The question presupposes that sitcoms normally benefit from idiots – and this is true. As a rule, I highly recommend any one setting up a sitcom should find room for an idiot.
Why? A few reasons:
1. Idiots are funny. They get the wrong end of the stick, stay stupid stuff and are basically joke machines. They can also say the unsayable, or bring their own weird logic to bear on a situation.
2. Idiots are useful. Given they often don’t understand what’s going on, someone can explain the plot to them so everyone, including the audience, are clear on what’s happening, and what needs to happen next.
3. Idiots are wildcards. They are often ‘off-the-wall’ in what they do, and so can be a very useful for turning plots on their heads, or throwing a spanner in the works for your protagonists.
The downsides of idiots is that they can sometimes feel insufficiently deep or interesting to make frontline characters, especially at first, but this doesn’t have to be the case. In fact, it shouldn’t be.
|Rocket (Scott Hoatson)|
from Bluestone 42
In writing Bluestone 42, our ‘idiot’ was Rocket, a breathtakingly dimwitted squaddie with a very sunny disposition. He was initially a bit of a foil for Mac, who was filthy and didn’t filter anything he said. But as the series went on, we found that Rocket was every bit as funny and interesting. Rocket’s stupidity tipped over into naivety - which is a nice trait for young man with a gun - and we gave him a love of animals too, all of which also produced some nice plots. And a love of food.
Watch the first few episodes of Seinfeld and Kramer is a dimwit, but his character really takes off when the show played up how convinced that Kramer was that he was, in fact, smarter than everyone else. Soon Kramer’s not so much an amusingly irritating neighbour, but a proactive character who leads Jerry, George and Elaine into all kinds of ludicrous situations in which his schemes always sound just sensible enough to succeed at the start, but which spiral out of control.
|Nick Harper (Kris Marshall) from My Family|
|Tyler, George & Arnie|
But the question is hand is “Does every sitcom need an idiot?” When I read that question, the word ‘need’ jumps out. So the question is whether you have to have an idiot?
I suspect not, but I’m trying to think of really good sitcom that doesn’t have some kind of idiot, or at least a character that functions as one at the start:
I suppose there’s no room for an idiot in Steptoe and Son, but then maybe they’re both idiots. In a way, all sitcom characters are, depending on how you definite idiocy. Your protagonist might be defined as an idiot given their lack of self-awareness about their inability to do the task they have set themselves – like David Brent or Captain Mainwairing or Hancock.
So, “Does every sitcom need an idiot?” My official answer is: Probably.
Thanks for you questions, Andy. Keep ‘em coming, everyone.