Well, being a child of the 50’s and 60’s, I can definitely say that I have been watching, absorbing and enjoying Comedy TV Shows pretty much since their inception. I can also say that, beyond a shadow of doubt, I have been heavily influenced by them and most probably they are partly responsible for me becoming an entertainer, which I have been for all of my life. With that being said, narrowing down my list will be next to impossible so I will just go through many shows I have loved, starting with the 50’s, work my way to the present and then try to compose My Top 10 List somehow.
Let’s Have Fun with Chuck McCann was a great Sunday morning show for kids and Chuck was a talented versatile performer. The show was always entertaining and very funny.
The Ernie Kovacs Show was a very funny and groundbreaking show. The things they did editing-wise was way beyond the technology of the 50’s and Ernie was a comedy genius. He was taken from us way too early in a car accident. Who knows what he would have achieved if he had lived longer in a medium that was just in it’s embryonic stages.
Sid Cesar’s, Your Show Of Shows was a classic show whose form has been emulated ever since. The cast of writers are a literal Who’s Who in The Comedy World: Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, Woody Allen, Larry Gelbart and Neil Simon to name a few. How could a show like that not be great, not to mention Sid Cesar himself. He was a great performer that was a genius at dialects.
The Jack Benny Show was a terrific show with a great cast of characters. Benny was the master of the ‘face’ and no one could milk a laugh longer with just a mere look at the camera more than him. The unique thing about the show was that the laughter most often hinged on the ‘Second Bananas’ that fueled the comedy of the show.
Amos ‘N’ Andy was a great show with such a array of characterizations. Kingfish was always scamming Andy someway, which was such a treat to watch unfold. Amos was the cab driver that narrated the show and there was Sapphire, Lightning and of course, Algonquin J. Calhoun. Unfortunately, the show was eventually pulled because of NAACP pressure of wanting to show Black Americans in a better light. It was a shame because the chemistry between Kingfish and Andy was priceless to watch.
The Red Skelton Show was a fun show of skits and characters that Red would perform with infectious laughter and was one of the first shows to have a weekly guest who would perform in the skits. You could tell by watching the show that Mr. Skelton was a sweet soul and he is dearly missed. He always ended the shows with, “Good Night and May God Bless”. Back at ya, Red.
The Original Tonight Show with Steve Allen was one of my favorite shows of all time. Steve created the Talk Show format as we know it today and had a cast of unforgettable characters that were used in many ways. Steve was a man of so many talents with a terrific laugh. I got the opportunity to meet him in Las Vegas once during a Comedy Convention and he was just as funny and gracious as I thought he would be.
The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson was a one of a kind show with so much clout. If you appeared on that show, your career was in tact and doors would open and your phone would ring off the hook. You could tell that Johnny was heavily influenced by his idol, Jack Benny, by the way he could just make a face into the camera and the crowd would explode with laughter. I had the honor to appear on the show and all I can say is that no talk show has ever approached it’s popularity since. I think it was the chemistry between Johnny and Ed MacMahon and I also believe that interviewing guests on a show is an art form in itself and Johnny was definitely the master at it. He knew how to make moments!
The Honeymooners was and still is one of the most watched syndicated shows of all time. I don’t think that there is anyone, that knows anything about comedy, that hasn’t been influenced by this show. Many people can quote, word for word, many of the most popular scenes that emanated from the series. Besides the greatness of Ralph and Ed in the show, you had Audrey Meadows playing Alice. She was simply the best and I don’t think the show would have worked as well without her. In fact, in later years when they did the show with some other people playing the part, it wasn’t as funny. She had the best deadpan face and to paraphrase Ralph, “Alice, you’re the greatest!”
The Dick Van Dyke Show was another great ensemble show, as well as The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Both had fantastic cast members and strong story lines that propelled their popularity for many years. Neither show had a weak character in their cast. Everyone was equally funny and shined.
Monty Python’s Flying Circus was a fantastic show for anyone going through their teen years in the 60’s. It was so different than anything else on American television back then and they were like the Comedy Beatles in a way. It was comedy for the Boomer’s generation. It also became responsible for opening the door to English Comedy on American TV. Of course, it was on PBS back then, which made it even more underground in the psychedelic era.
MASH was a groundbreaking show in that it’s setting was The Korean War and during this country’s time of The Vietnam War. Plus it had to overcome the popularity of the movie itself, which was no easy task, and be funny. It also had to survive cast changes throughout the series. It did all of that and more.
Saturday Night Live is amazing in it’s survival. It has had so many terrific seasons and bad ones but one thing has always remained constant: a barrage of many, many talented performers that have gone on to be very prominent in the comedy mainstream. You have to give Lorne Michaels credit for having such an accurate comedic eye for talent. What a track record!
Whose Line Is It Anyway? is one of my absolute favorites of recent times. I love improvisational comedy and these people are superb at it. The chemistry between Ryan Stiles and Colin Mocharie is a blast and Wayne Brady is phenomenal with musical comedy. Add in guests Brad Sherwood, Chip & Greg Proops and the show is a no-holes barred extravaganza.
The Cosby Show was a great family show when families were out of fashion on TV. All other shows were about dysfunctional families and situations but Cosby’s show was about the love for each other and a warmth that you could see while you were busy laughing.
The Carol Burnett Show was one of my favorites. To watch Harvey Korman, Tim Conway, Carol, Lyle Waggoner and Vicki Lawrence break up during the skits was well worth the time. I loved watching Tim doing his best to make Harvey laugh and lose it, which was almost inevitable.
Seinfeld was another character driven show that was so well crafted and constructed, which I contribute to the genius of Larry David. Larry is one of the most prolific writers I have ever met and his talent for bringing different story lines and somehow weaving them together in the end is amazing to watch. He does the same thing on ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ today. I used to work with Larry at the Improv in NYC during the 80’s and he was the only one that would have a complete new 20 minute set each week….and a brilliant 20 minute set at that. That is almost near impossible to do, unless you write constantly all the time like he does. The only other person I ever saw like that was Steve Allen.
The Abbott & Costello Show was a great show for any age. The chemistry of the two of them and the surrounding cast was a hoot to watch. Abbott was a great straight man and controlled the whole tempo of the comedy and don’t forget about Sidney Fields, Boccagalupe, Mike the Cop, Hillary Brooks and Stinky.
Frasier is one of the best written comedy shows of present times. Even though it was a spin off of Cheers, I think Frasier was so much better and I think it was a casting coup to have Niles, David Hyde Pierce, on the show. To watch the two of them try to ‘out snob’ each other was so much fun and so superbly acted.