Tuesday, July 26, 2011


I have for the better part of the two decades been an avid fan of the syndicated television show Charles in Charge. As far as sitcoms go it is remembered fondly among people my own age but more for nostalgia and is often ignored in discussions of the best sitcoms. It is not taken seriously, however it has many hilarious moments even in the episodes with tired sitcom plots you have seen in countless other shows from the 80s. The show also has what may be my favorite TV joke of all time. There is an episode where Charles, while trying to write a research paper on mental illness, is mistakenly admitted and kept in a mental hospital. His best friend Buddy (newly released himself) runs back to Charles' residence where dives over the table containing a telephone, frantically grasping at the phone book. He begins flipping through the yellow pages with a furious urgency and shouts;
"Quick, what's the number for 911?"
This is a landmark joke.

It works on two levels: The first is the observational fact that we refer so often to the emergency number it is thought of more as a description then a number. You could almost see how in a panicked mood you might momentarily forget the fact that 911 is in fact a phone number. The second level the audiences familiarity with Buddy Lembeck as an idiot. It is funny to see Buddy, (who once, while cooking scooped up a fistful of Crisco and ate it) make a mistake like that and so the audience is rewarded twice on one joke.

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