Sometimes, when the teams I root for are winning or losing by too much to keep the game interesting, and when the “SVU” episode on cable is one I have already seen and actually remember how it turns out, I sometimes find myself switching to a block of (the animated comedy) “Family Guy” reruns on TBS – there are some nights they show, like, six of them in a row. I like “Family Guy”, not all the time, but occasionally. Unlike other comedies on the air, they do jokes that actually make me laugh.
“Family Guy’s” creator, Seth MacFarlane, who also penned this summer’s hit comedy movie “Ted”, seems to have his finger directly on the pulse of the contemporary funnybone (if that makes any sense whatsoever.) 0As a former practitioner in the field, I find myself intrigued by the jokes MacFarlane chooses to include, his enormous success suggesting they reflect, “This is what’s funny today.”
I do not find the following joke offensive, just curious, by which I mean I wonder if I would have included a joke like this in the shows I was in charge of. I have forgotten how the joke was set up, as I did not know I’d be writing about it till the day after I watched it, and by then, I could no longer remember the details. Please forgive the incomplete reporting. I mean well, but I’m old.
Anyway, the end of the joke went like this: Peter Griffin, the lead character on “Family Guy” bumps into a wooden barrel, at which point, an animated likeness of actress Joyce DeWitt (the third most important lead character from “Three’s Company”) rises up. Peter Griffin notices her popping out of the barrel, and says,
“Joyce DeWitt! So that’s where you’ve been.”
I must admit I sort of chuckled. I am no fan of “name” jokes, but they seemed to have picked the right one. I laughed at the selection, not the joke, which I found, well…
Why don’t I let Joyce DeWitt speak for herself.
Peter Griffin delivers his line, and the screen goes black, dissolving into a series of commercials. During the break, I imagine this conversation taking place:
Animated Joyce DeWitt: Man!
Animated Peter Griffin: Excuse me?
AJD: Was that supposed to be funny?
APG: You’re talking.
AJD: It’s a commercial. I can do whatever I want.
APG: We don’t usually talk during commercials. Because they don’t write us anything to say.
AJD: They didn’t write me anything to say during the show either. I just popped up, and you slammed me.
APG: I didn’t slam you.
AJD: You did too! You did an “obscurity” joke at my expense.
APG: I didn’t do anything. I’m just a drawing from Asia. I have no control over what I say, or what I look like. If I did, I’d have made myself handsomer.
AJD: Then who is responsible?
APG: The guy who created the show. Seth MacFarlane.
AJD: Where is he? I want to talk to him.
SFX: A CONTROL BOOTH DOOR CLOSING. THEN FOOTSTEPS. THEN “FAMILY GUY’S” CREATOR AND SHOW RUNNER, SETH MACFARLANE APPEARS.
SETH MACFARLANE: What the hell is going on here?
ANIMATED PETER GRIFFIN: I believe she has a bone to pick with you. And by the way, did you know I could talk during commercials?
S.M: You can’t.
APG: Then I don’t understand.
S.M: Relax, Peter. Somebody else is writing this.
APG: Really? Even your part?
S.M: Yes. Do you think I normally converse with animated characters? I am too busy working my ass off and living the high life, a phrase, by the way, I have never uttered in my life, which is proof this is not coming from me. (TO ANIMATED JOYCE DEWITT) You were written to be a “picture” joke. You pop out of the barrel, we make fun on your career decline – Blackout! – and into commercial. This is entirely unscripted.
ANIMATED JOYCE DEWITT: I understand that, and normally, as a player currently working in the animated arena, I would perform my assigned bit, like the professional I am. But I just couldn’t live with myself if I held my tongue, was driven home in the animated car you sent for me, and that was that.
S.M: Fine. What’s the problem?
AJD: I just wanted you to know I am deeply offended by your gratuitous insult. It was easy, cheap and personally hurtful.
S.M: I can’t believe this. The whole point of doing an animated series is you don’t have to take crap from actors. South Park. The Simpsons. It’s our favorite part of the process. Nobody talks back.
AJD: Imagine I’m hanging out at home. I flip on the TV to unwind, I switch to your show, and out of the blue, I am blindsided by a joke telling millions of people that I’m a has-been loser failure.
S.M: Well you are, aren’t you?
AJD: I am a PERSON, Sir! I have a right to my dignity. And by the way, if you check Wikipedia, you will realize that aside from continuing my acting career well into the 2000’s, I co-hosted – along with Oscar Winner Mr. Jeff Bridges – The World Food Day Gala at the Kennedy Center. You most definitely owe me an apology.
S.M: Yeah, that’s not going to happen.
AJD: May I ask why not?
S.M: Listen, lady, I am very hot in comedy right now. Why? Because I’m the “Casey Jones” of the Zeitgeist Express. I know what’s funny. And what’s funny, among other things, is pot shots at nobodies who were former somebodies, and even then, nobody was exactly sure why?
Do you know who fits that category to perfection? Joyce DeWitt! We pitched a bunch of other names in the room. But when I blurted “Joyce DeWitt”, the place just fell apart. Not because I’m the boss. “Joyce DeWitt” is on the money!
AJD: But it’s mean!
S.M: That’s why it’s funny!
AJD: Not to everyone!
S.M: Well, maybe not to you and your loved one. What’s that? Like, twelve people?
AJD: Who do not deserve to see a family member’s reputation dragged through the mud on a major cable station.
S.M: Look, I’m sorry – by which I mean I’m not sorry, it’s just the way I start a sentence where I don’t plan to apologize – but I know my audience – hell, I am my audience. And trust me, “the line” has permanently been moved. Polite comedy is dead. Today, it’s anything goes – gratuitous insults, racial and religious slurs, insulting the handicapped, or the healthy but ugly – cleverly executed, of course. I mean, where have you been, anyway? Oh, I forgot. Oblivion.
AJD: I cannot believe the arrogance! Do you think people will always find you funny?
S.M: I’m not an idiot; I know comedy tastes keep evolving, becoming more and more edgy. But I’m totally plugged into what’s funny now. That’s why I scored a reputed hundred million dollar contract. I say “reputed” because these aren’t my words and the writer hates to do research. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got work to do. We’re pitching an “ugly” joke, and we can’t decide between…I would do a “name” joke here, but the writer doesn’t like them.
SETH MACFARLANE TURNS, AND RETURNS TO THE BOOTH.
ANIMATED JOYCE DEWITT: (TO ANIMATED PETER GRIFFIN) You could have said something, you know.
ANIMATED PETER GRIFFIN: I prefer to side with the boss. It pushes back the time when I’m being drawn popping out of a barrel.