Remember when they were making predictions about the death of sitcoms? Scripted comedy would soon be replaced with wall-to-wall reality television. Turns out, rumors of the death of sitcoms has been greatly exaggerated. Not only is it still TV’s dominant art form, but it’s also become more sophisticated, thanks to modern shows like Veep, Black-ish, and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt taking the sitcom format in new and more adventurous directions.
It’s been exactly 70 years since the first 30 minute U.S. sitcom, Mary Kay and Johnny—about a bank employee and his “zany, but not dumb” wife—made its premiere on NBC. A lot has changed since those early days. Let’s celebrate the anniversary by looking back on 30 of the most hilarious jokes in the long and always side-splitting history of sitcoms. For more sitcom laughs, check out the 30 Funniest Sitcom Characters Of All Time.
Jim takes a driving test; Taxi (ABC, 1978-1982)
Never has an ensemble worked together so perfectly as this scene from beloved sitcom Taxi, in which Reverend Jim Ignatowski — played by Christopher Lloyd, the crazy scientist from Back to the Future — needs help passing his driver’s license test. The miscommunication reaches hilarious heights when he asks the group, “What does a yellow light mean?” We won’t spoil it for you, but it’s really, really funny. To be a better driver than Reverend Jim, be sure to Rule the Road with These Smart Driving Strategies.
“No soup for you!”; Seinfeld (NBC, 1989-1998)
We still feel a little nervous ordering soup thanks to this classic Seinfeld episode from their seventh season, in which Yev Kassem (played by Larry Thomas), the so-called “Soup Nazi,” demands such blind obedience and order from his customers that one step out of line, one unsolicited comment, could get them banned for life. And for more on “the show about nothing,” here are the 24 Best Life Lessons Seinfeld Taught You.
The chocolate conveyor belt; I Love Lucy (CBS, 1951-1957)
Not all sitcom jokes require witty one-liners. Just check out this classic scene from I Love Lucy, in which Lucille Ball and her pal Ethel try not to get fired at the chocolate factory (and prove to their husbands that a job is easier than housework) by keeping up with the conveyor belts. When things start moving faster than they expected, they shove chocolates wherever they can hide them, including their mouths. This is pure slapstick brilliance. And for more brilliance, check out these 20 Celebrities Who Look Just Like Their Pets.
”Pivot, pivot, pivot!”; Friends (NBC, 1994-2004)
Ross (played by Dave Schwimmer) needs a little help moving a couch into his new apartment, so he enlists Rachel and Chandler. It doesn’t go as planned, despite his cries of “Pivot! Piv-ot! Piv-et!! Piv-ett!!! Piv-et!!!” Who knew just shouting the same word over and over again wouldn’t magically change the flexibility of furniture? It’s scenes like this that prove why Friends is one of the 30 Funniest Sitcoms of All Time.
Homer teaches his kids about failure; The Simpsons (Fox, 1989-Present)
Homer Simpson is quite possibly the worst father in TV history. But the poor guy always tried, like his did in this episode from season five. When Marge remarks to Homer than their children are seeming despondent about a day that didn’t go as planned, the patriarch turns to them and says, “Kids, you tried your best and you failed miserably. The lesson is never try.” Worst… advice… ever. And for more bad jokes, here are 75 Jokes So Bad They’re Actually Funny.
Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard, Spock; The Big Bang Theory (CBS, 2007-Present)
Dr. Sheldon Cooper, the scientist (played by Jim Parsons) who thinks he’d have to lose 60 IQ points to be classified as just “smart,” has a better way to play the ol’ Rock-Paper-Scissors game. In his version — Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard, Spock — scissors cuts paper, paper covers rock, rock crushes lizard, lizard poisons Spock, Spock smashes scissors, scissors decapitates lizard… well, we’ll let him explain the rest.
Too early for stupid questions; Cheers (NBC, 1982-1993)
Norm (played by George Wendt) had some of the best one-liners on Cheers, especially about his favorite subject, beer. Any time Woody the bartender asked if he was thirsty, something hilarious was sure to come out of his mouth. Once, when Woody asked if he was ready for a beer, Norm responded, “Little early in the day isn’t it, Woody?” The stunned bartender responded, “Little early for a beer?” Norm shot back, without missing a beat, “No, for stupid questions.” Classic. And for more classic TV moments, here are the 30 Oscars Telecast Jokes That Totally Bombed.
Health insurance for hot dog fingers; The Office (NBC, 2005-2013)
When Dwight — played to perfection by Rainn Wilson — takes over picking a new health care plan for the office, his coworkers Jim and Pam have some fun at his expense, coming up with an array of diseases they need covered. Dwight is unconvinced that anybody from the office suffers from leprosy, flesh-eating bacteria, Hot Dog Fingers, Spontaneous Dental Hydroplosion, or Government Created Nanorobot Infection. And for less scripted hilarity, here are the 30 Funniest Reality Show Moments of All Time.
