Sometimes in order to celebrate comedy, you have to kill it. Nothing defeats the purpose of humor like examining why something is funny. Funny is just funny and it wouldn’t be funny if you had to explain it. Having said that: some comedies deserve to be examined. Some comedies put in the extra work and demand that you tear apart their structure looking for hidden brilliance and parse apart every joke into every component piece so you can marvel at them all the better.
Veep is one of those comedies. Creator Armando Iannucci didn’t create a half-hour TV comedy, he created a Blitzkrieg-ing comedic tank tearing apart the pay-cable countryside. It’s astonishing how quickly and effortlessly the jokes come in Veep. The White House is the perfect atmosphere for Iannucci’s styling and his cast’s talents. * It’s a fast-paced, stressful world that is the perfect Petri dish for the quick wit and rapid-fire insults from Julia Louis-Dreyfuss and company.
*It’s probably not a coincidence that after tackling The West Wing Aaron Sorkin wanted to go behind the scenes of a SNL-style variety show. 30 Rock was probably the king of fast-paced variety before Veep, so The White House and variety show settings must be similar in terms of franticness and stress-based humor.
Veep crams more jokes into a half hour than any other show currently on television and perhaps more than most actual Presidential administrations likely can cover in two terms. With that in mind, we decided to see if we could calculate just what Veep’s Joke Per Minute total (or JPM) is.
This carefully calibrated equation is calculated by literally counting off the number of jokes in each episode via tally mark. Then I divided that by total number of minutes in an episode. TV sabermetrics are pretty easy.
As for what constitutes a joke? Well that’s where the killing comedy part comes in because we need to analyze them far beyond they were likely meant to be analyzed. Thankfully, the vast majority of Veep’s humor is dialogue-based. Most people would acknowledge that the vice president of the United States calling the freakishly tall and equally as loathsome Jonah “jolly green jizzface” is a joke (and a damn fine one at that). For the most part, spoken lines are easy to keep track of as jokes. And since a lot of the dialogue is insult-based, the characters are aware they’re being funny. We will also count lines of dialogue in which a character is unaware they are being funny but the former is much easier to track.
We also have to count visual humor (for example: Jonah flattening a woman while running to a meeting he wasn’t invited to) and conceptual humor (the sheer absurdity of Gary passing notes about a painting during a meeting for peace in the Middle East). And then there are the jokes that seem uncategorizable but are too funny to be ignored. The vast majority of these usually involve Gary’s facial expressions or uncomfortable laughs. It’s not always a simple process but we think we were fair in calculating the correct number of jokes for each other. Below are the final statistics, along with some commentary for each episode.
Running time: 29:01
Total number of jokes: 118
Best joke: “Live long and fuck off!” - Congressman Roger Furlong (Dan Bakkedahl)
If you want an idea of what constitutes the absolute lowest expectation of what we can constitute as a joke for the purposes of this “study,” “Joint Session offers a good example. When Selina is shocked at the military offering her 50 billion in budget cuts, she later remarks to her staff: “5, 0, followed by a bunch of 0s?” To which Kent responds curtly “Nine.” That’s it. It’s not necessarily “Who’s On First?” but it’s a funny enough nod to Kent’s robot-like qualities to count Elsewhere, it’s worth noting that Jonah Ryan’s first lines of the whole season are: “Ladies be crying, pimps be dying. It’s Jonah Ryan.” What a baller.
Running time: 29:37
Total number of jokes: 112
Best joke: “So we go back to the idea of turning that frown into the inverse of a frown.” – Kent Davison (Gary Cole)
Not three minutes into the episode, Selina says “Middle-East? Middle-Easy!” That’s the lowest accepted humor that can be counted towards this episodes JPM. A pretty excellent conceptual joke is the fact that Catherine Meyer’s popularity index is so low. And it has the added benefit of leading to so many great jokes on top of it. This show is so great at taking one funny concept and building upon it. When any funny or strange thing happens, every character gets to circle in like vultures and take another poke at the initial joke’s carcass. Kent is this episode’s big winner with jokes like “Catherine, America doesn’t like you.”
