The Chandler-Joey Paradox

I’m taking a break from being pissed off so I can wax about writing and characters and stuff.

Given the popularity of Friends, I am about 99.9% certain that some one, some where, has written about what I’m about to write about, but a Google search of “Chandler Joey Paradox” comes up with nothing, which means that at the very least, I’m probably the first person to have given it a cool name. First rule of writing, kids: give your shit awesome names. Second rule: awesome names should have an X or Z somewhere in there. Third rule: deliberately misspelling words to jam an X or a Z in there is basically the opposite of good writing. These tips are white-hot, I hope you’re writing these down.

So, Friends. Everybody who watched sitcoms in the late 90s probably knew all about Friends, as many consider it to have been the flagship of the Young Adult Sitcom era that persists to this day, heralding the end of the Family Sitcom era before it. It was a pretty big deal. If you never watched it, and can stomach the casual racism, homophobia, transphobia, and misogyny emblematic of the period (some day, SOME DAY I’ll be able to recommend a thing without making that disclaimer), you can check it out on Netflix and probably a few other legitimate streaming services. All that you need for what I’m talking about today is a basic understanding of two characters, and how they relate to the rest of the cast: Chandler and Joey.

Chandler is the resident funnyman. The jokester. The witty one. Every single episode, Chandler is guaranteed to have several one-liners or puns for an expertly-timed laugh, useful for breaking tension or if it’s been too long since the previous joke. Joey, on the other hand, is the resident dimwit. The lummox. The dopey one. Not often given one-liners or punchlines, the humor from his character typically stems from his lack of awareness and/or intelligence in the situation at hand.

And yet, if you ask fans of the show which character they thought had the funniest moments, most, if not all, would say Joey. Even though Chandler is The Funny One, Joey, The Slow One, usually gets much bigger laughs.

Ladies, Gentlemen, Everyone in Between, the Chandler-Joey Paradox.

While I’m not certain if this phenomenon has hit Trope status, it can also be seen in other works as well. In Firefly, for instance, while just about everything that Wash SAYS is funny, just about everything that Jayne DOES is funny, and fans of that show are more likely to quote lines like “I’ll be in my bunk” or “This is my very favourite gun” over lines like “Were I unwed, I would take you in a manly fashion. Because you’re pretty” (though I will concede that “Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal!” likely gets quoted more than anything from that show, but I digress).

The dichotomy in how the humor of these characters is delivered affects the audience’s response to it. Chandler TELLS jokes, while Joey ENACTS or sometimes even EMBODIES jokes. Typically, the setup for each of these styles of humor differs greatly as well; Chandler needs only a single setup line of dialogue or two, whereas Joey requires an entire situation to be constructed around the eventual payoff. As a result, the humor of Joey’s character resonates with audiences to a much greater degree, as it necessitates some investment into the situation as a whole rather than just a punchy one-liner. It’s the difference between slapstick and standup, in terms of comedy. In standup, the focus is almost always on the punchline, whereas slapstick depends on constructed situational humor.

In a comedy series, both styles of humor have their role in keeping the audience engaged. As stated before, one-liners and punchlines are useful for breaking emotional tension and keeping a humorous pace. Because situational humor has a significantly higher demand for investment on the part of both the writers and the audience, “telling jokes” keeps the audience laughing while building up to the much more significant payoff that comes from “embodying jokes”.

The principle of a funny situation’s inherent superiority to a funny single line is exactly why most people consider Calvin & Hobbes to be vastly, VASTLY superior to the sweeping majority of newspaper comics, both at the time and at present.

Now, go forth and write funnier jokes!



17 Things Only Jos Will Understand – #11 is so accurate it hurts!

1. Heheh. Butts.

Am I right, me?

2. Axe Deodorant Body Spray Kills Kids

Disclaimer: Not insofar as any other aerosol spray applied so liberally in a poorly ventilated bathroom, but nonetheless

3. When You Almost Kill Your Roommates By Setting Your Underwear On Fire

Ugh, the most annoying thing!

4. All Your Reeds End Up Curved Because You Lost Your Mouthpiece Covers Ages Ago

Which dovetails neatly into…

5. Having Professional-Grade Mouthpieces To Play Your Student-Grade Horn

Berg Larsen or not, there’s only so much you can do to make a Yamaha sound good.

6. Dropping Manufacturer Names To Make Yourself Sound Learned About Saxophones

I am literally the only person who does this.

7. Having An Anglican Father, An Alliance Mother, Attending A Baptist Church, Then Choosing Buddhism In Adulthood.

Three churches, one God, and I end up following the teachings of a guy whose legacy to the world was intentionally confusing and contradictory stories and poems.

8. No One Knows What You’re Talking About When You Mention That Christian Extreme Sports Video From When You Were In Grade 7

Seriously, NO ONE KNOWS.

9. You Were Weirdly Into The Manhattan Transfer In The 90’s

…And I did not understand why none of my friends liked “Gentleman With A Family” as much as I did.

10. You Know That ‘Glee’ Is Just A Cheap Rip-Off Of ‘Kids, Incorporated’

I knew about Martika, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Mario Lopez and Fergie BEFORE they were cool. Also Ryan Lambert, but not THAT Ryan Lambert.

11. Having An Older Sister And Best Friend Who Were Subject To Severe Psychological Abuse At The Hands Of Missionaries Who Were Teaching Them A Lesson About Faith

This one’s kind of fucked up. While they were preparing for a Mission to build a house in Tijuana, the leaders staged a raid to kidnap a bunch of Christian teenagers under the premise that they were now being persecuted for their faith. The details are a bit vague this many years later, but as I recall, this happened in Los Angeles, and my sister ended up in a fake holding cell, while my best friend escaped among the refugees. Where was I when all this was happening? In Edmonton, learning how to play saxophone better.

12. While Your Friends Were Getting Kidnapped By Christians, You Were Learning How To Play Saxophone Better

Seriously, as an adult studying psychology, that is FUCKED UP.

13. When You Pick An Arbitrary Number For Your Dumb Satire Column’s Title Before Actually Writing Said Dumb Satire Column And Find Yourself Spinning Your Metaphorical Tires Just To Fill The Gaps

Weirdly specific problems that only I can relate to. That’s what we’re here for, right?

14. Your Mother Had Her Gall Bladder Removed And It Cured Her Lactose Intolerance

My family’s bodies are weird.

15. Watching Your Young Adult Friends Become Aunts/Uncles And It Blows Their Minds But It’s No Big Deal To You Because You’ve Been An Aunt Since Age 3

But even THAT pales in comparison to…

16. You Were Babysat By Your Neighbor Whose Youngest Daughter Was A Year Younger Than Her Granddaughter, Both Of Whom She Also Babysat

All those other Me’s know what I’m talking about!

And finally…

17. You Break A Multiple-Week-Long Hiatus For A Dumb Joke Column That You’re Mostly Writing To Spite Buzzfeed And Its Readers, Many Of Whom Are Good Friends Of Yours

And I don’t even get paid for this low-effort crap!