The Comedy Card Boom: Can We Start (Unboxing) It?
Welcome to ComedyNerd, Cracked's daily comedy superstore. For more ComedyNerd content, and a limited edition Oliver North trading card from Topps' Iran/Contra Affair set, please sign up for the ComedyNerd newsletter below.
Lots of funny things happened during the pandemic, and it wasn’t just the ever-widening political divide between your Weird Uncle and your Weirder Uncle. We’re talking about the trading card boom, the inevitable result of people with a) too much time on their hands and b) a willingness to spend money on anything that took their minds off the worldwide crapshow unfolding all around them.
In 2020, sale numbers for baseball cards and their cardboard brothers were “the best that they have been in the past decade,” according to Emily Kless, communications manager for trading card giant Topps.
It’s gotten even more bonkers this year, with seven of the 10 biggest sports cards sales in history, according to Yahoo! News. We’ve already broken the record for “most expensive card ever sold” -- twice.
Are those neon dollar signs we see replacing your eyeballs? Slow your roll, speculator.
While investing in sports trading cards can be a lot of fun, we’re dealing with an inflated market right now. If you buy that Razor Shines or Rusty Kuntz baseball card today, you’re almost certain to pay a premium price. And when the market dies down again -- it will die down again – you and the card will be deflated.
The key is to find card markets that haven’t been exploited yet -- and ComedyNerd has zeroed in on the perfect investment opportunity.*
*Not an endorsement of this as a perfect investment opportunity.
Trading cards based on old comedy shows “remain a cheap piece of nostalgia,” according to the Cardboard Connection. But what the experts call “cheap” are what we call “undervalued” -- an exceptional opportunity to get in on the ground floor of what might be the next trading card craze.
ComedyNerd dived deep into its personal collection to share the joy of cardboard comedy. Let’s unwrap a few packs to see what’s hiding inside the wax paper (besides shattered pieces of brittle, tasteless chewing gum.)
We’ll start in the late 1970s with Mork and Mindy, the alien sitcom that introduced the world to Robin Williams. As promised, the gum didn’t survive the 40-year journey.
Our pack came with a generous 10 cards, all with ‘funny’ captions that replace Williams’ zany improvisational spirit with zingers from old-timey kid joke books.
Most comedy card packs also came with one free sticker, perfect for taking the finish off a childhood dresser. Our Mork and Mindy sticker pandered to the crazes of the day--in this case, skateboarding. (Note to art director: If the caption is SKATEBOARD FEVER, don’t cover up Mork’s skateboard with the graphic.)
For the sticker-impaired, Mork decals came with a set of E-Z instructions.
You can buy an unopened pack of Mork cards on eBay for about three bucks, although some sellers are trying to con suckers for about $8 bucks a pop. Get yours and scam a friend!
Mork and Mindy Comedy Card Grade (on a scale of 1-10):
Let’s move forward in time to the mid-1980s and middling television comedy Growing Pains, most famous for introducing us to Left Behind star and unmasked Christmas caroler Kirk Cameron. His Mike Seaver was a 1980s heartthrob, famous for his heterosexual DATES.
The Growing Pains cards are pretty standard but feature an interesting creative flourish. All of the show stills are slapped inside the shape of a house (indeed, the Seaver family did live inside a house), complete with an over-the-air TV antenna. By the mid-1980s, most families had cable but that antenna just makes the Seavers relatable. And collectible.
Like the Mork cards, the Growing Pains pack comes with a sticker. This collector got lucky with an ultra-rare Alan Thicke edition. (A Thicke-er?) Jason Seaver didn’t rock the guitar often on the show, but when he did, watch out!
This is possibly the image that inspired Robin Thicke to take up music, but let’s not hold that against a pack of comedy cards. If you’re looking for a bargain, Growing Pains cards offer real value--available for only $2 a pack on eBay.
Growing Pains Comedy Card Grade (on a scale of 1-10): 5.5
Premiering one year after Growing Pains, Alf was perhaps the most successful sitcom to ever feature a blank-eyed hand puppet. Unfortunately, the makers of Alf trading cards were pretty dang stingy, only including four ‘funny’ cards in the pack.
Topps, the makers of Alf cards, attempts to make up for the lack of comedy cards by throwing us a curveball:
A NEW Bouillabaseball card inside! Fans of the show may remember that the national pastime of Melmac (Alf’s home planet) was Bouillabaseball, a sport that replaced baseballs with thrown fish parts. This pack scored us Homer “the Gooch” Twang, “one of the few professional Bouillabaseball players with a past prison record.”
