to this day I’d enjoy seeing more of Alan & Denny.

 

73     Jack & Rebecca Pearson (This Is Us)

I am violating my own rule. Usually, when compiling a list such as this, I refrain from being a prisoner of the moment. I typically opine that greatness takes time and we shouldn’t assign hyperbolic superlatives to something that is still in the present, that hasn’t had time to percolate and be viewed thru the unforgiving prism of time. However, if you aren’t watching NBC’s This Is Us…only in its second season…then you are missing out on one of the finest television programs of its generation. The premise is brilliant, the performances reside in their own stratosphere, & the writing is superb. Jack & Rebecca are the parents of three children that we get to know both as children & adults. The show time jumps between different intervals from 1980 thru the present…and on occasion even provides a glimpse of the future. We know that Jack is dead in the present, but in the past he is seen as an ideal husband & father. Yes he does battle alcoholism, but seems to successfully tackle the problem when faced with the prospect of losing his family. Rebecca in the present is reserved & tough, while in the past she is extroverted & approachable. Viewers are just beginning to understand her evolution, which is kind of the point of the whole show. Why are we the way we are?? How do events…big & small…in our childhood/youth/young adulthood shape who we become later in life?? Jack & Rebecca aren’t extraordinary. They aren’t wealthy. They don’t have cool & exciting jobs. They are average middle class parents from Pittsburgh who adore their children and do the best they can navigating the obstacles of life. And that’s exactly why we love them.

 

72     Barney Stinson (How I Met Your Mother)

HIMYM and I suffered a bad break-up. Many fans were angered & felt misled after the series finale in 2014. I vowed to never watch a rerun and have abided by that, which is a damn shame because it was a cool show up until that horrific dénouement. Having said that, I will reluctantly give proper credit. Viewers of a certain age may remember Neil Patrick Harris for his early 1990s portrayal of Doogie Howser, a prodigious 16 year old doctor, but Barney is no Doogie. He is a thirtysomething bank executive in a clear state of arrested development, described by his best buddy as a high functioning sociopath. He’s a suit wearing, catchphrase spewing, manipulative & self-absorbed ladies’ man who fancies himself an expert on women. In reality most people would hate a guy like Barney, and within the context of the show even his friends aren’t too sure about him. However, as a sitcom character his outlandish shtick is entertaining, and NPH’s performance is all the more remarkable given the fact that he is actually a flaming homosexual in real life.

 

71     Coach Ernie Pantuso & Woody Boyd (Cheers)

Cheers had a true ensemble cast so it is difficult to choose some characters over others. However, each is so different that it seems natural that fans would have their favorites. One of the cool things about the show is that even when there were departures new arrivals plugged right in and kept the laughs coming for 11 seasons, making Cheers one of the longest running sitcoms of all time. Coach is an original cast member. He is a former baseball coach & current bartender who is an amusing blend of senile & naïve. Nicholas Colasanto passed away after Season 3, therefore Coach also died and was replaced with the equally simpleminded Woody, an Indiana country boy whose charming innocence is in direct contrast to the neurotic cynicism of his colleagues. Whether intentional or not casting directors pulled off a neat trick. They filled the void left by Coach’s death with a character who is by no means a carbon copy but nevertheless retains many of the quirky traits that fans loved about his predecessor.

 

70     Dan Fielding (Night Court)

Smarmy. That’s the word that comes to mind about Dan Fielding, the night shift prosecutor for Manhattan’s criminal court. Dan is a greedy, narcissistic horndog who looks at his colleagues & the criminals they all encounter on a nightly basis with contempt. Dan is always quick with an insult and constantly seeking opportunities to make easy money or score with easy women. He’s the kind of guy few would want to deal with in real life, but as a sitcom character he adds a layer of joviality to what is obviously meant to be good old-fashioned slapstick.

 

69     The Church Lady (Saturday Night Live)

Her name is Enid Strict. Did you know that?? Dana Carvey’s interpretation of an elderly, sanctimonious, pejorative congregant has its basis…like all of the best impersonations…in truth, or atleast our preconceived notions of it. Thankfully most churchgoers I’ve known in my life aren’t quite as harsh as The Church Lady, but one can choose to see the character as a cautionary tale. The sketch…in which Enid hosts a show called Church Chat…also serves as a vehicle to poke fun at various celebrities with dubious scruples & the assorted scandals they find themselves in. I’m a little surprised that there was never a Church Lady movie, but that’s probably just as well. Too many SNL based films have proven that a little bit goes a long way, and I’m glad the legacy of this particular character wasn’t besmirched that way.

