You *can* do that on television.
December 16, 2017 1:27 PM   Subscribe

25 Comedy Writers Pick Their Most Influential TV Episodes - Part 1, Part 2 (Josh Sorokach & Joe Reid, We had no idea what to expect when we reached out to 25 successful comedy professionals — the minds behind some of the best shows on TV, from The Good Place to You’re the Worst to Playing House — and asked them to write about the TV episode that inspired them to pursue a career in comedy. Their responses were passionate, insightful, nostalgic, and emblematic of the fact that inspiration comes in all forms. Were they motivated by a character? A concept? A clever turn of phrase? We’re presenting their answers to you in full, in their own words.
posted by Room 641-A (18 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
God I love that Gilda Radner special...God I miss her :(

But if I had to pick a favorite episode ever, I would have to go with The Dick Van Dyke Show: The Curious Thing About Women [SLYT]...srsly check it out...the timing...omg...and the plot structure is just damn brilliant.

Also: Futurama: 300 Big Boys [a somewhat sketchier website] ...another one that's wonderful on plot structure, a great ensemble episode, and one of the weirdest cameos ever...
posted by sexyrobot at 2:57 PM on December 16, 2017 [6 favorites]

I checked to see if anyone mentioned The Story of Everest. Turns out it had been picked twice. While it would have been more in the spirit of the bit for it to have been picked all twenty-five times (to the increasing agitation of the article’s editor), I’ll settle for two picks.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 3:20 PM on December 16, 2017 [17 favorites]

I am definitely not a comedy writer but for me, it's BBC's 'The Young Ones' "Oil" (parts [1], [2], [3]) from 1982.
posted by glonous keming at 3:26 PM on December 16, 2017 [7 favorites]

The Mr Show sketch I think about the most is probably "America Blows Up the Moon" but there are many good choices there.

Also, that Adventures of Pete and Pete episode is so good. I still think "Passengers will refrain from KILLING MY SOUL!!" from time to time. What a great show that was.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 3:35 PM on December 16, 2017 [5 favorites]

The Seinfeld episode "The Betrayal" is indeed a very clever piece of writing. Lauren Smith doesn't indicate if she knew this or not, but the Seinfeld writers took their inspiration from the 1978 Harold Pinter play The Betrayal, which is story told in reverse.

The whole "Peter/Pinter" storyline in the episode is a nod to the playwright on purpose.
posted by JoeZydeco at 3:50 PM on December 16, 2017 [4 favorites]

I'm happy that Rachele Lynn pointed out that Endless Mike is perfectly named. A school bully named Endless Mike Hellstrom is character naming elevated to high art, it's one of those minor perfect creative choices that never gets enough praise.
posted by jason_steakums at 4:20 PM on December 16, 2017 [5 favorites]

I LOVE "300 Big Boys"!
posted by bleep at 5:11 PM on December 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'm so old I can remember when television was a vast wasteland.
posted by Bruce H. at 7:13 PM on December 16, 2017 [3 favorites]

When I was a kid the list was just Lucy at the candy factory and Mary vs. Chuckles the Clown...AND WE LIKED IT.
posted by rhizome at 7:19 PM on December 16, 2017 [7 favorites]

These were a couple of excellent articles. At a time where more movies and TV shows seem to be about comedians, it’s great to also have articles about how comedy inspires people to become comics themselves.

Also, props to Decider that their subjects included a lot of women and people of color (even if it was just one woman of color).
posted by ejs at 7:21 PM on December 16, 2017 [2 favorites]

(The episode of O'Grady (and omg H Jon Benjamin was in that?) where everybody gets amnesia is also very funny)
posted by sexyrobot at 10:04 PM on December 16, 2017 [2 favorites]

My mom and I used to watch Murphy Brown together, religiously. The episode “Waiting to Inhale” is the one for me - a late series (final season?) entrant, when the show was already feeling like it had overstayed its welcome but did its best to end with dignity. In it, Murphy had been diagnosed with breast cancer and was going through chemo. Her friends spent the episode trying to help by procuring medical marijuana.

Both hysterical and heartbreaking, people probably remember it mostly for the fact that two characters smoke pot on screen, but that wasn’t the big deal for me. It felt so human to watch people I’d come to love over the years struggle with sadness in such a relatable way. I wouldn’t know anyone in real life with a cancer diagnosis for many more years (and then, I knew too many, too well) but Murphy was such a part of my life it felt like a dear friend was sick and the show dealt with it the way I ultimately would - by trying to make things better through laughter.

