Bob’s Burgers’ The Pestos: Why Are They Funny?
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Pop quiz: What's the most American food of all time? The answer, of course, is pizza. You may have thought we’d say burgers, given their general American-ness and the title of the show, but no, it’s pizza. For proof, compare tasty American pizza to the authentic Italian kind.
Which means Bob's Burgers has a problem. Earlier this month, Fox blacklisted Jay Johnston, the voice of Jimmy Pesto, for his alleged involvement at the January 6 Capitol rally. But for the sake of today's exercise, let's assume Bob's Burgers recasts another actor as Jimmy Pesto. The character is too ingrained at this point – the show may not have a choice.
For the Belchers of the titular Bob’s Burgers, Jimmy and his Pesto-ing children serve as the primary business rivals/love interest/weird neighborhood twins that your mom makes you play with because she feels bad for them. There’s Jimmy, the one with the butt chin, Jimmy Jr., the one who dances, and Andy and Ollie, the twins who share head lice.
Today we'll answer pop quiz question #3: Why are the Pestos funny? And that will lead to a wider discussion of character foiling.
In the wacky animated world of Bob’s Burgers, the Pesto clan serves as a mirror to the Belcher coterie. Take the patriarchs, Bob and Jimmy.
Bob has a burger belly and a shaggy look, while Jimmy is clean and “handsome” (as much as anyone animated in this style can be). Bob’s burger joint is always teetering on the edge of financial ruin. Jimmy’s pizza place, on the other hand, is extremely successful. Bob is married, Jimmy is single (most likely divorced rather than widowed). Bob has two daughters, one of whom is voiced by a guy; Jimmy has three sons, two of which are voiced by girls – the parallels go on and on.
And there’s Tina and Jimmy Jr. – they have a common romantic interest that flows both ways, though mostly from Tina. But they differ in outlook: Tina is shy and introverted; Jimmy Jr. is open and just wants to dance. Junior is stifled by his father, whereas Tina is encouraged by her mother.
And then there’s the youngest of the two families – Gene, Louise, Andy, and Ollie – who likewise serve as foils to each other. Gene and Louise usually embark on most of their shenanigans together, not quite as inseparable as the Pesto twins but still. Unlike the Belcher kids, however, Andy and Ollie are very naive and, well, quite bluntly, really dumb. They usually end up being roped into Louise’s schemes and serve as her minions. Louise and Gene are the smart ones of the Belcher family, just as Andy and Ollie are the dumb ones of the Pestos.
So, why are we pointing out all these contrasting similarities? (Or is it similar contrasts?) Well, as we said before, the Pestos are the foil to the Belchers.
A character’s foil is another character that contrasts said character in such a way as to bring out certain qualities, often highlighting their failings or admirable qualities. Bob is a reasonably kind and down-to-earth sort of guy but putting him in conflict with Jimmy shows how jealous he can get of success. Of course, Jimmy’s taunts only provoke Bob's anger, but that is just another part of their yin-yang dynamic.
The differences between the Pestos and the Belchers highlight the different qualities in each that otherwise are rarely seen.
Louise’s wits and intelligence, often her best traits, can be malicious when she manipulates Andy and Ollie. The twins' innocent naivete is amplified when placed next to Louise's street smarts. Gene’s wacky desires likewise seem quite normal when seen next to the twins, who want to share everything so much they rub eyes together so they can both have pink eye.
Often, Jimmy’s arrogance breaks down when he’s in conflict with Bob – in the episode where Bob keeps delivering medicine to Jimmy's apartment when he’s sick, there’s a point where Bob and Linda are about to leave when Jimmy asks them to stay, revealing his loneliness. Pesto's business success, feels a little hollow without a wife or a close-knit family, a quality the Belchers have despite their economic precarity.
Foiling is indispensable for not only storytelling but comedy as well. Think about George Sr. and Oscar Bluth in Arrested Development: Twins who are opposites in nearly every way. Their actions highlight the failings of both (Oscar’s kindhearted laziness vs. George’s ruthless and light treasonous success). Or take Chandler and Joey on Friends – Chandler is smart, quippy, and financially successful, whereas Joey is dumb and struggling in his career. But Joey is a horndog ladies’ man, and Chandler can barely talk to women. Nearly every arc featuring them tackling a problem has one of their failings being corrected by the other’s successes. The conflict that arises from foiling has the added benefit of creating humor, too.
Bob often plays it deadpan. In most episodes, he’s dealing with his kids doing something that’s just, like, bananas, like Gene dressing up as Bob. When he’s in conflict with Jimmy, he’s dealing with his own insecurities and shortcomings. The foiling that the Pestos offer to the Belchers provides a new space for the show's humor.
Foiling allows the normal person to become unhinged or unreasonable, and those sorts of episodes are not only important for the development of that character but also usually end up being among the funniest of any show.
Bob's Burgers has some real-life Jimmy Pesto drama to solve. Once that pizza sauce is settled, we can look forward to fictional Jimmy Pesto sticking it to Bob as a foil for years to come. And if he really gets out of line, Linda can just tell Bob to punch Jimmy in his handsome groin.
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