 

68     Toby Ziegler (The West Wing)

Toby is the Communications Director in the Jed Bartlet White House. He is a soft-spoken, morose, idealistic, prickly man with a profound sense of morality and extremely high standards. He is one of the President’s most trusted advisors and rarely backs down from an argument. I’m not sure I could be friends with Toby because we would likely clash over contrasting bedrock principles and he’s way too tightly wound for my taste, but he’s the kind of person one can’t help but deeply respect.

 

67     John Walton Jr. (The Waltons)

One of the cooler aspects of The Waltons that many might forget is its framing device. The series is essentially a reflection of the past by John Walton Jr….aka John Boy…whose older incarnation does a rather lyrical opening & closing narration for each episode. Depression Era John Boy is who we see onscreen, and he is the eldest of six siblings that live with their parents & grandparents at the foot of a mountain in rural Virginia. John Boy is quietly ambitious and eventually leaves Walton’s Mountain to pursue a career in writing. Amongst the most endearing traditions in television is the end of each episode when all of the various family members lay in their beds in the darkness and tell each other goodnight. To contrast wholesome, sentimental shows like The Waltons with much of what passes for entertainment nowadays is like comparing filet mignon to scrapple. Goodnight John Boy…thanks for the memories.

 

66     Arnold Horshack (Welcome Back Kotter)

Who remembers Welcome Back Kotter??

Ooh ooh ooh ooh ooh!! I do!!

Horshack is the nerdiest Sweathog, the class clown always ready with the perfect one-liner. In contrast to the others, who like to believe they’re way cool & above it all, he is kind of whiny and not really a hallmark of machismo, but that’s okay because he’s seems genuine and, rather than beat him up like tough guys usually do nerds in high school stories, at James Buchanan High School in Brooklyn, NY Horshack is just one of the guys.

 

65     Howard Wolowitz (The Big Bang Theory)

I suppose I’m going against my own philosophy again, but since TBBT is in its 11th season I think it’s fair to say that we have a big enough sample size for a knowledgeable analysis of the character. Out of everyone on the show Howard is the one who has undergone the greatest amount of growth, evolving from a clueless lecher, mama’s boy, & wannabe ladies’ man to a devoted husband & father. Oh sure he still has quirks (I don’t understand why any man would voluntarily wear a dickey) and he’s still one of the most idiosyncratic & comical parts of the ensemble, but I like the fact that he has developed & matured instead of playing the kind of oblivious buffoon that never grows up. With TBBT certainly in its last couple of seasons I would be all in on a Wolowitz spinoff.

 

64     The General Lee (The Dukes of Hazzard)

Yes, I know…it’s a car. Yet I submit to you that The General Lee is just about as important as any other character on The Dukes of Hazzard. I was part of one of the key demographics…pre-teen boys…that made the show successful back in the early 80’s because guys love fast cars, especially ones that can leap over things like Superman. Plus it had that really cool horn!! And let’s not overlook the fact that it’s the car and only the car that has made the show “controversial” the past few years, decades after its original run. There is absolutely nothing else that anyone can point to about The Dukes of Hazzard as being “offensive” since it is about the least provocative television program ever produced. I read somewhere that 300+ General Lees were used in the course of seven seasons, and that only about 17 still exist. PGA golfer Bubba Watson owns one of the 17, but during the “controversy” a few years ago he indicated that he was going to paint the American flag over the Confederate flag. I don’t know if he actually followed thru or was just saying the politically correct thing in the midst of the storm, but either way he’s a moron that I haven’t cheered for since and never will again.

 

63     Dwayne Schneider (One Day at a Time)

One Day at a Time was a preachy sitcom…sporadically funny, but the kind of show that took itself way too seriously, an afterschool special with a laugh track about a single mother starting over in the big city with bratty teenage daughters. Of course I was in grade school when it was on, so it’d be reasonable to assume that I just didn’t “get it”. At any rate, levity (and testosterone) was provided by building super Schneider, whose pornstache & tool belt make him look like the love child of Clark Gable & Batman. He’s an affable windbag, the kind of neighbor that can be annoying but you miss him when he’s not around.

 

62     Felix Unger & Oscar Madison (The Odd Couple)

The Odd Couple is a 1968 Neil Simon play that begat a 1968 feature film starring the incomparable Jack Lemmon & Walter Matthau. The concept came to television for five seasons beginning in 1970, with Tony Randall & Jack Klugman in the lead roles. Though its original run ended before my 3rd birthday the magic of syndication allowed me to appreciate Felix & Oscar throughout my childhood. Felix is a persnickety fussbudget who works as a professional photographer. Oscar is a laid-back disheveled sportswriter. When Felix gets tossed out by his wife he shows up at Oscar’s door needing a place to live. The two are oil & water…they couldn’t be more different. The word sitcom is short for situation comedy, meaning that the laughs are theoretically generated by the situation, but it is clear to anyone who’s ever watched much TV that characters matter more than the situations they are put in, and The Odd Couple is a prime example. The legacy of Felix & Oscar is a formula that screenwriters for television & movies have been trying to copy for decades, but it really is difficult to measure up to the original.

