I grew up in what may have been the Golden Age of Food Comedy. Back in those early days of cable TV, my pre-teen peers and I memorized every line of Eddie Murphy’s ice cream man skit from Delirious, the one where a Mister Softee truck drives through a neighborhood prompting kids to scream, “The ice cream man is coming! Iiiiice Creeeeeeam!” Murphy was dressed in red leather, dancing around and recounting how kids would taunt those who hadn’t gotten ice cream: “You can’t afford it. ‘Cause you are on da welfare!” That bit went viral before viral was a thing.
Everywhere you looked, food and comedy made for hilarious pairings. Fuzzy-haired Gallagher smashed melons; David Letterman dropped food from tall buildings and challenged his studio audiences to “Know Your Meats;” Steven Wright, delivery as dry as stale bread, told jokes like, “I went to a restaurant that serves ‘breakfast all the time.’ So I ordered French Toast during the Renaissance.”
Sketch comedy shows like Saturday Night Live found humor in beer commercials, while the Canadian equivalent, SCTV, featured a faux 3D horror film series sketch that included “Dr. Tongue’s Evil House of Pancakes,” starring John Candy and a stack of flapjacks. And the after-effects of Monty Python were felt profoundly during my teenage years; I couldn’t get enough of the specialty cheese shop that was seemingly out of every variety of cheese imaginable, yet for some reason had a man playing the Greek string instrument the bouzouki. “How about cheddar?” the frustrated customer, played by John Cleese, asks. He’s met with a reply from shop owner Michael Palin, “Well we don’t get much call for it around here, sir.” Cleese is livid. “Not much—? It’s the single most popular cheese in the world!” “Not ’round here, sir,” the owner calmly counters.
During the past few decades, food and drink have continued to inspire comedians, and today we have everything from Aziz Ansari and Nick Offerman riffing on food on Parks and Recreation to foodie-mocking Portlandia gags to the absurd Epic Mealtime sketches to podcasts like Michael Ian Black’s Mike and Tom Eats Snacks to awesome sketches on sites like Funny Or Die.
So it’s certainly a good time to check in with today’s rising stars of comedy — at least the ones who seem to appreciate a good sandwich — while revisiting classic moments and trying to figure out if Guy Fieri is funny in an ironic way or just funny. Food Republic’s first Comedy Week — I hope there will be many more — will feature interviews, countdowns, a few videos and other tidbits from the strange corners where food and comedy intersect. We’ll have input from guest contributing editor Max Silvestri, co-host of the weekly comedy showcase Big Terrific in Brooklyn. And we’d love to hear from you, if you have favorite food-comedy memories you’d like us to explore. (Write in the comments below, or send a note to firstname.lastname@example.org).
And in case you were wondering, yes, to get in the mood for Food Republic Comedy Week, I’m channeling Eddie Murphy by wearing a red leather suit as I write this. Stay hungry.