So far, the 2020s have been somewhat of a train wreck. There’s never been a better time to retreat to the couch and chuckle at animations’ finest.
Cartoons are comfort food for the eyes. Familiar, easy to consume, and helplessly addictive. While cartoons are a medium, not a genre, a large portion of cartoon shows opt for a comedic route. From Mickey Mouse all the way to Disenchanted, cartoon’s have served as vessels for the human experience, and that experience includes plenty of situational humour.
In celebration of TV’s warm glow, we’re recalling the most memorable characters the medium has to offer. More specifically, the 10 most funny cartoon characters of all time, from oldest to newest. Disclaimer: Diversity is a little lacking in this list, as representing a diverse pool of characters is an ongoing issue for the medium. To quote Tyler, the Creator, “How many fuckin’ black cartoon characters is it on TV right now? Name five”.
While E. Coyote – Looney Tunes – (1949 – current)
The visual comedy of Roadrunner (“Velocitus Supersonicus”) and Wily E. Coyote (“Famishius Hungrientus”) began as a parody of Tom & Jerry. Even so, it didn’t take long for the show to earn its praise independently. While Tom & Jerry scored laughs with increasingly visceral violence, Coyote and Roadrunner branched out into more creative pursuits, evolving the possibilities of the cartoon medium in the process.
The premise was simple and reoccurring – Coyote tries to eat Roadrunner, but fails, and gets painfully humiliated. It was in the journey that the animators/writers made the magic happen. Take the ‘Fake Road Painting’ gag. Coyote attempts to capture Roadrunner by painting a picture of the road ahead. Instead of crashing into the painting, Roadrunner runs right into the picture and keeps going. Then, a truck drives out of the painting and bowls Coyote over. Inventive, hilarious, and defying audience expectations. Coyote brought us brilliantly timeless comedy and influenced comedians for years to come by bringing absurdist comedy into the mainstream. Beep beep!
Pingu – Pingu – (1986 – 2006)
How on earth could a children’s stop-motion claymation about anthropomorphic emperor penguins in the South Pole make the list? Here’s a better question. How could it not? Pingu is left-of-field, controversial, and ridiculous, and that’s why we love it. Let’s start with the dialogue. Instead of using English or going completely visual, Pingu opted for grammelot, essentially creating a new language (penguinese) in the process. Noot noot!
Then, there’s the animation. Claymation is a tedious art form, yet the creators didn’t cut corners. Instead, they used the style to their advantage, gifting Pingu with a megaphone-transformable beak, and soccerball-like transportation abilities. As far as storylines went, Pingu was a mischievous soul, with his pranks usually forming the plots.
What’s interesting is how many episodes were outright banned or censored before airing. It’s clear the writers were an edgy bunch, (Pingu’s mother slaps him, Pingu pours toilet water over his sister, alcoholic references), but honestly, as an older viewer, I appreciate the envelope getting pushed whenever it can.
Homer Simpson – The Simpsons (1989 – current)
This pick should surprise approximately 0% of you. Homer is arguably the funniest animated character of the 20th century, and arguably, the funniest TV character, period. Before the writers turned the Simpsons’ patriarch into a jerk-ass, Homer was so damn lovable. Despite embodying all seven deadly sins (pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth) the clueless father loved his family so very much, making him a hilarious disaster we could still root for.
Because we already know Homer so well, let’s make things interesting, and list off a hilarious quip for every deadly sin.
Pride – “I’m really glad you corrected me, Lisa. People are always really glad when they’re corrected”
Greed – “It’s not easy to juggle a pregnant wife and a troubled child, but somehow I managed to fit in eight hours of TV a day”
Lust – “Bart, a woman is like beer. They look good, they smell good, and you’d step over your own mother just to get one!”
Envy – “Stupid sexy Flanders!”
Gluttony – “If God didn’t want me to eat chicken in church, then he would have made gluttony a sin”
Wrath – “Why.. you little! [running to choke Bart]”
Sloth – “Getting out of jury duty is easy. The trick is to say you’re prejudiced against all races.”
Daria – Daria – (1997 – 2002)
Usually, spin-off shows suck arse, but Daria (a character from Beavis & Butthead) made the perfect candidate. Ironically, Beavis & Butthead was MTV’s dumbest show, and Daria was its smartest.
Daria’s sardonic nature and social commentary cut through the bullshit like a drunk uncle at Christmas. Except, instead of brazenly proclaiming her observations, Daria thrived in nooks and crannies, where she clinically assassinated her targets with precocious levels of awareness and vocabulary.
Admittedly, I’m not across Daria as much as I should be, but from what I’ve seen, this subversive high-schooler was an entertaining comfort for fellow disenfranchised youth all over America. If the satirical bite is your thing, definitely give Daria a spin. Don’t let the shoddy animation deter you!
Eric Cartman – South Park (1997 – current)
When creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone first envisioned Cartman, they imagined the 9-year-old to be like Archie Bunker. That is; unbelievably bigoted, petty, ignorant and entirely unfit for television. What followed was season after season of Cartman becoming increasingly heinous, culminating in the jaw-dropping Scott Tenorman Must Die (Season 5). In this pivotal episode, Cartman indirectly kills a bully’s parents, then makes the bully unknowingly eat pieces of them in a chilli-tasting contest. Yeah, that actually aired. And Radiohead made a guest appearance.