Running time: 28:44
Total number of jokes: 138
Best joke: “Plus, he’s got that inherently guilty look – that surprised masturbator face.” - Dan Egan (Reid Scott)
“Data” features the second highest JPM of the season. Does that mean it’s necessarily the second funniest? An argument could certainly be made. It’s a very verbose episode with absolutely beautiful comedic lines like “This is catching fire like a gas station in a Michael Bay movie,” “It’s a fickle world and you’ve just been fickled,” and “Where did HIV come from?” “I think some guy fucked a monkey.”
But for whatever reason absolutely no line is funnier to me than Richard T. Splett’s “Be careful, Mr. Ryan. It burns your hand even through the corrugated sleeve” as he passes a coffee to Jonah. There is nothing inherently funny about that statement but Sam Richardson’s perfectly concerned delivery combined with the use of the word “corrugated sleeve” is somehow flat out hilarious. If we broke down JPM per character, Jonah and Richard would likely be in the leaderboard early on.
Running time: 29:32
Total number of jokes: 117
Best joke: “I’m so tired I could sleep a horse.” – Ben Cafferty (Kevin Dunn)
“Tehran” offers the most instructive example of how conceptual or plot-based humor is counted under the JPM model. When Gary and Mike are left behind in Tehran that is initially counted as one joke because the idea that Selina would leave two of her people behind in Iran for her convenience is quite funny. Then, Gary and Mike’s increasingly frantic reactions also count as jokes of their own. That’s not even to mention the jokes that get generated from other characters regarding Gary and Mike’s plight. “Man up, Gary. Or at least lady down a bit,” and “Wonderful. Black Hawk Down with Laurel and Hardy” are both great.
“Tehran” also features which at first glance is the end of Jonah’s getting molested by Teddy storyline with Jonah confessing to Bill and Kent and Bill responding “Ok, we got nothing out of that but a funny story.” But it will continue to pay dividends in future episodes as it’s the catalyst for Selina to get VP Doyle off the ticket.
Running time: 31:05
Total number of jokes: 121
Best joke: “Everything I have done has been to serve you. And that goes double for fondling Jonah!” – Teddy Sykes (Patton Oswalt)
“Convention” features the joke with the longest time between set up and pay off in the whole season. When Doyle comes to meet with Selina to get off the Presidential ticket, Gary asks if he should clean up the room they’re meeting in and Selina says to not bother. Then at the end of the episode, Selina makes sure Gary cleans the room quickly before her new VP, Tom James arrives. It’s counted as one joke, but is technically one joke that is 20 minutes long.
Also, near the end of the episode, Tom James accepts Selina’s offer by saying “Madame President, it is with deep regret I’m afraid I’m going to have to accept.” This is counted as a joke once, but when Selina insists that Tom re-tell the same joke to everyone in the room, the joke is counted under JPM rules each additional time because the joke is now about how manically relieved Selina is instead of the joke, itself.
Running time: 30:31
Total number of jokes: 124
Best joke: “I’m sorry, ma’am. A number of tall women were molested and Mr. Ryan was one of them.” – Richard Splett (Sam Richardson)
For my money, the funniest joke in the entire season belongs to “Storms and Pancakes,” which features an impressive JPM of its own. An unnamed White House staffer walks up to Jonah, says “Teddy sends a message” and then reaches for Jonah’s balls. It is hysterical in how quick it happens and how closely it resembles “The Lannisters send their regards” from Veep’s Sunday night mate, Game of Thrones. Jonah, in general is just on fire in this episode.
“You know what you do with lame animals?” – Jonah
“Care for them.”- Richard
“You shoot them dead.” – Jonah
Then there’s also the revelation that Jonah is just one of many staffers that Teddy has harassed but they all happen to be tall women that look like him.
