The Captain From 'How I Met Your Mother': Why Is He Funny?
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Ahoy! Does the sea call to you like it calls to us? Probably not, here at Cracked we’re actually terrified of water ever since that day in the second grade when – well, it’s not important (but damn you older kids who repeatedly dunked us underwater!).
Today, we turn our attention to that sitcom which earned itself many fans before rousing the ire of those same fans in its final seasons. Yes, kids, it’s time for How I Met Your Mother. Specifically, we’re looking at the recurring character George Van Smoot, better known as The Captain.
Who is this man who has so immersed himself in nautical ways? The show introduces him as the wealthy husband of yet another of Ted’s major love interests who is not the titular mother, in this case, Zoey.
After The Captain and Zoey divorce, he occasionally still steps into the lives of the landlubbing quintet, talking through the death of his marriage with Ted (even as Ted dates Zoey) and offering Lily a job as his personal art curator.
By the end of the show, The Captain remarries - to another recurring character: the ditzy former co-anchor for Robin’s news program, Becky, seen below showing off why she and The Captain are such a, uh, shipshape(?) match.
So what is it about The Captain that’s so funny?
Well, first we have to tip our anchor-embroidered hats to the underrated and often understated Kyle MacLachlan, for his portrayal of someone with such a <cough> Titanic-sized personality. You can tell how much fun he’s having with the character in every scene, firing off sailing puns like a cannon on an old timey ship (we'll stop soon) and bringing a ton of zeal and energy to the character. His tone is either over the top jovial or sinister times ten, never quite matching the mood of the other characters, a juxtaposition that fits really well with his obsession with boats, ships, and stereotypical rich person stuff.
MacLachlan's portrayal is what makes The Captain so entertaining to watch, but, as this Screenrant article lays out, it ruins the entire purpose of the character, which is to be such a horrible match for Zoey that of course she'd leave him for Ted.
Now, we disagree slightly with this part of the Screenrant piece: “the Captain ends up being likable and funny enough for fans to have trouble seeing why Zoey would rather be with Ted.” As charming as The Captain is, it is still very clear why Zoey wouldn’t want to be with him – his entire character is nonstop nautical-themed everything. They have nothing in common. Yes, the character is great for us the audience, but he makes zero sense as Zoey’s husband.
However, that Screenrant article is exactly correct to say why The Captain then continues to reappear throughout the series whereas Zoey does not: “the Captain ended up being not only more interesting than his ex-wife but also more engaging than Ted himself.”
What made him more engaging than either of the two characters with more screen time? Well, that also answers our main question: why is he so funny?
The Captain’s humor of course comes from his constant use of boat, ocean, and sea puns and references, “dropping anchor” when he has to wait a moment on the phone, or greeting everyone with “Ahoy!” But more than that, it is his nearly surreal, larger-than-life personality, parodying not only the pomp of the stereotypical rich person but that energy and ridiculousness of every person we might know in real life with quirks and tendencies that make them a “big” personality.
Now, we say nearly surreal because sitcoms like How I Met Your Mother are kind of generally a little bit surreal already. Think about it: the crazy antics the main characters get up to, the wild plots and elaborate pranks – if anything like what regularly happens on shows like this happened to you, the next day you would be thinking “did that really happen? That wasn’t a dream?”
Waking up to find a goat in your bathroom? Your friend seducing women by dressing up in a scuba suit at the bar? Taking the perfect picture every time? Even as it’s happening you’d be unsure if it was really happening. Sitcoms are reality dialed up just a little bit more, skimming that line between real and surreal and occasionally hopping over for a minute or two.
The Captain, then, is just a little bit more surreal than the base level of surreal within the confines of the show, not enough to make the viewer feel that he’s out of place within the episode, but enough to make viewers think they're crazy even for a show filled with crazy things and sociopathic characters.
If you met The Captain in real life, you’d probably think he wasn’t a real person, despite the charming nautical references – it’s someone just putting on an act (an entertaining act, but an act nonetheless). He is so funny within the show because he pushes the absurdity just a little bit more than normal, resulting in a character much more fun to watch than most all of the main cast.
The Captain was wasted on this show. He should have been on Oz.
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Top image: CBS