 

61     Sam Malone (Cheers)

The foundation of Cheers is bar owner Sam, a former Boston Red Sox relief pitcher and recovering alcoholic. He is supposed to embody the dumb jock stereotype, but doesn’t appear to be all that unintelligent. He’s a somewhat vain ladies’ man who uses his fading celebrity to score with women. The first five seasons of the show focused largely on Sam’s antagonistic romance with erudite waitress Diane Chambers, and her departure freed him up to grown ever so slightly in the latter half of Cheers’ decade+ on the air. In hindsight one may choose to look at the show’s regulars as kind of sad…losers who waste away hours of their hollow & futile existence in a bar. Sam is their pack leader, a lonely man desperately holding on to remnants of past glory and trading in alcohol for sex to satisfy an unhealthy addiction. However, since I was a teenager the majority of the years Cheers was on I remember it as a funny, well-written show and recall Sam Malone as a cool & amusing guy who is good to a group of friends with whom he engages in humorous hijinks.

 

60     Larry, Darryl, & Darryl (Newhart)

Vermont isn’t typically the first place that comes to mind when one ponders rednecks, but three of the funniest to ever appear on television lived there…and two of them never uttered a word in 8 seasons (until the legendary series finale). They always introduce themselves the same way…”Hi, I’m Larry. This is my brother Darryl, and this is my other brother Darryl.” I believe the characters were supposed to be a one shot deal, but were such a hit with the audience that they became a regular part of the cast, even running the neighborhood café. They remind me a little bit of The Darling Family, who guest starred in several episodes of The Andy Griffith Show back in the 1960’s.

 

59     Major Frank Burns (MASH)

Frank Burns was originally portrayed by Robert Duvall in the 1970 film, but I think the character is actually funnier on the TV series. Frank is an uptight & inept surgeon who doesn’t appreciate the sophomoric antics of some of his colleagues, and he is on the receiving end of a lot of insults & practical jokes. He carries on an allegedly secret affair with Hot Lips Houlihan that pretty much everyone at the 4077th knows all about. When she gets married to another soldier Frank has a nervous breakdown and is discharged from the army, eventually landing an administrative gig at a veteran’s hospital in Indiana. After Frank’s departure at the end of Season 5 I feel like MASH lost much of its wit and became a little more sanctimonious than originally intended.

 

58     Vinnie Barbarino (Welcome Back Kotter)

It is really easy to blur the lines between character and actor, especially when that actor is a megastar. Kotter is responsible for launching John Travolta’s career into the stratosphere. His role in the show led to being cast in Saturday Night Fever, which of course led to Grease. The rest is history. Vinnie is the apparent leader of the Sweathogs. He’s cool, good looking, confident, popular with the ladies…and dumb as a box of rocks. After Travolta’s film career took off he didn’t completely leave the show, but was only in about a third of the final season’s episodes. High school shows are tenuous anyway because eventually the characters are no longer credible as teenagers, but many such programs have found a way to evolve. However, losing Travolta meant losing Vinnie, and Kotter couldn’t survive without him.

 

57     George & Weezie Jefferson (The Jeffersons)

The Jeffersons was a spinoff of All in the Family that approaches racial issues from a slightly different perspective. George is a prosperous businessman who owns a chain of dry cleaning stores, and his success allows he & his wife Weezie to move from their house in Queens to a swanky penthouse apartment on the upper east side of Manhattan. They even have a maid. George is a fast-talking smartass, while Weezie is the classic exasperated wife who understands her husband’s faults and is often irritated by his antics, but loves him anyway.

 

56     Gordon Shumway (ALF)

The titular Alien Life Form from the planet Melmac has a name…Gordon Shumway. The show is a unique fish-out-of-water story, and Gordon is a sardonic yet good-hearted jokester who looks like some sort of Dr. Seuss/Jim Henson mashup. He’d really like to eat the family cat, but of course never does, and is purportedly working on fixing his spaceship so he can return home, but that process takes the entirety of the show’s four seasons. In what ended up being the series finale we get a cliffhanger in which Gordon is captured by the government before he can escape to Melmac, which is a pretty crappy conclusion for a memorable character.