Sammy Davis Jr. kisses Archie Bunker; All in the Family (CBS, 1971-1979)
If all the taxicabs in all the world that crooner Sammy Davis, Jr could’ve left his briefcase, it had to be found by Archie Bunker, the biggest bigot in sitcom history (played by Carroll O’Connor). When Sammy comes to the Bunker house to retrieve it, Archie is on his best behavior, at least until the Rat Pack legend plants a big kiss on his cheek. It was a shocking moment when it first aired in 1972, and the look on Archie’s face says everything you need to know about race relations at the time.
The Fresh Prince needs a sandwich; The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (NBC, 1990-1996)
Will Smith isn’t about to be told that he’s spoiled or has lost touch with his Philly roots. Unless it means giving up his gorgonzola croissant sandwiches, heavy on the Grey Poupon. When he realizes his hypocrisy, he decides to make a change… but after the sandwich. “I’m just not gonna enjoy it,” he adds.
Larry David feels pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty good; Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO, 2000-Present)
Larry David, everyone’s favorite curmudgeon, didn’t make a convincing case to his psychiatrist when explaining why he didn’t need therapy anymore. He wasn’t just feeling good, he assured the doctor, he was “feeling pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty good.” All those extra adjectives became an instant shorthand for overselling something that you may not entirely believe. And for more great laughs, know that This Video of Jimmy Kimmel and Matt Damon Insulting Each Other Is the Funniest Thing You’ll See All Day.
Tobias the never nude; Arrested Development (Fox, 2003-2006)
Tobias Fünke (played by David Cross) managed to be one of the biggest oddballs in a family of oddballs. On top of his obsession for joining the cast of Blue Man Group, he also suffered from a rare psychological condition called Never-Nudeness — “It affects dozens of people,” he insisted. “Dozens!” — in which he was never comfortable being completely naked. Whether in the shower or at the doctor’s office, he would only strip down to a pair of super-tight cut-off jean shorts.
Frasier talks like a man; Frasier (NBC, 1993-2004)
Radio psychiatrist Frasier Crane (played by Kelsey Grammer) tries his best to help a co-worker deal with a breakup, but his old tricks aren’t working. “Can you stop being a shrink and just be like a guy?” the patient asks. Frasier digs deep and summons his inner dude, and the results are like nothing we’ve ever heard coming out of the normally reserved doctor’s mouth.
“Oh my God, they killed Kenny!”; South Park (Comedy Central, 1997-Present)
Poor Kenny, the kid with the jacket pulled too tight over his face, who could never manage to survive even one episode of this long-running show (at least until season six, when he died permanently). Whether he was being crushed by volcano boulders or imploding after overeating antacid tablets, his friends always reacted with the same outrage… before quickly moving on.
Jerome is in the house; Martin (Fox, 1992-1997)
Nobody made an entrance quite like Jermone, one of the best and most consistently funny characters from Martin Lawrence’s wildly popular show. Jerome is loud, he likes speaking in rhyme — “Jerome’s in the houuuuuse/watch ya moooooouth” — and he may have some dental issues. But he’s always hilarious.
“I see nothing, I hear nothing, and I say nothing!”; Hogan’s Heroes (CBS, 1965-1971)
A sitcom set in a German prisoner-of-war camp in World War II sounds like the least funny premise ever, but this series managed to pull off some hilarious moments. Our favorite will always be Sergeant Schultz, the bumbling, overweight guard who gets easily flustered and anxious whenever he catches Hogan or his fellow prisoners cooking up another scheme. “I was not here,” he says in one especially funny scene. “I did not even get up this morning!”
Roseanne works as a waitress; Roseanne (ABC, 1988-1997)
When Roseanne — played, of course, by the inimitable Roseanne Barr — decided to find a new job as a waitress, the results are exactly what you think they’ll be. “I’ve got a Salisbury steak and a Swiss steak,” she tells one of her first customers. “Who gets the Salisbury steak? Okay then, you’d be the person to ask: which one is it?” Then she drops the food on their table and says, “Enjoy your, uh, thing.” Fine dining at its worst, and funniest. And to keep the good times rolling, don’t miss these 100 Awesome Facts About Everything.
David Brent is a dancing machine; The Office (BBC, 2001)
Before the American version, there was the original British Office starring Ricky Gervais as the painfully inept boss. In this highlight (or maybe lowlight), Brent volunteers to dance for charity, sharing a style that he says fused Flashdance with MC Hammer. It’s unspeakably horrible, with more kicking and finger pointing anybody should have to endure.
The Parks and Rec gang try to cross ice rink; Parks and Recreation (NBC, 2009-2015)
Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) announces her campaign for city council in the worst (i.e. funniest) way possible, with a rally at an ice hockey rink. When the red carpet runs out, Leslie and her staff have to slip and slide towards the podium, to a constant loop of Gloria Estefan’s “Get On Your Feet.” It’s sublime physical comedy, which ends with a three-legged dog peeing on Ron Swanson’s leg.