But we’re still downgrading the pack for stinginess. Available on eBay for about $2.50-$3 a pack though some folks will try to screw you for more.
Alf Comedy Card Grade (on a scale of 1-10): 4
Our oversized Pee-Wee’s Playhouse pack gets major points for throwing in a variety of Pee-Wee Herman weirdness. Sure, there’s the traditional trading cards:
But! There’s also a page of tattoos, including fan-favorite Penny and a strange message assuring parents that “Pee-Wee Herman is healthy for children and all living things” ...
A punch-out Pterri who really flies (as long as you have a spare paper clip) ...
A Pterri sticker complete with psychedelic phalluses ...
A card that, when flipped with other collectibles, creates a terrifying cartoon about a walking bloodshot eyeball ...
Useful dinosaur facts drawn in Dav Pilkey/Captain Underpants-style ...
And a funky piece of ventricular art featuring Chairy seemingly being very inappropriate with Reba the Mail Lady!
Seriously, there must be at least 45 minutes of fun here. No pack of comedy cards works harder than Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. That’s reflected on eBay, with a going price of about $3 per card and $6 or more for a pack.
Pee-Wee’s Playhouse Comedy Card Grade (on a scale of 1-10): 9
Saved by the Bell: The College Years cards are dominated by its Most Valuable Player, “Zack” Morris. That presents a dilemma for comedy card collectors -- you definitely want the “Zack” rookie card and you’re slipping that bad boy in a plastic sleeve to keep him mint. But will a “Zack” glut diminish value for the serious collector? Consider this pack, which includes Yearbook “Zack” above, along with ...
Laid-back plaid “Zack.”
Over the shoulder “Zack.”
“Zack” and “Slater.”
“Zack” and “Mike,” the defensive tackle who somehow became a resident advisor in a college dorm.
“Zack” and “Screech”
“Zack” and that no-good “Kelly.”
There’s nary a card in the pack that doesn’t feature “Zack,” except for this odd promotional card for PacificTM Products.
You’ll notice that Pacific is the only card company that also insists on tattooing its ugly pennant logo in the top-left corner of every card. Quite a flex! As the new kid in town, we can appreciate the branding play, Pacific -- just be careful not to get too close to “Zack”’s hair.
As of this writing, someone on eBay is selling the whole dang set for only 99 cents (so you know that means they’re going to charge you $30 for shipping).
Saved by the Bell: The College Years Comedy Card Grade (on a scale of 1-10): 5
Saved by the Bell: The College Years if you’re a “Zack” Morris Superfan Grade (on a scale of 1-10): 9
Finally, we break open a special bonus pack -- a 1977 pack from The Gong Show. While the program was more of a variety/game show than a comedy -- think America’s Got Talent with circus sideshow rejects -- host Chuck Barris definitely played it for laughs.
One problem with card packs that are 40+ years old? Let’s start with the sticker featuring Jaye P. Morgan, the quasi-celeb and guest judge who notoriously lost her gig when she flashed the audience during a performance by Gene Gene the Dancing Machine.
As you can see, the adhesive is peeling away nearly as fast as Morgan’s top. Will it still stick? Our celebrity judges say “doubtful.”
And then there’s the gum. First, it has the nasty appearance of Michael Douglas’s diseased tongue. It’s also stuck to the back of the Jaye P. Morgan sticker. Like, really really stuck. We’re just going to seal this whole deal in a biowaste bag and drop it into one of those containers for used needles.
As for the cards themselves? *Chef’s kiss!* Like the show itself, the cards honor performers who have not had a venue before or since. Let’s hear it for the weirdos!
For you speculators out there, Gong Show cards go for about double the cost of any other comedy pack featured here. (This pack was purchased for eight bucks.) But choose your investments wisely -- past performance is no guarantee of future results.
The Gong Show Comedy Card Grade (on a scale of 1-10): 7
The Gong Show Gum Grade (on a scale of 1-10): 1
For more ComedyNerd, be sure to check out:
The Dubious Evolution of Jimmy Kimmel and Howard Stern
The 5 Bill Murrays You Meet in Bill Murray Movies
The Simpsons': How Does Conan O'Brien Rank As A Writer?
Top Image: Author