 

55     Johnny Drama (Entourage)

By far my favorite HBO series was Entourage, about a Queens, NY born actor and his buddies living the high life in Hollywood. The movie star in the show is loosely based on the life of Mark Wahlberg, aka early 90’s hip-hop rapper Marky Mark, who of course went on to star in movies like Boogie Nights, The Perfect Storm, & The Departed. You may recall that Mark has an older brother named Donnie, who achieved success as part of 80’s boy band New Kids on the Block but then fell into relative obscurity before starring in the TV show Blue Bloods, which has been a modest hit at best. It is fair to say Mark’s stardom eclipsed that of his older brother long ago. The older brother on Entourage is Johnny Chase, aka Johnny Drama. He found success starring in a sci-fi fantasy show called Viking Quest, but then his career stalled as his little brother Vince’s star rose, and now he is ostensibly employed as Vince’s personal chef & bodyguard. Johnny outwardly displays bravado & confidence in his ability as an actor, but he is obviously insecure and all too aware that his brother is much more talented. He loves Vince and isn’t really jealous of his success, but hilariously seizes every opportunity to ride his coattails. Johnny, as my grandmother used to say, has more BS than a Christmas turkey, so while everybody likes him no one really takes him seriously.

 

54     Dick Loudon (Newhart) & Dr. Bob Hartley (The Bob Newhart Show)

How can anyone not love Bob Newhart?? He is quietly & subtly hilarious, as opposed to many loud & obnoxious comedians. He essentially played himself…or comparable versions of his stage persona…in two different sitcoms. In the 70’s he was Dr. Bob Hartley, a mild-mannered psychiatrist dealing with a zany group of patients & colleagues. In the 80’s he was Dick Loudon, a mild-mannered writer & innkeeper dealing with an entire town of eccentric oddballs. I think I like the second show a little more than its predecessor, but that’s probably because I was a little older when Newhart was on and remember it better.

 

53     Latka Gravas (Taxi)

Andy Kaufman was more of a performance artist than a stand-up comedian, and he definitely marched to a different drumbeat than everyone else. His most enduring creation is a character called Foreign Man, a staple of his comedy club act. That persona was the basis for Latka, a timid mechanic at the Sunshine Cab Company who has multiple personalities, a concept that allowed Kaufman to portray different characters. Kaufman was famously reluctant to sign on for Taxi and didn’t really enjoy playing Latka, but nevertheless created an enduring character that was a welcome addition to the ensemble.

 

52         Dawson Leery & Joey Potter (Dawson’s Creek)

I am not ashamed to admit that I loved Dawson’s Creek!! High school shows are a tried & true television staple, and occasionally they appeal to age groups other than teenagers. The early seasons of Dawson’s Creek overlapped with the final years of the ostensibly cooler and unquestionably glitzier Beverly Hills 90210, a program to which I never really became all that attached. The kids in Capeside, MA seemed much more relevant & grounded than their left coast counterparts, and the writing was crisp & astute. The eponymous Dawson is an aspiring filmmaker whose hero is Steven Spielberg. Joey (a female for those not in the know) is the beautiful yet shy & awkward girl next door. Their relationship is the cornerstone of the show, and it’s one of those on again/off again will they or won’t they deals. Ultimately Joe ends up with Dawson’s best friend Pacey (and boy did that relationship cause some angst), while Dawson finds happiness with his true love…a writing gig in Hollywood.

 

51     Jack Tripper (Three’s Company)

Could you imagine a show like Three’s Company in the 21st century?? It would never fly. First of all, a guy and a couple of women living together is something most people wouldn’t raise an eyebrow about these days. And secondly, the idea that Jack has to lie to his landlord and say that he is gay to be allowed to stay in the apartment wouldn’t be politically correct now, no to mention the reactions of Mr. Roper & later on Mr. Furley to Jack’s alleged orientation. But this was four decades ago and the world was a different place. At any rate, Jack is the comedic cornerstone, an aspiring chef who hangs out with his lascivious pal Larry down at The Regal Beagle (a local watering hole), but respects the boundaries set within his living arrangement with roomies Janet & Chrissy (and later Cindy then Terri). Jack is a clumsy screw-up whose pratfalls provide many of each episode’s laughs.

 

 

 

Let’s take a break. We’ll dive into Part 3 tomorrow. Or the next day *lol*.

Superfluous 7 Favorite Stand-Up Comedians

My man Michael Wilbon recently posted a video commentary…for no apparent reason…on comedythe PTI Facebook page about his Top 10 stand-up comics. Because Wilbon, as erudite as he seems on TV, is subconsciously a militant black man and a throwback 60’s radical his list was, shall we say, just a little bit prejudiced. It wasn’t too terrible I suppose, but it had Wanda Sykes for God’s sake, a woman who is only mildly amusing at her best, while leaving off 2 or 3 certified comedy legends. My dismay with this absurd display of racially biased poppycock has inspired me to create my own ranking. I have made a concerted effort to eschew the kind of poor taste & obvious sociopolitical slant shown by Wilbon, but to be fair we are all a product of our background, bound to be influenced by the time & place in which we were raised and the things to which we were or were not exposed. I’m about 15 years younger than Wilbon, was raised in small town WV as opposed to Chicago, and watched way too much TV as a kid. I am a child of the 80’s (with fond memories of the late 70’s) and became an adult in the 90’s. I do think my rankings are better & more reasonable than the list that motivated this effort, but others may disagree. So be it.


