Comedy in a Sea of Homogeneity

Everyone has heard of ‘The Office’ and ‘Friends,’ but not everyone questions why these television shows that are household names seem to be so universal.


Glenn Carstens-Peters / Unsplash

I think that it is safe to say that almost everybody can enjoy a good laugh now and then, but at this point in time, there is such a surplus of entertainment available to us at the touch of a finger that it can be hard to find good comedy to watch on television.

Everybody can enjoy a good laugh here and there, but with such a surplus of entertainment available to us at the touch of a finger, it can be hard to find ‘good’ comedy. Many comedies cater to specific types of humor; however, it’s rare to find a good comedy that has something humorous for everyone. There is an issue of undervaluing quality over quantity. For example, many highly acclaimed comedies, such as Monty Python and Borat have received amazing reviews from many critics but just don’t hit the spot for some others.

There were many varying opinions on preferred shows, but there was a consensus reached that ‘The Office’ is the most favored. (Donna Celentano)

I prefer a well-rounded show, one that incorporates humor for all people. I oftentimes find myself watching comedies with a diverse crowd, and it’s almost impossible to find a show that can extract at least a laugh or a chuckle from each individual. Laughter is supposed to be a universal language, one that everyone knows. A major issue with the production of comedies is that everything can be made with more ease than in the past, so screenwriters and directors tend to neglect the choice of making a well-rounded but rather targeted show; however, I would argue that conscious choice is what made all the classics so enduring.

I don’t say this to assert that all modern comedy is bad or that all older comedy is good. Rather, I just find it fascinating to highlight some differences between these eras of entertainment.  I wanted to take a deeper look into how these shows and movies differ, to hopefully gain a better understanding of what the larger audience desires or dislikes. I chose a set of four criteria that I would assess five different shows on and then ranked the shows based on how universal I believe they are.

The first show that I chose was New Girl. It’s a 7 season drama that follows the story of Jessica Day, an elementary school teacher who moves into a loft with three strangers, who turn out to be men with an interconnected past. The comedy recounts the lives of the main characters and follows their relationship struggles, the growth of their friendships, and more. It’s a light-hearted show that doesn’t often delve into deeper subjects yet still occupies the audience. New Girl is definitely a show I would recommend you to watch with close friends if you’re looking for an amusing and easygoing show to binge. 

The next show I chose was Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. It’s a comedy/mockumentary that follows Borat Sagdiyev’s, a television reporter from Kazakhstan, experience in America. Some of the completely outrageous situations that actor Sacha Baron Cohen is in are even real, with many of the people being filmed not knowing Cohen is playing a fictional character.

Additionally, I reviewed Modern Family. It’s an 11 season show that follows the immediate and extended members of the Pritchett family. It is a blended family, with a plethora of characters with very distinct personalities. The show doesn’t necessarily have a main character, with each episode involving the main 3 families.

The Office is a 9 season sitcom that follows the everyday lives of employees at Dunder Mifflin, a paper and office supply sales company. It mostly depicts the office antics that the employees experience, showcasing the personal lives of the characters every so often. 

Monty Python was a group of British comedians that came together and made several comedic movies that have been raved about for decades. For example, they made one movie entitled Monty Python and the Holy Grail, about the story of King Arthur and his knights. He sends them on a quest in which they encounter many hardships, all of which they handle in hilariously peculiar, yet effective ways.

I rated the previously mentioned shows on 5 main criteria: jokes per minute, rating on Tomatometer, average audience rating, personal rating, and rating based on a student survey. A set number of points would be awarded for each category, 5 points for winning the category to 1 point for completely losing.

The first thing I reviewed was the number of jokes per minute. The show with the most intended jokes per minute was New Girl, with a whopping 11 jokes per minute. The runner-up was The Office, with 6.65 jokes, followed by Modern Family with 5.68. Borat averaged 1.7 laughs per minute. 

Next, I ranked the shows based on the reviews they received on Rotten Tomatoes. The show with the highest rating on the Tomatometer was Monty Python and the Holy Grail, with an overwhelming 97%. In second place came New Girl, with an impressive 95% rating on the Tomatometer. It was followed by Borat with 91%, Modern Family with 85%, and surprisingly The Office with 81%.

Additional stats that I used from Rotten Tomatoes were the audience rating scores. Monty Python and the Holy Grail was the obvious winner, with a 95% rating from the audience. It was followed by The Office with a 90% rating. The show with the lowest audience rating was Borat, with only a 79% rating.

Another item that I identified about each show was the running times, however, I didn’t take these into account when calculating the overall scores. The average running time per episode for the television shows was 21.6 minutes, which I feel is the perfect length for an episode compared to the typical 40-50 minutes that are seen in newer shows. The shorter running length keeps the viewer from feeling overwhelmed but also encourages them to continue watching. The average running time for the two movies was 1 hour and 27.5 minutes which seems quite short considering how jam-packed they are with plot and content. 

For my rating, I rated them not only by how much I  enjoyed watching them, but additionally by how universal I felt the shows are. The show that I ranked fifth was Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I know this movie is highly acclaimed and loved by many; however, when I watched it many of the jokes didn’t hit the mark for me. When watching with my father, we felt as though the jokes were quite dry and lacking substance, with practically none being intellectual or witty, just quite scripted jokes. We also felt this issue was exacerbated by how long the film felt, which was surprising considering it was only an hour and a half. 

I ranked New Girl fourth. Out of all of the shows, it may be my favorite: it’s witty, light, and a great show to watch with friends. However, I do understand that it’s definitely not the show for everyone. 

The show I ranked third was The Office, yet another widely praised show. I feel that the show has something for almost everyone but it’s not extraordinary. Second, comes Borat. I didn’t particularly love the movie because I felt much of the comedy was surface level and forced. However, there were some very amusing parts, and the public seems to love it. Finally, I ranked Modern Family first. I find Modern Family to be completely hilarious; it often makes me laugh out loud, and I have even seen others laugh out loud while watching it.  Modern Family is one of the only shows that I notice has something in it for everyone, regardless of different backgrounds and age groups. It is a comedy that I believe to be truly universal. 

After calculating the totals, Borat came in last place amounting to 11 total points. In third was New Girl, with 14 points. Monty Python and the Holy Grail came in as a close second, with 16 points but the title of first place was awarded to two shows. Both Modern Family and The Office received 17 points and placed very similarly in the student survey. 

After reviewing these five comedies, I have gained a newfound appreciation for comedy. I think it’s quite fascinating that a screenwriter can cater to a specific person’s humor and choose to not include others. Comedy is inherently subjective, and I enjoyed trying to quantify the shows to determine which one is the best.

A major issue with the production of comedies is that everything can be made with more ease than in the past, so screenwriters and directors tend to neglect the choice of making a well-rounded but rather targeted show; however, I would argue that conscious choice is what made all the classics so enduring.