The Greatest TV Comedies

I was talking with a good friend of mine about which sitcoms were the funniest TV shows of all-time.  Obviously, this is an extremely subjective list since the sense of humor between people is vastly different.  Still, it’s fun to think about.

When I was a junior in high school, my American History class was required to create a presentation for the teacher.  My topic was the History of American Comedy.  I spent countless hours putting together a montage video (yes, DVDs weren’t readily available in my junior year) of different comedians and TV show scenes to make everyone laugh.  I’m proud to admit that I received the highest grade in the class and my teacher was thoroughly impressed.*

* When I stumbled on the report (the video is probably long gone or was taped over with a baseball game), I laughed all over again.  Although I will admit that my high grade was partially no doubt due to the fact that my teacher had a great sense of humor and some of the clips I showed were downright hilarious.  The presentation and video totaled over 25 minutes … far longer than the 10 minute recommended time.

Again, this is simply my favorite comedies of all time – TV shows that always make me laugh, no matter how many times I watch the episodes.  I encourage debate.

15. Beavis & Butt-head – Between the music video critique and the (for the time) crude language, this show made me laugh all the time.  I will admit that I find myself watching the music video segments more than the episodes at this stage of my life (more for reminiscing the music itself), but the stories still make me laugh.  When I found out that the series is coming back, well, it made me laugh all over again.  Mike Judge is the reason I still laugh when I hear dirty word.  Once you get Butt-head’s laugh in your mind, it’s very hard to eliminate.  “He said ‘hard’.”

14. Upright Citizens Brigade – A sketch show starring improv comics.  The four founders of UCB Comedy Theater (Matt Walsh, Ian Roberts, Matt Besser and Amy Poehler) recreated some of their most memorable improvised sketches from their stage show and put them on Comedy Central.  Two of my all-time favorites are “Ass Pennies” and “The Little Donny Foundation“.

13. Entourage – Follow around a movie star as he shows just how cool Hollywood life can be.  That would have been all I’d need to hear.  I loved this show, the honesty and the humor, and I’m sorry to see it go after 8 seasons.

12. The League – An almost entirely improvised show, it centers around a fantasy football league members and is really just a half-hour of ball-busting and dick jokes.  And it makes me want to learn about football, which really says something.  It’s just about to start season 3, and has a total of 18 episodes, which is why it doesn’t rank higher.

11. Family Guy – It’s a brilliantly offensive show that pushes the limit with every episode, whether it’s a song making fun of Down’s Syndrome or AIDS, or discussing the importance of human flatulence.  Some people view the haphazard storytelling as cheap, but it’s hard to argue with it’s success.  The show was canceled on Fox, found new life in reruns on Adult Swim, then made a HUGE resurgence.  And to think, creator Seth MacFarlane was originally scheduled to be on one of the hijacked flights on 9/11, but overslept.

10. Seinfeld – The “show about nothing” was funny week in and week out, and gave birth to some of our society’s most memorable lexicon – “yada, yada, yada”, “master of my domain”, “not that there’s anything wrong with that” … the list goes on.  And I dare anyone to see a scene on any TV show with Wayne Knight and not think to yourself, “Hello, Newman.”

9. All in the Family – In the 1970s, the country was still getting used to civil rights and many people were very much still prejudiced.  Archie Bunker was one of those people.  He was a racist and a bigot, and yet amazingly lovable.  Seeing Rob Reiner and Sally Struthers before they each grew to the size of a house is also incredibly enjoyable.

8. The Office (US and UK versions) – I know it’s blasphemy to combine the two, since they are different, but it’s my list.  The British version, created by and starring the great Ricky Gervais, is a testament to the “less in more” approach that is lost in American TV.  Gervais made a total of 12 episodes over two seasons, then came back a year later with a 90-minute special that wrapped up everything.  The American version was more of an ensemble work, which will become even more apparent now that leading man Steve Carrell has left.  The US version gets a little long sometimes, usually because our TV seasons tend to run around 20 episodes and the weekly plots can sometimes be thin, but it is still a solid show that can guarantee several laughs in each episode.

