Why Family Guy Sucks at Political Humor

Ladd Ehlinger does what many righties have done over the years with regards to Family Guy, which is get nice and pissed at it and then banish it from his DVR. Which is a perfectly sane and sensible thing to do. But Ladd seems to sound surprised at the crudity of McFarlane’s political satire (it doesn’t matter if someone else wrote the episode; this is McFarlane’s show, and he undeniably approves of the message):

What the writers of “Family Guy” indulged in last night was the humor of high-school bullies who single someone out as being “gay,” regardless of whether they are “gay” or not. Ha ha.

Is the kid really gay? Nevermind the reality of the situation, we’ve got to make fun of this gay guy. Because if we do, we’ll be cool. And popular. And oh yeah, the gay kid is also racist. Bonus points for a joke making fun of him for both being gay and racist in the same breath. Triple lattes if you can make the joke anti-Semitic too!

“Family Guy” indulged in the behavior of the hyena pack. They are cowardly propagandists and bullies, and they’ve overstayed their welcome in my home.

The trouble with Family Guy lies in those instances where its writers forget what show they’re putting on. Family Guy is not a hipper, more post-modernĀ Simpsons; it’s a hipper, more post-modern Beavis & Butthead. As I’ve written before, everything that happens on this show is stupid. The plots are stupid; the characters are stupid (including the “smart” ones. Brian is a college dropout and a crap writer and Stewie has lost all trapping of his original mad-scientist persona to become a catch-all snarkster). The show gets its laughs by being breezy and uncaring and winking at its audience. They deliberately write gags that aren’t that funny, but will become funny by the shamelessness of its repetition:

This kind of “joke” is self-effacingly bad: the humor is in the meta-message “See how dumb this is? Wouldn’t it be stupid if I kept doing it, even though it’s not funny? Well, you’re in luck, because we are just that stupid.” When this kind of gag is your bread and butter, you aren’t going to be that good at making political jokes. Above all else, political humor requires an effort to persuade through mockery; to assail something, as Ladd puts it, for being what it is. This thing may be exaggerated, but it should be something that anyone can recognize as being true. And to have any purpose at all, it should be something that doesn’t get said a lot.

Family Guy doesn’t have the patience for that; it’s too easy to monkey-wrench the scene with a “wouldn’t this be so stupid that you have no choice but to laugh?” gag that’s beside the point. As a result, the rare forays into politics are staggeringly juvenile — content to recycle left-liberal talking points while ignoring the real issue under discussion.

For proof, compare one of Family Guy’s earlier “political” episodes, “Hell Comes to Quahog”, with a South Park episode on the exact same subject, “Something Wal-Mart This Way Comes”. The South Park episode is superior in every respect: it mocks both Wal-Mart and hysteria surrounding Wal-Mart effectively while making a solid point about what Wal-Mart is and what it represents. Like most decent-to-good South Park episodes, it contains a kernel of thoughtful truth-telling underneath its crudeness and sarcasm.

“Hell Comes to Quahog,” by contrast, does nothing but give Brian a bunch of bathetic Naderisms to spout before mounting a convenient tank to destroy the Superstore USA (Yeah, they didn’t even have the guts to use the name “Wal-Mart”) while the A-Team music plays in the background (we get it Seth, YOU REMEMBER THE 80’S). Evil is destroyed, Meg is rescued, everything reverts to the status quo ante sitcom. No information or thought too long for a bumper sticker is expressed or needed.

This is why South Park’s parody of Family Guy was so effective; manatees in a fishtank bumping random balls around is a too-apt metaphor of the intellectual and creative cocoon that the writers sit in. And while watching marine mammals bat things around is certainly entertaining, eventually we all have to leave the aquarium.

15 thoughts on “Why Family Guy Sucks at Political Humor

  1. I decided never to watch that show again after an episode about Thanksgiving turned into left-wing propaganda about the Iraq war. It was a recent episode, but I lost interest in the show a long time ago (I only kept watching it because I tend to keep watching the same shows that I watched before, regardless of how good they still are).

    It was funny when I was a teenager, but they basically use the same jokes over and over again and it got old quickly. I’m not sure I would even find many of the jokes funny the first time any more; they are just so juvenile.

    1. It makes good background noise when cooking dinner in the seven o’clock hour, when there’s nothing else on but local news and Entertainment tonight. Otherwise, meh.

