Sunday, June 17, 2007

Chuckles Bites the Dust

Many claim that the "Chuckles Bites the Dust" episode of THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW was the single greatest episode of situation comedy. I have to agree. Written by David Lloyd and directed by Joan Darling (not Jay Sandrich who directed most MTM episodes. Jay thought the script was in poor taste and opted out of directing it.)

As luck would have it, I was in the studio audience that night. We knew early on that this was something special. Shown here is the famous funeral scene. They filmed it twice and both times Mary was spot on.

If ever there was a classic scene, this is it. Filmed 30 years ago but just as funny and touching today.



COMING UP TUESDAY NIGHT: Allan Burns, one of the creators and executive producers of THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW shares his rememberances of the classic "Chuckles Bites the Dust" episode.

44 comments:

Kevin Arbouet said...

HILARIOUS.

Reminds me of that classic scene from Porky's when they were all laughing in the principal's office.

Anonymous said...

Talk about harshing my mellow. It never would have occurred to me to compare the MTM "Chuckles" episode to Porky's. Somehow the magic (and entertainment value) of Porky's has always eluded me.

Steve said...

Ken,

I think I can speak for us all and say that it's time for some more Mary stories! (insert evil laugh here.)

Philip said...

This really is in the comedy pantheon, up there with WKRP's turkey scene and the "Master of the Domain" Seinfeld episode.

maven said...

Great to see that scene again, Ken! Loved hearing Jim Brooks' special laugh, too!

baabaanne said...

I have not seen this in years, and it's still the funniest bit I have ever seen on television. Thanks Ken.

ajmilner said...

This really is in the comedy pantheon, up there with WKRP's turkey scene and the "Master of the Domain" Seinfeld episode.

Interesting how the funniest sitcom episodes often deal with death. The best FAWLTY TOWERS was probably "The Kipper and the Corpse." One of the funniest CHEERS episodes was Woody's wedding, with a dead body turning up at the most inopportune moments. Matt Groening invariably lists "Homer's Enemy" (Frank Grimes accidentally killing himself) as one of his favorite SIMPSONS episodes.

And notice how similarly Mary behaved in the "Chuckles" episode before the funeral with the way she played Beth in ORDINARY PEOPLE. Those two performances aren't that far removed if you think about it.

Cathy Krasnianski said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cathy Krasnianski said...

The MTM show was (and still is) one of my favorites, so it's ironic that the one and only episode I missed was the final show. To this day, I still have no idea what happened, because I've never seen it repeated.

D. McEwan said...

Cathy,
They all died, except Lou, who went to Los Angeles to do an hour drama. It was a scream.
The funniest shows ARE always about death, because death is the thing we most need to laugh at.

When I think of Joan Darling, I always think of "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman".

Anonymous said...

The timing is impeccable. The little pieces of business are impeccable. And what a pleasure to see comedy focus on adults. Multi-camera comedy, when it's good, makes the other "edgy" single camera shows pale by comparison. I dare say it's still what large numbers are waiting to see again, not just niche audiences.

Here was also a show, once it hit its stride, that was funny as hell, didn't seem self-consciously jokey or impressed with itself. And the characters were also endearing. You smile when you see them. How many shows can you say that about now? ...

And yes, more Mary stories!

theprofessor said...

For 17 years I have shown this episode to my college writing and film studies classes. Never fails to leave them laughing. And none of them has ever seen it before I show it in class. And in 30 years I haven't been to a funeral without thinking of "...a little seltzer down your pants."

NYLouOC said...

"With God as my witness, I thought turkeys could fly!"

One of my favorites:

"Hash" - BARNEY MILLER. There is NOTHING funnier than Nick Yemana, when asked by Barney what is going on, whispering in his ear, "mooshy-mooshy"! Or this exchange between Barney and Fish near the end of the episode:

BARNEY: You feeling okay, Fish?

FISH: Sure...why?

BARNEY: Those brownies...were laced with hashish!

FISH: Hashish? You sure?

BARNEY: Confirmed by the lab....

FISH (slightly disappointed): Oh....

BARNEY: You okay?

FISH: Sure...its just that...its the best I've felt in twenty years.....and it has to illegal!

Or..a perp asking Fish what two confiscated dueling swords were for, and Fish answering, "Crowd control!"

Or Wojo, after being told about the brownies being laced, asking Barney for forgiveness:

WOJO: Barn...be divine...forgive me...please???