7. Modern Family – I hope that when I grow older, my family is as funny as this.  It’s only entering it’s 3rd season, but the first two are so jam-packed with laughs, and is always a threat to sweep the Emmys, that it’s hard to ignore.

6. South Park – A show that began as an in office goof amongst co-workers has become the single biggest envelope-pushing show on TV.  Whether they’re accusing Tom Cruise of being gay or calling out the Family guy writers as inept, no one is off limits.  Even in the earlier seasons, they made fun of Sally Struthers’ attempts to help homeless African children and made claims that Barbara Streisand was one of the most evil people on the planet.  It can always remain topical due to the fact that the episodes take roughly 4 days (The Simpsons, by comparison, take about 32 days to draw) to make, thanks to mostly computer animation.

5. Arrested Development – The Bluth family may have been one of the most dysfunctional families in TV history … and one of the funniest.  It’s one of the first shows I can remember that didn’t use a laugh track.  Unfortunately, the humor was so over the heads of so many people, that the ratings dropped and it was canceled.  It would have been higher on my list had it lasted more than 3 seasons … but there’s always the possibility of a movie.

4. Married … with Children – Behind Homer Simpson, there might not be a funnier TV father than Al Bundy, the shoe-salesman from Chicago.  Yet, no matter how much he despised his wife and children, he (almost) always put their happiness ahead of his own.  This show is almost as true a representation of married life as a show can get (today’s “reality” shows are not reality at all).  This show also had one of my all-time favorite guest spots when legendary comedian Sam Kinison played Al’s guardian angel in a horribly hysterical spoof of “It’s a Wonderful Life”, where Kinison showed Al just how much better everyone’s lives would be if Al was dead.  In true “Married” fashion, Al chose to live because he didn’t want his family to be happy.

3. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – I’m partial to shows without laugh tracks because I hate being told what’s funny.  This show is improvised (like Curb), but the characters are much more devious and rude … making it one of the funniest shows on TV.  Think “Seinfeld”, but with more vulgar themes – like finding a baby in a dumpster and poisoning flip-cup opponents.  Also, when the lone female character says that her pregancy “sucks a bag of dicks,” you know you have a winning comedy.

2. Curb Your Enthusiasm – Anytime you can take one of the funniest men alive, Larry David, and put him at the center of a completely improvised show, you will have a gold mine.  CYE makes me laugh out loud due in large part to how much I relate to Larry.  He voices what we all think, without hesitation or thought of repercussion.  The beauty of the show, year in and year out, is the knowledge that Larry himself has stated that he will never air a show if he isn’t completely satisfied with the end product.

1. The Simpsons – Not a day goes by where I don’t make or think of at least one Simpsons reference.  My brothers (and my father) have watched every episode for the past 23 years.  This is a show that has referenced just about everything imaginable.  The guest star list is full of A-list celebs* from 3/4 of the Beatles to numerous sports stars and other Hollywood legends.  It is showing no sign of slowing down and even the movie was hilarious.  For me, it’s been my #1 comedy since the mid-90s.

* Rumor has it that Homer Simpson himself attempted to get Prince William and his new wife Kate Middleton for this season – we’ll find out when season 24 premieres this fall.  The invitation can be found here.

There are obviously some glaring omissions – Friends, Sex and the City, Scrubs, Three’s Company, Weeds, 30 Rock, Frasier, Cheers, and many others.  I’m not saying that those shows aren’t funny … I love all of them.  But this is a list of shows that, if I see on the TV Guide, I have to watch for at least one segment.  These are shows that I have looked up scenes online in the middle of the work day because they’ll make my day a little brighter.  And that is the test of a true comedy.  Again, I welcome your feedback.

What are your favorites?

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