comedy2In pondering this idea I had a lot of names pop into my head. It became necessary to create parameters. The focus here is on stand-up comedy…just a guy (or lady) on stage with a microphone in front of a live audience. Many of the best comedians have gone on to star in TV series or become movie stars. That’s fine, but that’s not what this is about. Jimmy Fallon may have once done stand-up comedy, but in my mind he is an SNL alum who went on to do a few forgettable films and now hosts the Tonight Show. Same deal with David Letterman. To me he is a talk show host that has been a centerpiece of late night television for ¾ of my life. At any rate, even with those self-imposed boundaries the list was overflowing, so we will begin with some Honorable Mentions that didn’t quite make the cut for one reason or another.

 

Honorable Mention

Tim Allen
His stand-up routines landed him a successful sitcom which he parlayed into a mediocre film career, so I think of him primarily as a comedic actor.

Billy Crystal
I LOVE Crystal, but to me he is an actor & awards show host.

Bob Newhart
His standup career was before my time. I remember him as the star of two of TV’s more underappreciated sitcoms.

Don Rickles
He’s funny, but his career trajectory plateaued before I was born.

Johnny Carson & Jay Leno
I know them primarily as two long time hosts of the Tonight Show.

Bob Hope
An undisputed legend, but one whose career peaked long before I was born and who I fondly recall as hosting the occasional variety show special on TV.

Steve Martin
I realize he was a revolutionary stand-up comic in the 70’s, but I know him mainly as a film actor and for his numerous appearances on SNL.

Garry Shandling
Funny, but not quite elite. I recall him as a frequent guest host on the Tonight Show and remember his first sitcom on Showtime in the late 80’s.

Buddy Hackett
He was before my time. I remember him mostly for his guest appearances on Carson’s Tonight Show in the 1980’s.

Sam Kinison
Sadly Kinison was gone far too soon, killed by a teenage drunk driver at the age of 38. Kinison was obnoxious, controversial, & often blasphemous, but he was funny. It would have been really interesting to see how he might have evolved. Would he have softened with age?? Would he have become a caricature of himself, still trying to be the loud, abrasive rebel even as an elder statesman of comedy?? Or would he have just flamed out & faded away once his shtick started to grow old?? We’ll never know, and that’s too bad.

Steven Wright
Wright’s deadpan delivery is unmistakable yet kind of defines him as a one trick pony. Amusing in small doses, but there is a reason he never became a huge star.

Ron White
I gave this spot to White over Jeff Foxworthy because I think he is funnier. His humor seems kind of restricted to a specific southern demographic, which is fine by me but limits his star power and accessibility to the masses.

Gallagher
You know & love him as the prop comedian who busts watermelons with a sledgehammer. It’s a gimmick that has narrowly defined his career for four decades.

Andrew Dice Clay
He’s funny & memorable enough to get a mention, but just too vulgar to be ranked amongst the best.

Andy Kaufman
It is difficult to describe exactly what Andy Kaufman did on stage. He was more of a performance artist than a traditional standup comedian. It seemed as if he was trying to entertain himself more than anyone else, and if that meant offending, annoying, & confusing the audience then that was just dandy. Kaufman is another artist that we lost far too early, as he succumbed to lung cancer at age 35. I remember him mostly as Latka Gravis on the sitcom Taxi, a role that he allegedly despised.

Redd Foxx
To me he is iconic junk king Fred G. Sanford from the 70’s sitcom Sanford & Son. However, before that role he had a long & successful career as a crude & profane stand-up comic. That was in the 50’s & 60’s though…way way way before my time, and in an era when profanity was actually shocking instead of the accepted norm.

 

Okay, so now that the honorable mentions are out of the way it’s time to move to the main attraction. To be honest I wish more of these guys worked “clean”, but it’s rare to find a comedian who does that nowadays. We live in an era in which F Bombs and sexual humor sells, so that’s what many do. It’s not my preference, but for the most part I think my choices would still be funny if they took the road less traveled instead of conforming to low worldly standards. At any rate, sit down, enjoy a cold beverage, and maybe chuckle, chortle, guffaw, & giggle as I present…..

 

 

 

From the home office in Happy, TX…..