Somehow I managed to get to LA after college. My first job was at an agency working for a TV agent. In a strange twist of fate, she represented the writing team that won the Emmy for this episode. When I found the script in her files I made a copy and read it over and over again, I gushed to the guys when I first met them - this episode changed my life - i wanted them to know they’d made a difference.

Now I get to make television shows I hope have one fraction of the effect on people that that show had on me. When people ask me how I got here, “Waiting to Inhale” always gets the credit.
posted by buzzkillington at 12:56 AM on December 17, 2017 [16 favorites]

The Young Ones blew my young mind as a kid in the early 80s in the culture-free American suburbs.

The show that had the biggest impact on me was Carl Sagan’s Cosmos.
posted by persona au gratin at 2:54 AM on December 17, 2017 [2 favorites]

In terms of a single episode...

One night in the late 1980s, I switched over to watch the Alexei Sayle programme - I think it was Stuff - and there was an announcement at the beginning to say that the episode had been cancelled and replaced with an episode of the police show Juliet Bravo. I thought "This is Alexei messing with us", but the programme went through the Juliet Bravo opening credits, then the establishing murder scene, then a scene with the lead actress from Juliet Bravo. By this time it's several minutes in, and all we've had is an average episode of Juliet Bravo. Just as I'm about to accept that it's actually just an episode of Juliet Bravo, give up and switch over to something else, the door opens and in walks Alexei Sayle dressed as a bee with a policeman's hat on.

Because they'd used a real continuity announcer, and because in the 1980s all the programmes made in-house at the BBC were made with exactly the same resources, the fake Juliet Bravo was literally indistinguishable from the real thing. Python had done fake continuity a lot, of course, but you could always tell it was Eric Idle trying to do a serious voice. The closest to that was listening to Chris Morris' show on GLR around 1990, which was filled with perfectly-made fake news reports such that when the real news came on at the end of the two hours it was suddenly hilarious. The Day Today had a similar effect, though it didn't quite shred reality the way Morris' radio show had. But the Alexei Sayle thing was a straight up face-off between the programme makers and the audience.
posted by Grangousier at 3:23 AM on December 17, 2017 [11 favorites]

So pleased that Rob Corddry was in here; he's one of my favorites. Childrens Hospital was so funny and so constantly surprising that I don't understand why I don't hear more people talking about it still.

I too adore the Story of Everest. One of the times that I watched that sketch was one of the times in my life that I most memorably laughed myself into tears and cramps, and so did my companion, until we fell all over the place, short of breath, braying like idiots. But if I had to pick just one episode of Mr. Show, it would be the second one, What to Think. Every sketch is terrific, and the overarching story is so sharp. That sketch with Marshall testing Jesus' patience is one of those things that I force on people. I feel like I heard a thousand iterations of that shitty farmer joke when I was a kid, so the musical at the end is the best. And every time I see a new network TV show that throws around light curse words just to be edgy, I think about the burger ad.

Since somebody picked Dana Carvey on SNL, I have to plug that new documentary about the Dana Carvey Show, Too Funny to Fail. It's thoroughly entertaining.
posted by heatvision at 4:38 AM on December 17, 2017 [4 favorites]

One of my favorite episodes of any show ever was News Radio's "The Public Domain" - in this episode, Andrea is brought in to assess re-allocation of work resources (i.e. maybe firing more people). So Dave is especially on-edge, trying to keep everyone focused.

In the episode Mr. James is being filmed for a documentary, and Matthew (who has been fired) is trying to sneak his way back into the office, Joe is occupied with putting out fires and chasing Matthew out of the building.

but the real standout is (rest his soul) Phil Hartman, who is trying out his politcal-satire musical talents, and ends up stationed in an elevator taking requests (using Public Domain jingles married with 90s politics), giving us gems like "Twinkle Twinkle Little star.... special Whitewater prose-cute-arrrrr"
posted by Dressed to Kill at 1:43 PM on December 17, 2017

Gilda did a cleaner version of Tiny Kingdoms on SNL.

There's a recent doc about Rose Marie in which she makes clear her disappointment that the focus of The DVD show shifted from his job to his marriage.
posted by brujita at 3:55 PM on December 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

I love that Mitch Hedberg's unique brilliance is being preserved.
posted by DrAstroZoom at 7:04 AM on December 18, 2017

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