BARNEY: Okay Wojo...I forgive you...

[Wojo gives Barney a big hug..then, as an aside to a bystander]:

WOJO: Boy...ask an ordinary person to be divine, and see what you get!

great episode of a great show...

Mr. Hollywood said...

Anybody ever see the Bilko episode when a chimp is put through an Army physical? Truly one of the funniest TV show episodes I've ever seen.
The funniest sketch ever: the "This Is Your Life" take-off on YOUR SHOW OF SHOWS. Howard Morris hanging on Sid Caesar's leg while Sid walks around the stage crying...magnificent!!

D. McEwan said...

Well Mr. Hollywood, you're in luck, because the monkey Bilko episode is in the "Best of Bilko" DVD collection, and the THIS IS YOUR LIFE sketch is on the "Best of Sid Ceasar" DVD. Woe unto any visitor to my domicle who I learn hasn't seen one or both of them, because they are then not allowed to escape until they have seen them. No one's complained about this policy yet.

Great Big Radio Guy said...

This was indeed the best episode of the seven years. The most inventive one was "Mary's Big party" which was filmed almost completely in darkness.

Yeah, it was a clip show, and they avoided paying Johnny Carson an on-camera fee, but it demonstrated the brilliance of the MTM writers and cast - and the audience stuck with it for the entire half-hour. They were truly rewarded.

Great Big Radio Guy said...

P.S. - I also recall that there was a contractual issue Carson had with NBC which was circumvented with the blackout script. Does anyone have the backstory?

Smelvis said...

I agree - many of the best sitcom moments involve death.

1) Taxi episode when Jim's father dies

2) Spin City (I think?). Funeral for a police dog that ends with a dog jumping out of the coffin.

Tom Quigley said...

I've always thought that this is the single funniest scene ever done in a sitcom (and it made David Lloyd an instant folk hero among sitcom writers). There's not a weak line throughout it. And it'll probably be the scene that I'll never grow tired of watching, or laughing at for the rest of my life...

Wayne from Maine said...

You guys missed the best one of them all!
Taxi - What does a yellow light mean?
Slow down.
Wwwhaaaat doooeeeessss aaaaaaa yyyyelllloooooooow lllliiiiighttttt mmmmmeeeeeeaaaannnnn.

To this day all I have to do is think about Christopher Lloyd and Jud Nelson doing this for several minutes and I am in the fetal position on the floor with stomach cramps!

Anonymous said...

I know I'm in the minority here, but I always thought "Ted Baxter's Famous Broadcasting School" was a funnier all-around episode than "Chuckles." Anybody with me on this one? Long live the TBFBS!

addy said...

Thanks for mentioning that moment from Taxi, Wayne From Maine. It's got to be one of the funniest things I have ever seen...period.

Miles said...

David has always been rightfully proud of this episode. The taxi episode mentioned (what do you do at a yellow light) is also a classic as is th episode where Louie pushed a wheelchaired person out of a courtroom and down many, many...many flights of steps.

Marilyn said...

That was soooo funny. Thanks for posting it, I had a good laugh. I think it's a mark of good comedy when a scene, such as this one, remains timeless after all of these years.

Christy said...

You were in the studio audience? That's pretty awesome.

I have to say one of my favorite comedy moments was the "wrong baby" episode of the Dick van Dyke Show.

Anonymous said...

another piece of genius from David Lloyd is the episode (an hour long, i think) where Woody and Kelly got married --- the pacing and comedy made it seem like it had been made by Howard Hawks circa 1938

Anonymous said...

...episode of Cheers, i should add.

Jack Ruttan said...

That clip killed. Thanks for posting it.

Paul Nicholson said...

You all have it wrong - but this is close.
By far the funniest moment in sitcom history is the final scene of the Dick Van Dyke episode "That's My Boy". Was absolutely hilarious beyond belief, and oh yeah, was a ground breaking moment in TV for the way it was treated.

Go watch it here.

Paul Nicholson said...

ha! my wife beat me to it. but i posted the video sweetheart ;-)

Anonymous said...

You guys are bringing back some great memories ...
Chuckles has always been at the top of my list but I must add two episodes of Frasier: Ham Radio and Room Service. I wish the final three seasons of MTM would be released --- all my favorites are in those
seasons, including Ted Baxter's Broadcast School and Sue Ann's Sister ... who could forget the round vibrating bed with a mirror on the ceiling? As for Dick Van Dyke, the episode where Laura accidentally reveals Alan Brady's baldness is another classic. Thanks for the great memories ...

