One of my favourite sitcom cliches is the character who clearly exists as an outlet for all the best lines, regardless of context. Within sitcoms alone, my all-time favourite example is Tracy Jordan on 30 Rock – he begins as a mildly outlandish man with a strange but coherent thought process, but the writers gradually realise that between what they end up doing with the character and Tracy Morgan’s simultaneously limited and committed performance, they can put absolutely anything in his mouth and it’ll be hilarious. All the other characters have some kind of limitation on their behaviour – Kenneth is one of the more restricted characters as almost every line he speaks ends up relating to him being either a country hick, nice to the point of being a pushover, or an aberration from beyond space and time (to be clear, this is hilarious), and all of the other characters are either realish people with realish motivations (like Liz or Jack) or have extremely defined behaviours and motivations (like Jenna or Frank) or intended emotional reactions (like Pete being pathetic). I suspect the writers ended up using Tracy as an outlet for extremely funny or absurd lines that they simply could not work out a proper context for, and this ended up freeing up everyone else and allow them to commit to being very specific characters. I actually can’t think of any other character who could plausibly say “And this time, I’m not talking about the disappearance of the middle class!” where that implausibility would be anywhere near as funny.
Related to this is Roger Sterling of Mad Men. Obviously, as a sitcom masquerading as a drama, Roger is a real person with real motivations who illustrates a particular kind of person in a particular kind of place, but one of those real motivations is to amuse himself, and he’s willing to sacrifice being liked or even comprehended to get it – one of my favourite Roger lines is when he quips to Sally that a woman looks like Anne Margaret, uncaring that she’s only a kid and won’t possibly get the reference. This is, of course, to the point that Roger gets the most racist and sexist lines of all the main characters; like all great storytellers, the writers are not willing to sacrifice the plausibility of their characters for the sake of sanitising them. At points during the show, I found myself wondering if the writers spent time after the initial plotting simply brainstorming Roger lines. This, of course, frees up the other characters to only say witty things that make sense for their particular senses of humour and at times when they would actually find the situation funny (Roger having a Hawkeye Pierce-like willingness to continue making jokes even when he’s unhappy).
Who are your favourite verbal wild cards?