Comedy Characters Whose True Intent Was Missed Faster Than You Can Say Archie Bunker

They don’t call it the ‘Archie Bunker Effect’ for nothing
Comedy Characters Whose True Intent Was Missed Faster Than You Can Say Archie Bunker

Ah, the Archie Bunker Effect. All in the Family creator Norman Lear dreamed up the character of Archie, an aging white bigot, to illustrate the backwards thinking of an earlier generation. When Bunker spouted off his prejudices and hateful opinions, Lear reasoned, the show could demonstrate a more enlightened worldview through Archie’s daughter Gloria and her liberal, long-haired husband Mike. But something happened that Lear never planned on — Carroll O’Connor was so charming as the cantankerous Bunker that he became a sort of folk hero. 

Some viewers disagreed with Archie’s transgressions but forgave them because he was so lovable; others used Archie as evidence that their own prejudices were right after all. But Archie Bunker wasn’t the first character to be misinterpreted by the viewing public. Here are more comedy characters that failed to make their intended point… 

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Stephen Colbert on The Colbert Report

Colbert played Stephen Colbert, an alternative-universe buffoon who was a well-intentioned, poorly informed, high-status idiot. For many viewers, the satire was obvious — this Stephen Colbert was intended to be a parody of bombastic news pundits in general and Bill O’Reilly specifically. While Colbert claims that the character was apolitical, the host often declared his hate for liberals and all that they stood for.

Pretty funny stuff — unless you didn’t get the joke. While Colbert was trying to lampoon the excesses of media, both liberals and conservatives were convinced “Colbert” was on their side. According to a Temple University study, conservatives were more likely to report that Colbert only pretends to be joking and genuinely meant what he said while liberals were more likely to report that Colbert used satire and was not serious when offering political statements.

The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer

The ill-advised sitcom Desmond Pfeiffer was an attempt to recreate Benson (a Soap spin-off in which the Black butler was significantly smarter than the white politician who employed him) in Civil War times. Pfeiffer was a Black English nobleman who, when overwhelmed by gambling debts, escaped to America to become Abraham Lincoln’s valet. Or to put it another way, a slavery sitcom.

Sound hilarious? Critics and viewers didn’t think so either. And rather than viewing the show as a subversive underdog satire, most labeled it unfunny — and racist. The show was yoinked from the air after only four episodes. 


Homelander, the red-white-and-blue villain from The Boys, seems like a pretty straight-forward fascist. Only one problem: Many of the show’s right-wing fans assumed he was a hero and they didn’t take kindly to anyone suggesting otherwise. 

What kind of viewer could think an egotistical narcissist bent on power could be interpreted as a nation’s savior? Oh wait, now we remember. 

Beavis and Butt-Head

The sniggering idiots on Beavis and Butt-Head, like the numbskulls in his Idiocracy, are just more ways for satirist Mike Judge to show us how dumb we’ve become. As if to prove his point, some of us were too stupid to get the joke. 

When children started fires or attempted stupid stunts, parents attacked Beavis and Butt-Head for making such misdeeds “cool” (despite the fact that most of those perpetrators had never seen the show). Even though the show wasn’t to blame, it’s hard to argue that a certain population of teens idolized the slobbering MTV junkies, completely missing the show’s commentary on hyperviolent movies, sensationalistic music videos and the vast emptiness of pop culture.

Can you blame Judge for just packing his Beavis and Butt-Head bags and leaving the show behind for many years? 

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