Who would have thought back in 2001 that a little-seen “alternative” comedy about a summer camp would generate two sequels more than a decade later? Who would have thought virtually everyone in the cast would become uber-famous? Who would have thought that the sequels would be TV series on Netflix? Wait… what’s a Netflix? Does this have something to do with Y2K. My 2001 brain can’t handle this. The President is WHO?
Wet Hot American Summer has defied many odds to become a comedy institution. What better way to celebrate its staying power by incorporating it into our ongoing Jokes Per Minute studies? Our understanding of Jokes Per Minute was woefully inadequate and underfunded back in 2001 but thankfully Wet Hot American Summer stuck around long enough to be join our ongoing quest to catalog the JPM of every possible TV comedy.
The jokes in Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later are particularly hard to define. Pretty much every line uttered in Ten Years Later could be considered a joke to some extent depending on what level of irony we’re operating under.
Technically the fact that comedic actors in the 40s are playing characters in their 20s means that every frame could be considered a joke. We didn’t adopt that liberal of a definition for our JPM studies but it wasn’t that far off. Here is the JPM for each episode of Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later.
Episode 1: Reunion
Running Time: 25:22
Best Joke: “Those blueprints are literally kicking my ass.” – Ben
“Reunion” is a bit hamstrung by Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later‘s formatting when it comes to JPM. 5.91 is the second lowest of the eight episodes and that’s not particularly surprising considering it has a lot to set up. “Reunion” is essentially the first 1/8 of a movie whose jokes will pay off in later installments. Still the pure novelty of seeing all the familiar characters and what they’re up to is great. The 1991 jokes really hit the ground running too. Neil receives the rest of his belongings from his ex-girlfriend which include an ancient Mac laptop, one rollerblade, and “a bunch of other things from 1991.”
Episode 2: Softball
Running Time: 24:00
Best Joke: “Now let’s switch to your storyline, Susie.” – Claire
“Softball” gets started off HOT. It’s an immediate escalation and improvement from the episode that precedes it. That’s what happens when you introduce George Bush as a character followed shortly by the reintroduction of Ronald Reagan. Speaking of George Bush. “Softball” has some unexpectedly great visual humor.
Wait, isn’t George Bush in the White House? Why can we see the White House from the window….
That’s how you do visual humor.
Episode 3: Tigerclaw
Running Time: 25:04
Best Joke: “No one can survive a jump from that height.” – Warner. “Let’s get out of here. No need to wait another 30 seconds to see what happens.” – Graham
Tigerclaw is the first episode of Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later to climb over the 6 JPM mark and its well-earned. It introduces the silly, baffling legend of Willy Shits-His-Pants and the perfectly round turd. Not only that but there is a scene near the end of the episode in which Beth is decided whether to take Tigerclaw’s offer to buy the camp or not that boasts an astronomical JPM. It’s just a series of quick cuts among characters’ faces and I counted each one as a joke. The scene is roughly 53 seconds and features 18 jokes. That’s… high.
Episode 4: Lunch
Running Time: 28:22
Best Joke: “I don’t know if you remember but earlier today you said we could talk later.” – Katie. “Of course! Back in episode 2.” – Coop
One of the advantages and drawbacks of the Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later movie-like format is that it’s a pretty smooth ride. Every episode feels like part of a whole and therefore there don’t appear to be any outliers for better for worse. “Lunch,” however is the only episode to break the JPM mold.
It’s the highest scoring episode of the season by a clear margin. Why is the JPM so high and why is “Lunch” so lucky to get all the best jokes? I have no idea but I suppose it makes sense that the mid-season and middle of the story is where the writers and actors feel most comfortable. There are so many incredible moments. Amy Poehler and John Early’s verbal battle is one of the funniest moment of the season and then there are more subtle, yet equally brilliant jokes like McKinley’s desperate pronunciation of “Fifty-Fifty.”
Episode 5: King of Camp
Running Time: 26:44
Best Joke: “So you think you’re king of camp? Well in my book? Charlie? Nothing…at all. No chance.” – Andy
Nobody can pull off the mangling of a line quite like Paul Rudd. His stumbling threat to Deegs right at the end of the cold open represents a real high for “King of Camp.” “King of Camp” also wisely realizes that if you’re going to blow your budget on firedancers and Mad Max cosplayers it’s best to do it in the middle of the season when everyone least expects it.
Episode 6: Rain
Running Time: 31:07
Best Joke: “You knew this wasn’t gonna be a cakewalk, Georgie! Take a shit.” – Ronald Reagan
“Rain” has the lowest JPM of any episode this season but strangely enough it also happens to feature my three favorite jokes. The first is Michael Showalter’s wild-eyed portrayal of Ronald Reagan demanding that George Bush “shit on my shit.” Then there is the long, strange odyssey of Chris Pine and Jason Schwartzman’s characters from death to CIA assassins to music to advertising back to music. And of course, there is what might be the best gag in the series in which multiple guests routinely knock over a pyramid of wine glasses and Brodfard’s party.
Episode 7: Dance
Running Time: 30:26
Best Joke: “I’m happy for you, Ken.” – Andy to Victor (Ken Marino)
“Dance” gets the climax of Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later started in earnest. Showalter as Reagan is again on fire with lines like “I’d like to make a toast. To the successful nuking of a children’s sleepaway camp” and “My bowels are settled.” “Dance” also features expected and classic moments in the Wet Hot American Summer canon like Katie inevitably dumping Coop after it just looked like they were about to finally be together.
Episode 8: End Summer Night’s Dream
Running Time: 27:35
Best Joke: “Ok hope that’s ok. Let me know if you want me to do it again and good luck with the rest of the shoot.” – David Hyde Pierce
Man, that David Hyde Pierce joke is killer. He deserves to win another Emmy just for appearing onscreen with his Emmys. “End Summer Night’s Dream” features two equally hilarious blocks of humor. The first is the climax in which the campers learn the “truth” of Bill Clinton, George Bush, and Ronald Reagan’s kind-hearted, yet hilariously convoluted and impossible plot to get them to learn the value of friendship. Each question the campers have about the implausibility of the Presidents’ schemes counts as a joke. Then there are the multiple epilogues that feature a hilarious level of wish fullfillment. “Hey everyone! The New York Times food critic review is in. He says…’very delicious.’”
Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later
JPM Episode Average – 6.28
Check out our other Jokes Per Minute studies here.
All-Time Jokes Per Minute Records:
Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later – 6.28
Angie Tribeca season 1 – 6.17
Rick and Morty season 2 – 5.96
Rick and Morty season 1 – 5.40
Veep season 4 – 4.28
Individual Episode Studies:
The Simpsons season 4 episode 12: “Marge vs. The Monorail” – 7.14
Happy Endings season 2 episode 15: “The Butterfly Effect Effect” – 6.99
30 Rock season 1 episode 7: “Tracy Does Conan” – 6.15
Seinfeld season 4 episode 11: “The Contest” – 5.33
Arrested Development season 2 episode 4: “Good Grief” – 6.62
Highest JPM Episode:
Rick and Morty season 3: “The Rickshank Redemption” – 9.13