#3. The Idiot
Arguably the single most famous and popular character in the entire history of comedy, the idiot is as timeless as it is hackneyed and predictable. But dammit if he still can't make you laugh with his antics. Oh, that idiot and his antics. They are to die for. Take a moment to reflect and, perchance, chuckle. I know I will.
As Seen In: Cousin Balki, Joey Russo, Joey Tribbiani, Dauber Dybinski, Matthew Brock, Woody Boyd and Cliff Claven and Coach, Theo Huxtable for the first several seasons, Mallory Keaton, Rose Nylund, Buster Bluth, Buddy Lembeck
Why This Character: The idiot is the perfect comic foil. Unlike the aggressive old fart character or the unseemly horny character, the idiot is very often good natured but just so bag of turds dumb that when he falls into misfortune, you enjoy it, because morons fail in ways those of us who don't need helmets and never stab our faces with forks while eating never do.
The key to an idiot is the lack of realism. It's slipping on a banana peel. Have you ever done that? Of course not. First of all, who the fuck leaves banana peels on the ground? Do you live with Donkey Kong? And even if one were on the linoleum, why are you windsprinting through the kitchen in the dark such that you can't even see it in front of you? And then, even if you were so negligent as to not see it, what kind of Teflon-coated floor do you have that a banana peel, a not inherently slippery object, would send you flying? Why, you'd have to be some kind of idiot! Boom! Comedy noose just got tightened, bitches! That feeling in your loins, that's me, breathing deeply, right down there with comedy. In your loins. No need to thank me.
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Inhale the funny, exhale the laughs.
We like idiots because they make us feel superior. No one wants to watch a show and feel like Scott Baio is trying to be smug and in charge of them as viewers. I swear to God, if Scott Baio tried to come over and make dinner and tidy up my place, I would end him so hard, he would cease to exist retroactively, and shit he did yesterday would unhappen. That's how much he's not in Charge of my shit.
We need dumbass Buddy Lembeck to come into the kitchen and accidentally eat a dirty sponge because maybe he didn't get enough oxygen when he was a baby or he has a really unfortunate accumulation of heavy metals in his brain. It doesn't matter the reason, it's just funny and allows us to point and laugh and say, "Oh man, I'd never do that. Betty White, you're some kind of chucklefuck!" Of course in this instance we're switching from Buddy Lembeck on Charles in Charge to Rose Nylund, or you just get Willie Aames and Betty White mixed up sometimes.
Note: Betty White seems like quite a smart lady in real life, but man was Rose a dummy on The Golden Girls.
#2. The Fish Out of Water
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The fish out of water is a classic character we can all relate to. The out-of-place character is that guy or girl who just never seems to fit in, and because of that, hijinks ensue. Oh man are hijinks fun. It's like when an online comedy writer hangs out with attractive women and people are like "He must have money" or "They must have no self-esteem" or whatever. Hijinks.
As Seen In: Alex P. Keaton, Frasier Crane, Steve Urkel, Will Smith, Tony Micelli, Alf, Webster, Vicki the Robot, Mork, Penny, Charles
Why This Character: Because homogeny is for suckers, you need to throw a monkey into the wrench or a Frasier into a dive bar. It doesn't even need to make sense why that character continually hangs out with everyone who is so very different from them. In fact, it will never make sense, and questioning it will kind of ruin the whole joke. For instance, why is Alex P. Keaton a staunch conservative when the rest of his family are borderline hippies? Why do the Winslows not lock their doors to keep Steve Urkel out? Why didn't Willy sell Alf to the government for a fortune in secret government alien money? Just shut up.
Out-of-place characters draw attention to the problems and weirdness of the "normal" characters. Penny on The Big Bang Theory is neither a geek nor physically hideous. She just walks into the room and suddenly a joke is written. Admittedly, it gets old to compare nerds to a hot girl all the time, but still, it's something. Better than what Homeboys in Outer Space had, anyway.
#1. The Straight Man
This is the foundation for any comedy, a touchstone to which we all relate and empathize. These characters are the fuzzy, warm center of the sitcom universe that you identify with because they're normal. They may act out on occasion, they may have idiosyncrasies, but that just endears them to you further, because so do you! It's like James L. Brooks and Marcy Carsey peered into your very soul and then cast Valerie Bertinelli and Jim Belushi as opposite sides of your personality! Amazing! And hey, who the hell is Valerie Bertinelli?
As Seen In: Ross Geller, Chandler Bing, Jerry Seinfeld, Dan Connor, Carl Winslow, Dorothy Zbornak, Danny Tanner, Ray Barone, Tim Taylor, Cousin Larry, Michael Bluth
Why This Character: This character needs to ground the entire sitcom universe and temper everyone else. The idiot is only an idiot compared to this character. The horny guy is only horny compared to this guy. And the straight man may be a complete tool sometimes, or boring, or the smartest, most interesting and enviable human ever, but only because of the nutters he surrounds himself with that make him shine.
The best part about the straight man character is how much you'll start to dislike him over time, depending on the success of the show and, curiously, how much the actor will probably start to dislike the role as well. Do you think Bob Saget is happy about what he did on Full House? On one hand, from a career standpoint, it made him a household name and probably paid a lot of bills, but I want to say, with nothing more than a hunch to guide me, Bob Saget fucking hated Danny Tanner. And David Schwimmer probably hated Ross Geller, because everyone hated Ross Geller. The straight man becomes a bit of a wet blanket after six or so seasons and you just wish they'd die already. Like Dan Connor did. Or Cousin Larry. He died, right?
Now that you have an appropriate cast of characters for your sitcom, remember to make storylines that people will find interesting and unexpected, like about in-laws coming to visit, bad dates, getting fired from work, new neighbors, old friends coming to town, a marriage, kids getting in trouble, a misunderstanding that potentially ruins a relationship, and a health scare. No one has ever done any of those stories. Your show is going to be a hit.