 

 

 

My Superfluous 7 Favorite Stand-Up Comedians:

 

 

 

7 Eddie Murphy / Richard Pryor
murphyY’all should know by now, there will be ties. These guys are legends, with Pryor being the trailblazer who heavily influenced Murphy. Pryor’s stand-up career was en fuego in the 1970’s when I was just a baby. By the time I got to the age where I was consciously making entertainment choices and discovering what I enjoy Pryor, like so many others, had segued into acting. It is really interesting that a vast majority of comedians cite Richard Pryor as a huge influence. He really did make it look easy. His comedy was edgy & vulgar, yet accessible to the masses. Perhaps one of the most regrettable byproducts of Pryor’s legacy is that so many comics believe that peppering their act with a plethora of F-Bombs & other profanities is hysterically funny. I suppose it was humorous in a shocking kind of way when he did it, but now it’s just derivative & tedious. Murphy’s career has been all over the place, with a prominent chunk of the early 80’s spent as a cast member on SNL followed by a three pryordecade movie career with some hits (48 Hrs., Trading Places, Beverly Hills Cop, Coming to America) and a lot of misses (The Golden Child, Vampire in Brooklyn, Pluto Nash, Norbitt). In between those gigs, for a brief time in the mid-80’s, he was a comedy rock star that did a few really good HBO specials that became big sellers on home video. Unfortunately Eddie Murphy seemed to buy into the whole movie star fantasy and has become more aloof & pretentious over the years.

 

6 Chris Rock / Dennis Miller
rockI don’t often agree with Rock’s politics, but there is no denying that he is an intelligent, thoughtful guy whose observational comedy is a cut above. Much of his humor has racial overtones, but I’ve rarely found it racist. It is more like a brutally honest, undeniably subjective worldview to which I can’t relate. In contrast, Miller’s philosophies & attitudes are much more in line with my own. He also is a smart & solicitous dude whose comedy was tinged with insightful commentary about life even before he became a regular guest on political talk shows. Miller doesn’t dumb down his comedy for the masses. You either get the odd analogies & obscure references he makes or you don’t, and he’s not going to slow down and draw a picture for you. Both Rock & Miller had notable runs on Saturday Night Live. Rock has gone on to be a run-of-the-mill movie star in mostly pedestrian films, millerwhile Miller has dabbled in the whole talk show host thing (I really wanted him to be the guy to replace Letterman), did a season in the booth on Monday Night Football (not a good fit), & in recent years has become bogged down as a political pundit. I’d love to see him get back into doing stand-up.

 

5 Jim Gaffigan / Bill Cosby
gaffiganOkay…let’s first address the elephant in the room. I am not here to judge what Cosby may or may not have done in his personal life. That’s not my place, and I think the damage that has been done to his legacy speaks for itself. Both of these men do basically work “clean”, which is good. The foundation of their humor is family, marriage, children, & relationships. They tell stories that many folks recognize from their own lives. It’s easygoing & affable. Their comedy isn’t meanspirited, edgy, or brash. Cosby, of course is…or was…a living legend that has done movies & TV shows and has generally been a part of the entertainment landscape for a half century. Gaffigan has been around for about a cosbydecade. He’s a soft-spoken, self-deprecating guy who likes to joke about being fat & lazy, comedy to which I can relate. Young comedians need to study these guys and understand that intelligent, relevant, witty comedy doesn’t need to be vulgar, obnoxious, or malevolent.

 

4 Frank Caliendo / Denis Leary
caliendoBy far my favorite kind of comedian is one who can do spot-on impressions. If I could ask God for any fun & frivolous talent I’d probably choose being able to do impressions over singing, dancing, or playing an instrument. Older generations might prefer Rich Little, but to be honest I was never that enamored with Little. Caliendo hasn’t become the sort of superstar that landed his own sitcom, but he’s done a wide variety of media appearances…MadTV, Fox NFL Sunday, & a ton of radio shows…and is a regular in Vegas. He does awesome impressions of folks like Al Pacino, Morgan Freeman, President George W. Bush, & Robin Williams, as well as a ton of sportscentric impersonations such as ESPN personalities Mel Kiper Jr., Adam Shefter, & Stephen A. Smith, former coaches John learyMadden & Jon Gruden, Charles Barkley, Jim Rome, and Bill Walton. I think Caliendo is brilliant. Leary has segued into acting now, but at one time in the early 90’s he was a chain smoking, fast talking, “angry” comedian…kind of a toned down Sam Kinison…and he was hilarious. His comedy album No Cure for Cancer is classic and helped make dreary days at a tedious job more tolerable for me in the mid-1990’s. Leary was a much better stand-up comic than he is an actor, and I hope he goes back to what he does best someday.

