Our salute to the Crazy Friend

There is a tradition in the TV sitcom formula called the Crazy Friend.

Crazy Friend rarely gets anything better than fourth-or-fifth billing, if they even make the opening credits at all. Sometimes it’s a neighbor (Wilson from Home Improvement), sometimes it’s a classmate (Millhouse in Simpsons) or it could be a co-worker (Morgan from Chuck). They have about five lines per show, and every one of them is designed to be a home run. As soon as they deliver those lines, they disappear again. They’re never, ever more attractive than the leads, and they’re entirely disposable. If they left the show, you’d barely know they were gone. It’s only after a couple weeks go by that you realize, “Hey we haven’t seen Crazy Friend X in a while! I miss him!” Invariably, then they show up, deliver their five lines and disappear again.  

We want one thing, and one thing only from Crazy Friend — to make us laugh. Hard.

That’s why it hurts to know Andrew Koenig, who made us laugh as a Crazy Friend for years, had trouble making himself laugh. In honor of Koenig, here are five of the best sitcom Crazy Friends of the last 30 years we couldn’t do without*:

ooooo, fish fry!

ooooo, fish fry!

Richard Millhouse Stabone, aka Boner, Growing Pains. As Mike Seaver’s best friend, Boner was the epitome of Crazy Friend, showing up every third episode or so, and creating hijinks when he did. He even had the perfect name — Boner — so that as soon as his name was mentioned, you knew funny things were going to happen. He was stupid, falling for Mike’s schemes and ploys on a weekly basis, but isn’t that what Crazy Friends are for? Good luck finding a smart Crazy Friend. Best episode: The Long Goodbye, season 2. Mike cons Boner (shocker) into painting his room, and he thinks the Seavers call God “Jimmy.” His love for fish is also shown as his weakness (again).

Buddy Lembeck, Charles in Charge. The evolution of Buddy Lembeck from his first appearance to the end of the show remains one of the biggest mysteries in TV history. He starts out as the typical Crazy Friend, the devil on Scott Baio’s shoulder, convincing him to do the things he wants to do, but doesn’t want to shirk his responsibility for. Buddy always had dates with twins lined up when Charles should have been watching the Pembrokes or the Powells or whatever interchangeable family they wanted to bring in. He seemed to be just as smart as Charles, just with a higher-level libido living the typical college life Charles wanted to. Think Arye Gross as Gordon Bloomfield in Soul Man. They were basically the same character. Then, sometime in season 4, things started to change. Buddy’s IQ started to drop precipitously to the point where he’d be considered somewhere between a drooling fool and Forrest Gump.  It culminated in the show final season with Buddy turning completely turning into a blubbering idiot. No reason was ever given for the transformation — Was he kicked in the head by a mule? — but it was that change that turned him from forgettable syndicated TV character to legendary Crazy Friend status. Best episode: Brain Man, season 5. Buddy gets ESP and starts predicting the future. It’s one of the funniest, if unknown, half hours of TV ever and sums up the Crazy Friend stereotype completely. Here’s the first part, they’re all on YouTube:

the prototypical loveable loser

the prototypical loveable loser

Irwin “Skippy” Handleman, Family Ties. Fulfilled two tried-and-true sitcom stereotypes — the Crazy Friend and the Crazy Neighbor. As Crazy Neighbor, he didn’t come close to The Fonz or Larry from Three’s Company. But as the Crazy Friend who chased after Mallory and usually got roped into whatever crazy scheme Alex was cooking up, he had few equals. You didn’t need Skippy to have a good episode of Family Ties, but his appearance usually made the episode better. It helped that he was pretty dumb, so it was easy to see why he and Mallory had all the same classes together and why Alex — and even Jennifer, for that matter — could bend him to his will. Best episode: My Brother’s Keeper, season 5. Skippy interviews for a fraternity Alex was a member of.

Jazz, Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. If you want to take the Crazy Friend thing to a different level, get yourself a gimmick. Jazz had two of the best Crazy Friend gimmicks ever — his entrance handshake with Will and his inevitable exit from the Banks house courtesy of Philip after he hit on Hilary or made a fat joke to Philip. He wore the same shirt every day, because they only taped the throw once and he had to keep wearing it or else it wouldn’t make continuity sense. So when he came in wearing that ugly brown tribal shirt, you could get excited because you knew he was going to get thrown out the door somehow screaming the always hysterical “Ahhhhgggggggg!” What makes Jazz so interesting is that he’s not an actor, he’s Jazzy Jeff. As weird as it seemed to give a rapper his own TV show 20 years ago, it seemed even weirder to give his best friend a role in said show just for the heck of it. Best episode: Eyes on the Prize, season 2. Will chooses Carlton for a TV game show over Jazz.

did he do that?

did he do that?

Season 1 of Steve Urkel, Family Matters. The Fonz created the mold for how to make a secondary Crazy Neighbor/Crazy Friend break out to a major character on a sitcom — and the people behind Family Matters perfected it with Steve Urkel. This was a show going absolutely nowhere — it looked and sounded like every other family sitcom on TV, only toned down to fit in ABC’s Friday night family comedy block. It was an urban Full House. Then the little nerdy kid from next door started hanging around. He would come around for two minutes, annoy the crap out of everyone, push up his huge glasses, do his signature snort-laugh and take off, not to be seen again for a month’s worth of shows. Only he was the only funny part of the show, so he started showing up more. And more. By the second season, he was in every episode and even started appearing on the credits. That began the Urkel phenomenon, one of the darkest periods in sitcom history. But there’s a reason it started — because in that first season, he was arguably the best Crazy Friend this generation has ever seen. Best episode: The Party, season 1. If you’re looking for evidence of what Urkel was before he broke out, this is it.

*High-profile, every-week characters — Jack from Will and Grace, Joey from Friends, George from Seinfeld, Lowell from Wings, Lenny and Squiggy from Laverne and Shirley — aren’t eligible for the list, this is only about secondary characters we only see part of the time.

Feel free to discuss your own favorite sitcom Crazy Friend:

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