I Love Lucy and Lucille Ball:
Comedy's Lovable Fools
by Ken Sanes
What are sitcoms about?
One of the things they're about is
pretentious, lovable fools whose dreams are bigger than their grasp on
Like the character Lucy in the 1950s sitcom, I Love Lucy,
who is forever grabbing after celebrity and fame as it slips through her
fingers. Or like Barney Fife and Basil Fawlty, who put up grandiose
facades that have a way of collapsing around them.
And us -- well
the truth is we take fiendish pleasure in watching them suffer even
while we secretly admit that we are really watching ourselves.
Take Lucy, for example....
What's Lucy doing in a giant tub of
grapes in one well-known episode?
The answer is, she's stomping
It seems that Lucy wants to be in a movie that she
mistakenly thinks is about wine-making. So she's getting some firsthand
Uh oh - things don't look good, as Lucy gets into a
fight with another woman stomping grapes in the tub, and smooshes some
grapes in her face.
And down they go, wrestling in the grapes.
Later, when the producer sees how stained Lucy is with grape juice,
he gives the part to Lucy's sidekick, Ethel Mertz.
And the look
on Lucy's face is priceless. She'd like to give Ethel some grapes!
So what's this episode about?
It's about letting us empathize
with Lucy as she yearns for stardom, even as we laugh at her
As regular viewers, we know early on that all her
hopes will come to naught, which enhances the sadistic pleasure we
experience at her situation.
As she gets into the fight in the
tub we continue to laugh at her foolishness while we vicariously enjoy
letting out some aggression and mashing those grapes in another person's
face, like Lucy does.
Then, when Lucy is rejected for the movie,
we empathize with her loss and laugh at her foolishness.
Lucy snarls, we're still laughing at her but we like her so much, we
can't help but empathize with her and find her endearing at the same
Most of all, we enjoy watching the characters as they
appear to suffer and involve themselves in matters that are of great
moment to them but that are of no consequence to us.
playing at having these emotions, ourselves, even as we are freed from
having to really suffer them.
What is this episode about? It's
about what all fiction is about: the confrontation between our
narcissism and a world full of limitation. Like Lucy, we are all
self-involved fools with inflated dreams who are foiled by life.
Watching her, we get to laugh at ourselves while we deny it is about
ourselves, and enjoy the fact that it is someone else who is doing the
The fiction and the humor, and our affection for the
characters, as well as the fact that it is about other people who don't
really exist, all give us permission to laugh and help heal the pain we
experience as a result of the limitations of life. Oh yes, it also gives
us permission to be a little foolish ourselves.
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You can also go to: More on Situation
Comedies / An Essay on Sitcoms /
What's Being Said About Transparency /
Image by Alan Light (Flickr) [CC-BY-2.0
(www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
© 1996-2012 Ken Sanes