 

3 Jerry Seinfeld
Yes I am aware that Mr. Seinfeld starred in a highly rated sitcom. As a matter of fact I chose Seinfeld as my favorite TV show of all time just a few years ago. However, that show was based, atleast partly, on the observational comedy of its star. Seinfeld was a celebrated comedian throughout the 1980’s, with his casual, conversational style playing really well on television in appearances with Johnny Carson and David Letterman. Seinfeld comes across as a kind of everyman, a guy it’d be fun to have lunch with or go on a road trip. Much like the beloved television show his standup comedy is about the trivialities, conundrums, seinfeldfrustrations, & contradictions of daily life. In contrast to guys like Kinison or Leary he isn’t particularly angry, and unlike Pryor, Murphy, or Dice he is far from profane. I would describe Seinfeld as perpetually bemused by the fickle nature of humanity. People like him just have a whole different way of looking at the world. They see things that most people overlook…and then they tell funny stories & jokes about what they perceive. Thankfully that perception is often quite entertaining. I always thought Seinfeld would end up hosting a late night show, but the stardom he achieved with his sitcom skyrocketed him past that. He doesn’t have to work that hard or often now. He hosts an amusing talk show called Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, which you can find online, and thankfully he has gone back to doing standup. Maybe one day I’ll get the opportunity to see him perform live.

 

2 Robin Williams
Robin Williams was like Jerry Seinfeld on cocaine. Literally. Sadly we lost Williams last year, but his legacy is rock solid. He, of course, became well-known in the early 80’s on the sitcom Mork & Mindy, and after that starred in a plethora of mostly good films. But Williams began as a standup comedian and never completely left it behind. On stage he did it all…jokes, stories, improv, pratfalls, impressions, observation. It is hard to put him in a box and categorize his williamscomedy. Robin Williams was manic, silly, intelligent, & creative. He was brilliant. His energy was unmatched. He always made me laugh. And not just a light snicker. I’m talking about wall shaking, tears in my eyes laughter that made others think I’d lost my mind. Hindsight informs us that the energy level was often drug induced, and sadly we also know that the comedy that made us laugh hid pain & depression that would ultimately lead to suicide. I don’t really know what to say about all of that. Unfortunately the tragic ending will likely forever alter the opinions of many about Robin Williams. I understand that, but for the purposes of this exercise choose to remember the good times.

 

1 George Carlin
George Carlin had a career unlike any other. He began doing standup in the 60’s and was still working nearly 50 years later. He dabbled a little bit in television & movies, but pretty much stuck to being a standup comedian. His observational comedy was a bit more acerbic, and many might say that in later years he bordered on meanspirited & angry. Carlin was a product of the counterculture 60’s and always had a bit of that “I’m smarter than you” attitude. In the 70’s he came up with his well-known routine The 7 Words You Can Never Say on Television, which seems a bit quaint now. I won’t repeat any of the words, but I will say that, as carlinopposed to four decades ago, I think I’ve heard atleast 3 or 4 of the forbidden words on network TV just this week. I didn’t really discover Carlin until the 80’s when he had several specials on HBO. By then he’d started doing a lot more sociopolitical commentary, much of it the complete opposite of my own worldview. However, I can usually overlook such disagreements and still find someone funny. While Jerry Seinfeld seems amused by humanity’s shortcomings they seemed to really tick George Carlin off. Sometimes this was hilarious, sometimes it wasn’t. The stuff I preferred from Carlin were his observations about language. He would talk about how language had evolved, mostly due to political correctness. Battle fatigue has become PTSD. Used cars are now pre-owned. Stewardesses are now flight attendants. Deaf people are hearing impaired & a person isn’t blind but has a visual impairment. I could go on but you get the point. Carlin was at his best when he was dissecting the idiocy of political correctness, something it seems like he hated as much as I do. That alone vaults him to the top of this list, despite everything he believed in that I disagree with.

50 Favorite TV Shows…..50-41

I ran some numbers on this list just for fun.

As far as network representation, NBC has 21 shows, ABC 11, CBS 9, The WB/CW, ESPN, and HBO have 2 each, USA & MTV each have 1, and there are 2 shows that are/were strictly first run syndicated. Curiously enough Fox has apparently never produced a show that frosted my cupcake all that much.

18 of my choices were mainly 80’s shows, 14 were 90’s shows, 4 came and went before I was even born (ahhh…the magic of reruns), and only 5 shows emanate from this century (2000 and beyond for those of you in Wyoming County, WV who might be having a friend from civilization trained in the literary arts reading this to you). Only 8 are still in production.

27 of my selections are comedies and 11 are dramas. A couple of shows are the difficult to pigeonhole hybrid dramedy, and then we have a game show, a couple of soap operas (thanks to my childhood babysitter), four late night comedy talk shows, two sports talk shows, and a few shows that simply cannot be categorized.

This information may not interest anyone but me, but I found it thought-provoking.

Now, onto the first ten selections!!

 

 

50     Dawson’s Creek

          WB 1998-2003

I always found the crew from Capeside, Mass. To be far more interesting than those other high schoolers on the left coast that resided in the 90210 zip code.