Running time: 31:05
Total number of jokes: 142
Best joke: “Shouldn’t we be in a panic room by now?” - Gary Walsh (Tony Hale). “Gary, every room you’re in is a panic room.” – Sue Wilson (Sufe Bradshaw)
If we could identify one minute in season four of Veep, it may be the first minute of “Mommy Meyer.” “Please don’t make me go to work today. I’ll fake my own death,” Mike tells his wife before suddenly remembering it is her birthday and leaving her with the check. “Mommy Meyer” also features the highest number of jokes of any season four episode, but thanks to a shorter running time in “Data,” comes up just short for leader in JPM. That’s ok because Mike’s sad sack behavior leads to a renewed vigor in the insult comedy that this show is known for.
“Hey Sue, get Mike to draft a statement. He’s got a thoughts and prayers template.” “Mike, you’re a spokesman, you’re not supposed to say anything.” “Your face kind of looks like a sad egg.”
Running time: 29:42
Total number of jokes: 124
Best joke: “I’m surprised you two got out of your own mother’s vaginas.” – Dan Egan (Reid Scott). “Oh, I got out of there like I had a fucking map.” – Jonah Ryan (Timothy Simons)
As revealed in the episode’s title, “B/ill” has two over-arching jokes that color many of the other jokes in the episode. The first is the idea that the president wants to kill her own bill so that she has a better chance at re-election. The second is that the president is also very, very sick but still trying to run the free world. The adherence to these two concepts limits the opportunity for JPM a little bit but there is still a lot of golden lines in “B/ill.” “It’s like something from a political cartoon.” “What? Not funny?” is a clear favorite. A shot out is also due to the absolute most subtle and under the radar joke of the whole season: the fact that Pearson has only the bottom button buttoned on his jacket.
Running time: 32:12
Total number of jokes: 158
Best joke: "I value confidentiality and paradoxically I don't care who knows it." Lee Patterson (Jessie Ennis)
We’ve previously discussed how Veep is at its best when its talking amongst itself. It’s no surprise then that “Testimony” which frames the plot around a series of recorded depositions and testimonies where the characters must talk their way out of trouble features season four’s highest JPM. The JPM likely could have been even higher if not for the fact that “Testimony” is also the season’s longest episode to this point.
While the vast majority of the jokes produced in “Testimony” are of a verbose nature, there is one contextual joke I love. When Bill tries to explain the concept of “snowballing” to the hearing, it’s even funnier if you know the other contextual definition of “snowballing.” Head over to the Urban Dictionary or watch Clerks for more information.
Of course, the most pressing question at hand is: did we count all the separate insults in the “Jo-Nad” file as their own jokes? We sure did, and here they all are: J-rock, Jizzy Galespie. Jack and the Giant Jack-off. Gaylien, Tinker-balls, Wadzilla, One Erection, The Pointless Giant, The 60-Foot Virgin, Jizzpanzee, Jono Ono, Hagrid's Nutsack, Scrotum Pole, Transgenderformers, 12 Years a Slave to Jerking Off, Benedict Cuminhisownhand, Guyscraper, The cloud Botherer, Supercalifragilisticexpialousdickcheese, Teenage Mutant Ninja Asshole, Pubebaca.
Running time: 29:09
Total Number of Jokes: 123
Best Line: “The rulebook’s been torn up now and America is wiping its nasty ass with it.” – Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus)
“Election Night” is the final episode of season four and also strong evidence that this whole enterprise may have been for naught. “Election Night” features a relatively low JPM by season’s standards but despite that is still one of the most purely enjoyable episodes of the whole show’s run. Thanks to a deep dive into the Constitution’s Wikipedia page (you definitely Googled 12th and 20th Amendments), the finale is wonderfully plot-driven and enjoyable despite a derth of true “Veep-y” jokes. Still, it also proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that Julia Louis-Dreyfus does the best line reads in the business.
What can we conclude for this raw data? Little as to my knowledge nobody actually calculates jokes per minutes for TV comedies because that’s insane. But if one day you should decide to calculate the JPM for a full season of a comedy, just know that the number to beat is officially: 4.28.
Season JPM: 4.28
Highest JPM Episode: Testimony (4.92)
Lowest JPM Episode: East Wing (3.81)