Kathryn said...

I was also reminded of the Thanksgiving Turkey episode - once I stopped laughing. You can find it here:
http://youtube.com/watch?v=ZByndN_ffyw

Martin said...

Two more classics that deserve multiple viewings:
1) the "Pig-Man / Nervous Moyel" episode of Seinfeld ("Do you have any control over your baby? Because now would be the time to exercise it."), and
2) the Thanksgiving episode of Bob Newhart, where Bob, Howard, Jerry, and Mr. Carlin order Chinese food -- "More Goo to Go" It's a master class in comedy timing.

Len Dreary said...

I'd totally forgotten about that scene. So funny.

Thanks for reminding me how much I miss the wonderful Mary Tyler Moore. I fell in love with her (at the age of 8 or something) when she was in the DVD show and later watched every episode of MTM I could.
Of course she was the gateway drug to some of the finest writing ever seen on tv but it was her inimitable presence that thrilled me the most. I searched for years to find a woman just like her. Failed of course.

VP81955 said...

Smelvis said...
I agree - many of the best sitcom moments involve death.

1) Taxi episode when Jim's father dies

2) Spin City (I think?). Funeral for a police dog that ends with a dog jumping out of the coffin.


Anyone remember the "Murphy Brown" episode where Murphy and Frank are in a plane during turbulence and envision their own funerals? Very well done.

The Crutnacker said...

Some favorites of mine:

Frasier: (among many) Niles sets his pants on fire.

The Ski Lodge


TAXI: The one where Jim's dad dies has probably the most touching scene I can remember in all of sitcoms. I remember crying when he started playing, "You are the Sunshine of My Life." I've yet to see it again. Of course, now I'm guessing it's been cut out due to music rights.

WKRP: The Phone Police and the one with the Turkey

Any MASH Episode with Colonel Flag (and hell, just about any MASH episode)

The Three's Company episode where someone thinks Jack is gay.

ajmilner said...

Thanks for reminding me how much I miss the wonderful Mary Tyler Moore. I fell in love with her (at the age of 8 or something) when she was in the DVD show and later watched every episode of MTM I could.
Of course she was the gateway drug to some of the finest writing ever seen on tv but it was her inimitable presence that thrilled me the most. I searched for years to find a woman just like her. Failed of course.


When I was four years old my mother asked me who I thought the most beautiful woman in the world was. Without hesitating I said, "Mary Tyler Moore." Thirty-odd years later, I see no reason to amend my reply.

D. McEwan said...

If I'd answered my mother's question about who the most beautiful woman in the world was with anyone's name but hers, she'd have burst into tears, and my dad would have had a severe discussion with me.

Fortunately, Mother was never dumb enough to ask.

John said...

My two favorite MTM episodes feature Chuckles' introduction -- Season 1's "Election Night Coverage" which is really the first great episode built around the WJM newsroom -- and Lloyd's script that killed him off, which even managed to get laughs out of my cynical friend at college, who by age 19 was too-hip to give any TV sitcom credit for being funny (1976 being the time when the hip were only allowed to laugh at Saturday Night Live on TV).

Paul Duca said...

I still can't get over it...not only has Ken created many classic moments of TV comedy, he witnessed when one of the greatest of all time was born.

flem snopes said...

So many great Thanksgiving themed shows, too.

My favorite is the Thanksgiving dinner food fight from Cheers.

D. McEwan said...

A Friend of mine was up for the role of Ted Baxter when the MTM show was first being cast (Went to the other guy) and he had me hold script on him while he was learning lines for the final auditions. He had a full script, and it was the "Election Night Coverage" episode, and I read the whole script. Obviously, this was before the regulars were even fully cast, and the script underwent rewrites before it was shot as well.

But I remember being knocked out, as it was clearly the funniest sit-com episode I'd ever seen or read, and it was just a script, so I knew this show was going to be something very special.

Mike Barer said...

I remember the catchphrase, A little song, a little dance.." There was genious in that writing.

lump516 said...

I know I should be talking about how funny the scene is--and it's hilarious, but the main thing I noticed is that everyone's in black. Maybe it's just me, but having been to a few funerals in my life, very few people actually own a black dress or suit--darker clothes, mind you, but not black, just a most people don't own a morning coat or a frilly dress to wear to a wedding. Costume designers need to keep that in mind. That said, MTM was wearing one of the nicest black suits I've ever seen . . .