Charlie tries to get a date online; It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (FX, 2005- present)
If you think the best way to make a first impression on an online dating profile is take a picture of yourself covered in hornet stings, and confess your love of milksteak, ghouls, and magnets, then you’re either insane or a character from this madcap sitcom.
All the public service announcements; M*A*S*H (CBS, 1972-1983)
In a series filled with laugh-out-loud jokes, some of our favorites came from the random PA announcements (voiced by either Todd Susman or Sal Viscus). They either mocked the food —”Due to conditions beyond our control, we regret to announce that lunch is now being served” — or the evening’s entertainment — “Due to the shortage of oil and wood, tonight’s movie will be burned at 1800.” Although we never saw the faces behind those quips, they stole the show on more than one occasion.
Jack helps with Tracy’s therapy; 30 Rock (NBC, 2006-2013)
Network exec Jack Donaghy (played by Alec Baldwin) needs his star performer Tracy Jordan (i.e. Tracy Morgan) to be mentally healthy, so he volunteers to help with the comedian’s therapy, standing in as Tracy’s “father” and other members of his sometimes abusive family. What follows manages to be both shockingly inappropriate and some of the best TV comedy of the modern era.
”As God as my witness, I thought turkeys could fly.”; WKRP in Cincinnati (CBS, 1978-1982)
Arthur Carlson, general manager of the low-rated Cincinnati radio station WKRP, thinks he has a fool-proof promotion idea. Without telling anybody his plans, he drops dozens of turkeys from a helicopter during a Thanksgiving celebration, which end up “hitting the ground like bags of wet cement,” as his horrified correspondent reports. So gruesome, but so, so funny.
Robin Sparkles goes to the mall, and sings about it; How I Met Your Mother (CBS, 2005-2014)
Everybody has a few skeletons in their past, but nothing quite like Robin Scherbatsky (played by Cobie Smulders), whose friends learn that she was once a teen-aged pop singer named Robin Sparkles. She even had a hit song and an excruciatingly awful video called “Let’s Go To The Mall.” No matter how embarrassing your teen years felt, they were never as bad as this.
Mary Tyler Moore’s job interview; The Mary Tyler Moore Show (CBS, 1970-1977)
On the show’s very first episode, Mary, the girl who could turn the world on with her smile, meets her future boss Lou Grant (played by the brilliant Ed Asner), and the interview doesn’t go exactly as planned. “You know what, you’ve got spunk,” Grant snarls at her. “I hate spunk.” It was the beginning of a classic and oft-imitated workplace relationship (see Leslie Knope and Ron Swanson), but it was never more barbed or hilarious than in that opening moment.
David Duchovny’s crush on Larry; The Larry Sanders Show (HBO, 1992-1998)
The single best running joke in this groundbreaking sitcom was X-Files actor David Duchovny’s supposed fixation on host Larry Sanders (played by Garry Shandling). So many jaw-dropping but hilarious moments, from Larry claiming that Duchovny gazes at him “like he’s lost himself in me” to a visit between the two men in which Duchovny wears only a bathrobe and, in a nod to Basic Instinct’s notorious scene, uncrosses his legs.
Fred Sanford has (another) heart attack; Sanford and Son (NBC, 1972-1977)
When Fred Sanford (played by the comedy icon Redd Foxx) couldn’t get his way, which was invariably, he’d pretend to have a heart attack, clutching his chest and shouting “This is the big one! I’m dyin’! You hear that Elizabeth? I’m coming to join you, honey!” Of course it never worked.
Fruit of the Month Club; Everybody Loves Raymond (CBS, 1996-2005)
Loyal son Raymond (comedian Ray Romano) signs up his parents for a “Fruit of the Month” club, in which a new crate of fruit will be delivered to their house every month. He thought they’d be excited for the gift that “keeps on giving,” but they’re both enraged and confused. “What do you think we are, invalids?” his father, played by Peter Boyle, screams. “We can’t go out and get our own fruits?!”
The old lady with the hearing aid; Fawlty Towers (BBC, 1975-1979)
Do yourself a favor and watch the entire episode, called “Communication Problems,” where seaside hotel owner Basil Fawlty (played masterfully by John Cleese) has to contend with an irritable guest who’s partially deaf but refuses to turn up her hearing aid lest it “run down the batteries.” When he turns the tables on her, torturing the cranky old lady just as much as she’s tortured him, it’s like a comedy cage match.
Dick Van Dyke brings home the wrong baby; The Dick Van Dyke Show (CBS, 1961-1966)
A legendary moment that still holds the record as the longest laugh from a studio audience. (Don’t bother timing it, most of the laughter was edited out for broadcast.) New father Rob (played by Van Dyke) is convinced that their baby was accidentally switched at the hospital with another family with their same last name, but his wife (Mary Tyler Moore) is unconvinced. The surprise ending, where they meet the other family, remains one of the best switcheroos in sitcom history. And to hear some jokes that totally bombed, check out the 30 Oscars Telecast Jokes That Totally Bombed.
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