Based on the research I conducted prior to writing this, it would appear I’m not the first person on the internet to attempt to figure out the funniest character to ever grace our televisions, as it seems around a trillion people have set out on the quest that led to what you’re about to read.
However, when you take a closer look, almost all of those articles are some variation of the same dozen or so characters that seem to be the only ones taken into consideration. It’s like every single person who wrote them harnessed the same strategy that led to my sixth-grade teacher taking her red “PLAGIARISM” stamp to the essays that were largely comprised of slightly rephrased sentences I found after Googling whatever the topic was.
The people responsible for those lists and rankings might change the order or tweak the quotes and references they pepper the article with, but if you’ve read one of them, you’ve basically read them all. Even if they lure you in with the promise of pitting 100 different characters against each other, those last two spots are almost always going to be reserved for Michael Scott and Leslie Knope.
There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that. There’s a reason those two are so beloved, and despite my contrarian nature, I’m not going to pretend they don’t deserve to be considered the legendary characters they are just because the GIF-obsessed denizens of the internet continue to drool over them instead of following the advice of the giant Hawaiian guy from Forgetting Sarah Marshall and finding a new show.
Yes, they’re funny, but are they actually the funniest? Sure, they might be the best character from their eternally-popular programs, but are you really going to tell me we can’t do better than that duo when you consider the number of equally formidable contenders to pick from?
Sure, popularity and shameless pandering certainly play a role, but after trying to figure out why there’s such a lack of variety, I realized people have been approaching this question the wrong way for far too long. A major reason they get so much attention is that they were at the center of attention, but there are so many other minor characters in the shadow of the limelight that don’t get the credit they deserve.
If we’re trying to figure out the funniest television character ever, the only thing that really matters is the laughs-per-minute ratio. It’s kind of like how you can’t just say Mike Tyson is better than Floyd Mayweather just because the boxer-turned-pigeon-racing-enthusiast would’ve won if they’d faced off in their primes; it’s all about their pound-for-pound talent.
I didn’t want to go Full The Ringer here, so while I can’t provide you with way too many numbers and graphs in an attempt to answer what is ultimately a subjective question, I like to think the countless hours I’ve devoted to watching comedies over the course of my life make me qualified to weigh in when it comes to finding the funniest character of all-time, which I managed to do after narrowing down the list to five contenders.
Given the incalculable number of sitcoms that have aired over the years, I’ll admit there may be some gaps in my knowledge here, but I like to think I’ve watched anything that’s worth watching. If you’re mad your favorite character from some network show that relies on ad reads during NFL games to lure in viewers didn’t make the cut, feel free to hop into the comments to complain so I can promptly ignore it.
With that said, let’s finally figure out who is really the funniest TV character ever.
5b. Mac—Always Sunny In Philadelphia
Remember when I said I narrowed the possible choices down to five? I lied! After much deliberation, I just couldn’t bring myself to not acknowledge the contributions of our first two entries.
If you need any proof that I’m being as objective as I possibly can here, Mac is probably my favorite sitcom character in the history of television, but I just couldn’t bring myself to put him in the top spot. With that said, being the best character on It’s Always Sunny is also no small feat.
I’m sure some fans of the show would take exception to that assertion, as I’d imagine plenty of people would pick Charlie or Frank over Mac. There’s no doubt they’re also very funny, but they each have a lot of jokes, lines, and scenes that don’t really land. I love Charlie’s signature weirdness but it can be a bit hard to process at times, while Frank is just a fucking disgusting human in every sense of the word to a point where his antics can be almost unwatchable at times.
However, Mac is funny even when he isn’t trying to be. Take, for example, the moment I fell in love with a man—a man called Mac.
There are so many things to love about Mac: his amazing collection of vintage t-shirts, his 12-season-long struggle with his sexuality, his relationship with his dad, and the fact that Rob McElhenney gained 60 pounds and then got absolutely ripped in the name of comedy. Almost everything Mac does when he’s on camera (whether he’s speaking or not) makes me smile at least a little bit, and despite his quirks, he’s the most “normal” member of The Gang because there’s a good chance you know someone who’s basically like him in real life.
Again, It’s Always Sunny has a stacked cast of characters to pick from, but Mac is the undisputed G.O.A.T.
5a. Phil Dunphy—Modern Family
Genuinely funny network sitcoms are few and far between but Modern Family managed to ascend to a higher tier thanks in no small part to Phil Dunphy.
If you’ve watched the show, I shouldn’t have to tell you he’s the character that really makes it as good as it is. If he hadn’t been there from the beginning, it would’ve maybe garnered some critical acclaim for “pushing boundaries” only to ultimately fizzle out after a few seasons before becoming essentially forgotten.
Because Modern Family is a fairly family-friendly show that airs on ABC, Phil is obligated to go into Full Dad Mode everyone now and then by handing out Valuable Life Lessons. However, he still finds a way to make those teaching moments funny; if he’s sharing some wisdom about the pitfalls of judging someone for their looks, he’ll still throw in a joke to break the tension better and do it than anyone else on the show.
