'Scrubs' Janitor: Why Is He Funny?

Small part, huge laughs.
'Scrubs' Janitor: Why Is He Funny?

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Today we’re talking about a little no-name show that no one has ever heard of: Scrubs. For those of you out of the loop, Scrubs ran for eight (and only eight) seasons and detailed the staff goings-on at Sacred Heart Hospital. One of the characters most beloved by the fans of the show is Glenn Matthews.

Wait, who?

Glenn is the real name of The Janitor, usually just ‘Janitor,’ a custodial aficionado employed by Sacred Heart to clean and employed by the showrunners to torment the main character, JD. Janitor's whimsical pranks are a constant source of grief for JD, ranging from spraying water on his crotch to literally kidnapping him.

So why are we writing about Janitor? Well, the day this article is being written is actor Neil Flynn’s birthday, so… *shrug*. Aside from that very profound, intellectually excellent, and eminently sensible reason, we are asking a deeply perplexing question: why is the Janitor funny?

You see, Reader, in order to understand the world, we have to understand what makes the world run (it’s not Dunkin).  And the things that make our Cracked world run are laughter, comedy, and more than a little bit of prescription nasal spray (we have allergies, okay?). If we can understand the humor of Janitor, we can better understand ourselves, because after all, aren’t we all,  deep down, a lot like the Janitor?

Maybe a lot more than a little bit deep down

The Janitor was originally supposed to be a one-off character in the series' first episode (Neil Flynn had auditioned for the role of Dr. Cox but that role went to John McGinley). The showrunners asked Flynn if he’d be interested in a different character, and were swept away by his janitorial/comedic skillz.  

“When we watched the performance," says executive producer Bill Lawrence, "we knew we had to keep this guy around.” The rest is push-broom history.

So Neil Flynn is obviously one crucial aspect of why the character works so well. Flynn has a strong improv background, and that was utilized heavily in his scenes. Sam Lloyd, who plays the serially depressed lawyer Ted Buckland, once commented that the script often would just say “Janitor: Whatever Neil says.”

Looking through the compilations and clips embedded in this article, another thing becomes clear: The “best” of the Janitor is when he is butting heads with JD (or at least stepping in his path with arm outstretched). A lot of this is literal head-butting – simple good ol’ fashioned slapstick, physical humor, the sort of stuff Jim Carey built his 90s career on, and which never goes out of comedic vogue, except for those times where it, you know, does. 

But the Janitor does quite a bit more than simply plague JD. He can effortlessly carry his own subplot, whether it's telling elaborately detailed lies or getting up to his own stuff, like the time he decided to LARP as the Chief of Medicine when Dr. Kelso was gone for the day or the crush on Elliot he nurses through the first six seasons.

Finally, the Janitor fulfills two roles that make him uniquely funny in the context of the show. 

First, he is filling the archetypal role that was brought to life by Kramer on Seinfeld, Dwight on The Office, and even Barney on How I Met Your Mother. The Janitor is a heady mix of different stock comedy characters, namely, the Fool (Kramer, Dwight), the Trickster (Barney), and the Oddball (honestly, all three of them). 

Think about every comedy show’s cast: they all rely on these broad-stroke roles to mine different types of humor. For example, JD is Scrubs'  Everyman,  though he dabbles in aspects of other archetypes (Fool, it’s Fool, he dabbles in Foolishness). Dr. Cox is the Mentor but also the dry, sarcastic, Chandler-type of the show’s cast, quipping his way through his appearances.

Second, The Janitor is also drive-by funny. Drive-by funny is “the stuff of celebrity roasts, where everyone is a target for total and complete annihilation.” Despite often being mean-spirited, drive-by funny works because of how it can be both clever and shocking in one fell swoop.  (Sweep?) It's that celebrity-roast moment when someone crosses the line – the initial “ooooh” followed by hysterical laughter. 

With his sardonic mocking of JD and the other Sacred Heart employees,  combined with his Oddball quirks, the Janitor is uniquely positioned to polish more than just the floor: he polished the show. We enjoyed all eight (and only eight) seasons of it.  

Top Image: NBC

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