'Veep's Jonah Ryan: Why Is He Funny?
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Veep is hands down one of the funniest shows from the last decade, and we will die on that hill – though we probably won’t have to, because there’s absolutely no way anyone would disagree.
As this NPR article puts it, “One of the most iconic things about HBO's Veep was the way the characters insulted one another. Each insult was delivered with laser-like precision to get at each character's insecurities. Perhaps no character on the show received more of these zingers than Jonah Ryan.”
Wow, thanks NPR! Teeing up both main points of this article; the insult humor of the show and the character we’re discussing.
Yes, today we’re talking about Jonah Ryan, probably the funniest character on the show. You know what? Not probably. We’re saying he is. So that begs the question, why?
As we’ve written about previously, there are different kinds of funny. Veep is a show steeped in Drive By funny, “the stuff of celebrity roasts, where everyone is a target for total and complete annihilation.” Like NPR said, the way the characters tear each other down is iconic and absolutely hilarious.
This sort of comedy only works, however, when the viewers expect it or are in the right mindset.
Todd Packer, on The Office, is sort of the same kind of funny, but he doesn't elicit laughs, because The Office isn’t that kind of show – it’s, compared to Veep or Silicon Valley, lighthearted, and the laughs don't typically come from precision insults. Insult humor works in Veep because its entire premise is built around awful and incompetent people doing and saying awful things because they are all either very insecure or incompetent.
Enter Jonah, played brilliantly by Timothy Simons. He’s the lanky buffoon in everyone's sights. And they do it because he makes it so, so easy, the first part of his comedic personality.
Selina Meyer’s staff messes up all the time, but they are shown to have moments of proficiency and competence. Tony Hale’s Gary, bumbling much of the time, is always on point with fetching the snacks or aspirin that Meyer wants. Reid Scott’s Dan is a conniving political operative who usually fails when his goals are too ambitious, and they are often ambitions rooted in selfishness.
Jonah on the other hand, can’t ever do anything right. He gets fired from the White House, his blog becomes toxic, he marries his sister by accident, but he always fails upward, throughout the entire show. This is the second point that makes him so funny.
He embodies a key element of comedy: juxtaposition, as in when two things are set each other for contrasting effect.
He does this in a twofold way; first, by contrasting the two previous elements (his upward career trajectory in spite of his many, many failings), and second, in his personality, where he tries to come across (what he thinks is) a hotshot cool guy but everyone sees right through the act for what he actually is, an insecure (when he’s part of that class action harassment lawsuit?), bitter (when he’s confronted with any of his failures?) moron.
His best scenes are either when he tries to keep up with the brutal word play of the rest of the cast or when someone cuts right through his confident bro mask, often in the same scene and often with some creative insult nickname (“Jonad,” “One Erection,” “Scrotum Pole,” “60-foot Virgin,” “Teenage Mutant Ninja A-hole”).
However, these sources of constant chuckles ramp way up in later seasons when he moves from staffer to politician, becoming a send up of the sorts of unhinged, conspiratorial people who we see running for and being elected to Congress today. The ridiculous policies and the agenda he campaigns on are perfect parody.
The later seasons are Jonah’s hilarity at it’s finest, as not only do we still get absurdly inventive insults hurled in his direction from the rest of the cast, but his cocky demeanor and the over-the-top disgusting things he says are on full display, often to the public within the show.
Example, when Jonah is on the phone in front of an elementary school classroom.
CONTENT WARNING: This clip is NSFW or anywhere.
Those 20 seconds are a better explanation and demonstration of his comedic role than all the words in this article. It juxtaposes his crudeness with children, his arrogant reaction to his (hilariously awful) Uncle Jeff, and his complete lack of self-awareness.
And so, the recipe that makes Jonah Ryan funny is as follows: some cocky grossness mixed with a few drops of stupidity, inventive insults thrown in - bring to the whole thing to a boil and then serve it with a healthy side of career path juxtaposition.
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Top image: jonahryanforpresident.com