Cartman’s psychopathic behaviour is as funny as is it disturbing, but is certainly an acquired taste. If watching a 9-year-old indulge in every messed up thing on this god-forsaken planet sounds like a riotous time, then look no further than Eric Cartman. There are 24 seasons (and counting!) of disgusting acts to guiltily enjoy.
Peter Griffin – Family Guy – (1999 – current)
Peter Griffin is a discount Homer. Family Guy is a discount The Simpsons. Nevertheless, when your source material is The Simpsons, you’re still going to deliver some gut-wrenchingly funny moments. Especially when you’ve got a shameless father with an IQ of 70 running the joint. Family Guy is recognisable for its reliance on cutaway gags, which have become a polarising crutch. Sometimes, they’re hilarious enough to warrant cutting away from the story. Other times, they’re an unworthy distraction.
Peter Griffin gets the spot because from what I’ve seen, his character serves the cutaways best. For example, his fragile-male-ego is on full display in Season 16 Ep. 19, trying to reverse his trailer boat into the lake. It’s one of those sequences that drag on for a painfully hilarious amount of time.
Squidward – Spongebob Squarepants (1999 – current)
While obviously a kid’s show, Spongebob Squarepants does have a notably older fan base as well. Why? Because the writers are synonymous with sneaking in adult-targeted content. Content that will swim over kids’ heads, past Bikini Bottom (see!), and up into the real world of death and taxes. No character embodies the adult archetype better than Squidward, whose misanthropic and surly tendencies are all too relatable.
Simply put, Squidward is a total mood. He hates his job. He hates mornings. He hates idiotic customers. When someone hates all the things you hate too, you’re gonna love them. Even if they’re an esoteric recluse who plays the clarinet. Lines like “I knew I shouldn’t have got out of bed today” and “Hello. You’ve reached the house of unrecognised talent” make Squidward the funniest cartoon character below sea level.
Linda Belcher – Bob’s Burgers (2011 – current)
Linda is the eccentric matriarch of Bob’s Burgers. In a cartoon show about a failing burger business, Linda is the spice of life the patty desperately needs. Her compulsive obsession with the creative arts results in whirlwinds of zany shenanigans, as she brightens the town with her happy-go-lucky attitude.
Her creative spirit is at its funniest when it directly impacts her family. For example, her lying about going to a strip club instead of a dinner theatre, and encouraging her sister Gayle to hang anus-themed paintings in the family restaurant. Beyond her ability to drive plots to an unusual and sometimes frustrating point, every single mannerism that comes out of this charming character is to die for. Linda is that little part of us all that’s dying to make a sound in even the most uncomfortable moments.
This list is ridden with toxic mindsets, so just like Linda balances out the Belcher family’s gloom, I hope she does the same here. “It’s rated ‘R’ for really boozy, starring me”.
Rick Sanchez – Rick & Morty – (2013 – current)
Dan Harmon is a writer with a masterful balance between absurdity and realism. In his biggest shows, Community and Rick & Morty, Harmon is able to get away with some pretty ridiculous scenarios. He can, because his characters are ultimately grounded in realism, even when they’re trekking the stars. Take Rick, the tragicomedy grandfather of the beloved sci-fi sitcom. He’s a scientific genius, but, time and time again, Harmon subtly hints that Rick’s nihilism and irreverence only serve to hurt himself, and his family. Behaviour, action, and consequence.
Still, Rick’s bleak worldview is responsible for some of the funniest lines ever aired in the 2010s. Favourites include “weddings are basically funerals with a cake” and “Boom! Big reveal! I turned myself into a pickle!“. I respect TV critic Bob Chipman’s theory that Rick is a deconstruction of society’s unhealthy obsession with angsty, smart, men. Rick’s humorous spitefulness is a loaded injection. If Rick’s lifestyle feels like an aspiration, you might be missing the point.
Bojack Horseman – Bojack Horseman (2014 – 2020)
2D animation continued its dominance with Bojack Horseman. The Netflix sensation, as you probably remember, was a critically acclaimed adult comedy, recognisable for navigating sensitive topics like depression, guns, misogyny and other cultural minefields. Glass half empty protagonist Bojack was the mouthpiece for these complicated topics, providing a bitter yet sly perspective on everything that came his way.
You’d think a washed-up actor with depression wouldn’t be a relatable protagonist, but there’s a little bit of Bojack in all of us. His quips were sharp but especially memorable for their vulnerability. Try this on for size: “Settle! Because, otherwise, you’re just gonna get older and harder and more alone. And you’re gonna do everything you can to fill that hole- with friends and your career and meaningless sex, but the hole… doesn’t get filled. And one day you’re going to look around and you’re going to realise that everybody loves you… but nobody likes you. And that is the loneliest feeling in the world”.
Yeah, it’s dark humour alright, but it’s brilliant, I promise. There’s something really satisfying about the content being delivered earnestly, not watered down with patronising gags.