 

49     Sanford & Son                      

          NBC 1972-77    

My Dad and my Papaw Jim loved the adventures of junkyard magnate Fred Sanford and his son Lamont. I always got a kick out of the banter between Fred and his sister-in-law Aunt Esther. This show was cancelled when I was 5 years old, but reruns were so ubiquitous throughout the 80’s that it was never really off the air.

 

 

48     Three’s Company

          ABC 1977-84

As a red-blooded American pre-pubescent boy I had an appreciation for “jiggle TV”, a term which makes me laugh now. The explicit, craptastic vulgarity so pervasive on television today makes this show seem like religious programming in comparison. In an early season of the 90’s hit Friends the characters are watching an old rerun and someone sardonically says “Oh…I think this is the episode of Three’s Company where there’s some kind of misunderstanding.”, which pretty much encapsulates the show perfectly. It wasn’t exactly Shakespeare, but I think maybe it flies under the radar when looking back at past great comedies.

 

 

47     The Waltons

          CBS 1972-81

The vast majority of this show’s original run came when I was too young to appreciate good quality television, but reruns were plentiful throughout the 80’s. One would not think a family drama about a large family’s triumphs & tragedies during The Great Depression would be all that entertaining, but I must say, television would be much better off if more family friendly, morally upright, well written shows like The Waltons were still around.

 

 

46     The Golden Girls

          NBC 1985-92

Here we have another premise that would seem to fly in the face of conventional wisdom but proves that maybe all that mumbo jumbo about target demographics and appealing to a younger audience isn’t always accurate. Who would think that a teenage boy would enjoy a show about a group of female seasoned citizens relishing the autumn of their years with the vitality (and libido) of women half their age??

 

 

45     Batman                                  

          NBC 1966-68

Spiderman is okay. Superman is…well…super. But for my money the coolest superhero of all time is Batman. He’s not from another planet. He isn’t the result    of some lab mishap. He doesn’t have any super powers. He’s just an ordinary guy that happens to be filthy rich, psychologically damaged, and dresses in a cowl & cape to exact vigilante justice on bad guys. And while the big screen versions of the story (both the 90’s Tim Burton flicks and Christopher Nolan’s gloomy vision) are more in line with the gritty tone of the comic books, I really love the campy, kitschy cheesiness of the 60’s TV show starring Adam West & Burt Ward (with the well-known rogues gallery of villains played by folks like Burgess Meredith, Caesar Romero, Eartha Kitt, and Frank Gorshin). It was on before I was born of course, but when Burton revived interest in The Caped Crusader two decades ago old reruns started showing up on television and I was instantly hooked.

 

44     The Love Boat

          ABC 1977-86

I’ve not been on a cruise…yet. But when the time comes how cool would it be to find love with another passenger, have dinner at the Captain’s table, and get drinks from a bartender as cool as Isaac?? Love Boat served as a side job for many past-their-prime TV & movie stars, who played passengers. This concept kept the show fresh for a few years longer than it otherwise may have been since the main cast were actually just supporting players on a weekly basis. And let’s talk about the disco infused theme song!! I’ll admit publicly that I still…25+ years later…randomly belt it out (badly) on occasion.

 

43     Full House

          ABC 1987-95

Cute babies?? Check. A saccharine sweet TV Dad no real father could ever live up to?? Check. A lil beefcake for the ladies?? Check. Conflicts that were all easily solved and wrapped up with a very special life lesson in less than 30 minutes?? Check. This wasn’t anywhere near the cutting edge, but rather a show that knew exactly how to push all the right buttons and did so with reasonable success for nearly a decade. It’s what we all seemed to prefer back in the day.

 

42     Newhart                                 

          CBS 1982-90

Some from an older generation might prefer comedian Bob Newhart’s previous effort, the 1970’s sitcom The Bob Newhart Show, in which he played a Chicago shrink hilariously interacting with co-workers and patients. However, I lean toward Newhart’s second foray into TV in which he played a Vermont innkeeper & author hilariously interacting with employees and townsfolk. This show produced undoubtedly one of the greatest series finales in the history of television on May 21, 1990 (less than 2 weeks before my high school graduation).

 

41         Coach

          ABC 1989-97

In 1983 Craig T. Nelson played a hardnosed high school football coach in the film All the Right Moves, one of Tom Cruise’s early stops on the upward climb to superstardom. Six years later Nelson would again play a football coach, this time at a fictional Minnesota college in quite possibly one of the more underrated sitcoms of the 1990’s. Curmudgeonly Coach Fox’s interactions with his two blundering assistant coaches, Luther & Dauber, were the centerpiece of the amusement, as was the relationship with his classy, way out of his league girlfriend.