After all, we’re talking about a guy who went from being sad about his daughter leaving for college to promoting his new book in one of the smoothest segues you’ll ever see.
Almost everyone can see some aspect of their own dad’s personality in Phil, but what I really love about him is that he probably shouldn’t even be a dad in the first place based on how idiotic and inept he is. He’s the perfect amalgamation of traits that result in the creation of one of those rare characters capable of soliciting laughs from almost any type of viewer, which is pretty damn impressive.
4 . Jean Ralphio—Parks and Recreation
Does Jean Ralphio deserve to be higher? Maybe, but regardless, you can’t deny the character Ben Schwartz helped create is anything less than brilliant. Like Mac, he’s a caricature of someone everyone is familiar with; the guy who is possibly on some sort of upper at all times who spends his days deploying slang words he’s too old for while boasting about his various “side hustles” despite not having a main hustle in the first place.
Jean Ralphio is one of the funniest creations television has ever seen, but what hurts him here is the predictability. The same could be said for almost every sitcom character in a show that manages to cross the syndication threshold, but with our boy here, it eventually reached a point where you knew something a bit too zany or wacky was in store whenever he showed up (although he’d still make you laugh every single time.)
I only needed a single scene to fall in love with Jean Ralphio, which just so happened to be the one where he made his debut when he sat down with Ron Swanson to talk about becoming his assistant—it’s like what I imagine would happen if 6ix9ine walked into the White House to interview for Chief of Staff.
Long live Jean Ralphio—a man who totally, definitely didn’t fake his own death to cash in on an insurance policy.
3. Leon—Curb Your Enthusiasm
Leon didn’t appear in Curb Your Enthusiasm until the sixth season, and while he’s made the best of his time on the show since then, it’s hard not to look back at some of the episodes from before he came aboard and think, “Man, Leon would’ve made this scene even better.”
The differences between Larry—a 70-year-old millionaire with a general distaste for people—and Leon—a random dude in his mid-30s—make for a contrast that’s as funny as the story concerning how they linked up in the first place, as Leon essentially invited himself into Larry’s house one day and just decided he was never going to leave (which didn’t come in the form of an adamant refusal but rather a lack of self-awareness and any idea of the notion of common courtesy.) They have one of the best relationships on television, and most of that can be credited to Leon.
You also have to give a ton of credit to J.B. Smoove for bringing the character to life in the way he did, especially when it comes to turning something as simple as a weird pronunciation of “ejaculate” into a masterclass in humor.
I could devote an entire article to the incredible jokes Leon has been at the center of on Curb, as he can go toe-to-toe with Larry when it comes to transforming awkward situations into absolute gold like some sort of comedy alchemist.
I don’t know if this is the case, but it feels like Leon was a character who was only supposed to stick around for a few episodes before bouncing until the show realized what a treasure it had stumbled upon, and if that’s how thing did indeed play out, I can’t say how glad I am about the decision to have him stick around.
2. Jonah Takalua—Summer Heights High
There’s a good chance that when you reached this entry, you had one of two thoughts: “Wait, who?” or “Damn, Tj, you are a man wise beyond your years with impeccable taste.” I’m going to tell myself most people went with the second one.
Putting a character from a fairly unknown (and criminally underappreciated) show in the second spot might seem like a bold move, but if you’re familiar with Summer Heights High, I have a hard time believing you’d object to this decision because Jonah is as incredible as he is relatable. I don’t know if there’s any single scene that played a bigger role in shaping my sense of humor than the one above, and I’m still dropping Jonah quotes on a regular basis a decade after encountering him for the first time.
I honestly don’t even know if I watched Summer Heights High from beginning to end, as I was more than happy to settle for watching clips featuring Jonah on YouTube more times than I can count. I probably could’ve consumed the series in its entirety when you consider it only lasted for a total of eight episodes, which speaks volumes about my attention span and even louder concerning just how good Jonah is.
Mac might make me smile whenever he’s onscreen, but Jonah has the capacity to make me howl. Is a wannabe breakdancing, troublemaking bad boy who’s too old to be in his grade because he only wants to make jokes with his bros something to aspire to? No, but it’s still what I want to be when I grow up.
1. Terry Bernadino—Reno 911
Reno 911 is a great show and almost every character to appear on it brought something fantastic to the table. As far as the main cast goes, I’d argue Lt. Dangle was the shining star, but Terry was just a comedic supernova.
From the short-shorts to the sexual deviancy to his impressively awful ability to commit crimes without getting caught, just seeing Terry appear was enough to make me laugh. In a way, he was a bit like Jean Ralphio because you sort of knew what was coming, but Nick Swardson always managed to figure out some way to surprise you.
As I said, there’s no real way to calculate who has the highest laughs-to-minute ratio, but I wouldn’t be shocked if Terry was at the top of the list. I could go on and on, but it’s probably just easier to let the clips above and below do the talking for me.
There we have it, folks. Terry from RENO 911! is the funniest TV character the world has ever seen, so we can now put that debate (and the infinite number of articles inspired by it) to rest once and for all.