  2. South Park dominates Family Guy is the political part of political humor but Family Guy is a show that doesn’t care about anything other than the laughs. Sure, they’ll have throw in political references and even have entire episodes politically themed but it’s intent is not about that. It’s simply about the laughs, and anyone who tries to take Family Guy the least bit serious will obviously be incredibly disappointed.

    1. Everything you said is true. The writers of the show have not got the message, however, as they keep trotting out these tired political scripts upon occasion. The Limbaugh show was utter dreck — they even stooped to accusing the guy of anti-semitism. If you have to sink that low, you should leave politics alone.

    2. Errr, if its about the laughs then that goes to show what a terrible show it is, because it isnt funny, at all. I mean what is wrong with you people? Just cuz a joke exists doesnt make it funny. I imagine that when you first heard the “Why did the chicken cross the road?” joke you literally must have been in hysterics at the answer.

      We get the joke…it just isnt funny

      We get when something is offensive…it just wasnt that offensive.

      We get family guys humour….it just isnt funny…at all. You fanbois seem desperate to try and explain it when that isnt the problem, it just isnt funny, its boring. And this isnt even touching on how seth steals jokes from absolutely bloody EVERYWHERE.

  3. The thing is I think everyone knows Family Guy goes for the stupid quick joke but its now a stale formula thats too predicitable and the show has no real way to reinvent itself into something better. The formula with say… South Park has always been flexible and can go in any direction it wants for each episode. They do it in a much more clever way than Family Guy can(which is randomness they hope somehow sticks). Trey and Matt will give you 2 bad episodes a season, a ton of average/semi good ones and then one that just blows your socks off with hilarity. That has been their formula for years and it seems like they understand that every show eventually coasts and loses quality at some point, but at least give the fans a great episode each season that makes them remember why they loved the show to begin with.

    I will give credit to Seth on American Dad and its ability to have stayed on track. It basically is this generations Flintstones just like the Simpsons was to 90’s kids. Family Guy filled some weird niche for 5 years with no real depth to it yet it still filled that void for us when Simpsons writing got terrible and we had nothing else to watch.

    South Park is and always will be superior to Family Guy in every way, but American Dad has the ability to have a bigger universal appeal as South Park’s humor can alienate huge demographics who don’t get the in-depth humor and never will watch the show(Its basically a male oriented show that you watch alone seeing how Trey Parker will work his magic on a certain pop culture topic). American Dad is the show I can watch with my girlfriend or friends in social situations and it be just the right amount of riding the line and everyone still laugh.

    1. All solid points. I will admit to finding American Dad more tolerable than Family Guy, but it’s political humor is just as uninteresting.

      1. I love South Park (I’m a female and watch it with my boyfriend all the time) and I used to like American Dad. In fact, had it not been for the fact that it was a factor in something traumatic that happened to me last year, (I’d rather not talk about it) I’d still watch it.

  4. I’ve never understood the appeal of Family Guy. My sense of humour never seemed to gel or match the Family Guy style of humour so I never found it funny. I know a few people who really liked it however. Do those people still watch it today? I don’t think so, but that’s besides the point since I guess a new generation of young people have started watching it. It obviously seems to still air for a reason. Surely it’s mostly kids who are keeping the show running because I don’t know any sane adults who continues watching this tripe lol.

  5. I found a lot of humor in family guy as a middle schooler. Recently I saw an episode or two of the first season which got a couple good laughs out of me, so I downloaded a few seasons and began to watch it. Honestly, I can’t sit through more than a couple episodes. The first season is the only one where there aren’t repeated “jokes” that are so bad they make me cringe. Some episodes barely manage to get a single grin out of me. Sometimes, the jokes genuinely make me facepalm. Now I’m not saying I’m “above” the humor or anything, it just doesn’t appeal to me. Adlibbing something as randomly as possible, in my eyes, doesn’t make it funny. Sometimes Family Guy is good at bringing back a joke from the beginning of an episode when least expected, but generally it just beats a dead horse with the same, drawn out, painful jokes.

    Also, to comment on your prose in your article, I felt like your last line was forced and I didn’t really get the point of it. “We all have to leave the aquarium eventually”…. I think you would have been better off to close the article without trying to force a “ringer”. Just my opinion.


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