Oh, comedy nerds. Of all the left-brained downers that are killing our favorite pastimes, the comedy nerd community is the most obsessive. Whereas the guys who work at Nielsen and the interns who feed sports broadcasters all those random statistics actually have raw data to work with, we comedy nerds examine something entirely subjective — humor — and assign it labels, definitions, and graphs. Like other unknowns in nature, we believe that with enough analysis we can answer the epic question “What makes something funny?” and thus become masters of humor, enjoying the respect of our comedy idols.
But the gods have noticed, and lashed out at us the way they do to any pretentious ambition: satire. Some of our favorite characters have revealed themselves to be closet comedy posers. And we aren’t talking about the traditional, pop-culture loving nerds (The Simpsons’ Comic Book Guy or Community’s Abed Nadir). Nor are we talking about characters who are professional comedians (Liz Lemon, Jerry Seinfeld, Larry David) — clearly if they’re getting paid to write comedy, they’re funny enough to not be considered “nerds.”
Comedy nerds, rather, share one defining characteristic in common: in trying so hard to understand comedy, we misunderstand it more than the average person. To us, comedy is like a toastmaster workshop, performing in community theater, or writing guest columns for the local newspaper. We believe being funny is a skill that can be refined and improved with repetition, and eventually mastered… so long we do our homework.
Here are the top 5 comedy nerds on television:
5. Phil Dunphy — Modern Family
Ty Burell’s Phil Dunphy may evoke the biggest laughs with his pratfalls, but his intentional attempts at comedy reveal his true nature. In the season 2 episode “Strangers on a Treadmill,” Claire struggles with telling her husband — who leaps at every pun opportunity — that his jokes aren’t funny. He takes a great deal of pride in crafting material for a realtor banquet, yet to everyone’s surprise, his corny real estate jokes are a big hit. But that still doesn’t make up for, “So they’ve asked me to Phil in.” Nothing ever will.
4. Pierce Hawthorne — Community
Whereas most men his age and wealth would retire into a miserable, decades-long existence of voting Republican and soaking up Social Security dollars, Chevy Chase’s Pierce Hawthorne refuses to be pigeonholed as a helpless old coot. Among the ways he tries to feign relevance are his futile attempts at comedy, evidenced by racist and occasionally interminable jokes and his brief stint on the Greendale sketch group, the Greendale Goofaws. Like most comedy nerds, Pierce envies natural comedians like Jeff for receiving warm receptions with his quips. But that’s a world Pierce will never know — unless “Old White Man Says” is actually some kind of Andy Kauffman-esque charade.
3. Michael Scott — The Office
One of the ways the American version of The Office improved upon its British predecessor was revealing its boss’s inner comedy nerd. Since the pilot we’ve been familiar with Michael Scott’s tired and inappropriate jokes while on the clock, but only when the show began to follow the characters home in the second season did we see how Michael Scott spends his free time: memorizing Chris Rock routines, shooting Lazy Sunday parodies, producing an annual Dundies award show for his employees, and being “that guy” in improv classes. When asked about his heroes, Scott lists Bob Hope, Abraham Lincoln, Bono, then God — in that order. And only a true comedy nerd would get that excited about an office roast.
2. Professor Twilley — King of the Hill
Yes, you’ve probably never heard of him, but no man has thought more about comedy more than he. Professor Twilley, voiced by Paul F. Tompkins in the season 10 episode titled “Portrait of an Artist as a Young Clown,” makes Bobby Hill’s carefully rehearsed classroom antics look like raw, Farley-natural talent. Bobby, hoping to hone his skills, enrolls in Twilley’s community college clowning course, but instead he discovers a comedy nerd’s wet dream. Considering most forms of laughter to be “ill informed,” Twilley forces his class to memorize comedy flow charts and classify words as funny based on their vowel and consonant sounds. “A unicycle with six wheels?” Twilley laughs. “Oh, the number six!” Scariest of all, Twilley’s “Ha, Guffaw, Aw, Ha-ha,” formula actually turns me on a little bit.
1. Funnybot — South Park
The ultimate caricature of a comedy nerd is in fact not even human. Trey Parker and Matt Stone took aim at the comedy community this past season, simultaneously mocking both the Comedy Awards (produced by resident comedian Jimmy Valmer) and by-the-book joke manufacturers in the form of Funnybot, a German-engineered robot programmed with unlimited one-liners and a catchphrase: “Awkward!” Funnybot boasts “perfect timing within .001 milliseconds,” and packs his zingers with relevant variables: “Man, I hate doing — homework — more than I hate doing — Bryant Gumbel – in the ass hole.” It’s only fitting that Funnybot takes his act to its logical conclusion and, after slaughtering an audience of 1,100 people, tries to exterminate all living creatures on Earth. Awkward!
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Congratulations, fellow comedy nerds! We’re officially as relevant as Steve Jobs, 9/11 conspiracy theorists, and the Church of Scientology. We’re in the early days of a movement, after all, so we can’t really be picky about how we’re portrayed, so long as they at least recognize our existence. And if it means I can have something in common with Michael Scott and Phil Dunphy, I can live with that.
Erik Voss thinks it could be worse.