Why are sitcom writers so obsessed with ASU?

From the walk-only zones to the ban on kegs and drinking games during tailgating events, it may come as a surprise that this serious institution has a funnier side. ASU has educated several A-list comedians and comedy writers, including legendary late-night trailblazer Steve Allen, Jimmy Kimmel, David Spade and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” writer John Hughes.

While ASU may not churn out the comedy writers of the future quite like the newsroom of the Harvard Lampoon, that is a very impressive track record.

It is with that in mind that while ASU has fostered a roster of comedy talent who have skewered a wide range of topics since they left these halls, ASU takes far more of a roasting than it dishes out. Tune into just about any syndicated sitcom and in a fairly short amount of time, ASU will get a poke in the rib. With enough digging, what appears to be a series of isolated incidents turns out to be an all-encompassing pattern. From “30 Rock” to “American Dad” and everything in between, ASU is a worthy punchline.

Don’t believe it? Here are just a few examples:

Watch Jack Donaghy of “30 Rock” (Alec Baldwin) insult your intelligence!

Here’s Ned Flanders of “The Simposons” saying it’s easier to get into heaven than our fair university.

Last, “American Dad” has some choice words for the supposed ease of our classes.

All these examples are fairly recent, but using ASU as the butt of a joke is nothing new on television. Even the short-lived WB series “Mission Hill” featured a character scoffing at a low SAT score as “good enough … if you want to go to Arizona State.” Airing in 1999, this reference predates the idea of ASU being the “New American University,” laser-focused on inclusion and providing a university education to anyone willing to make the effort.

There is not a precise way to discern why ASU receives so much attention, mostly negative, in television sitcoms. Could it be related to a steady stream of bad press the University has received over the years, including but not limited to the Board of Regents not awarding President Barack Obama an honorary degree? Or is it our reputation as a party school with a larger-than-life Greek presence on campus that singles ASU out as a worthy target?

Both of those questions may factor in to the big picture, but unless one journeyman comedy writer has an ax to grind, it is likely not the case. It is a reasonable assumption that ASU receives more comedy attention than any other school because ASU is the largest university in the country. It is simply the law of numbers.

Great comedy is often painfully specific and expansively broad at the same time. More than any other form of humor, sitcoms have the burden of appealing to the largest audience possible. What better school to make a college-related joke about than the one that houses 82,000 students?

Therefore, much to the dismay of that other school down south, ASU is not some kind of laughingstock. As the barrage of billboards and wraps on the intercampus shuttle make abundantly clear, ASU is an accomplished institution that is home to a largely impressive group of students and a slew of noteworthy resources. It may remain true that ASU’s reputation of excessive partying precedes it, but it is not specificity that makes this school a target.

Despite what Yoda may think, size does matter indeed.

 

Reach the reporter at zheltzel@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @zachheltzel