The Clever Rule At The Core Of Bob's Burgers' Comedy

By now "Bob's Burgers" has fostered enough laughs across its 12 seasons to become one of the more beloved animated sitcoms. Like "The Simpsons" or "King of the Hill," the show centers around the lives and hijinks of the quintessentially American family, the Belchers. But "Bob's Burgers" takes particular relish (condiment pun very much intended) in the family's discord. Whether it's the latest absurd roadblock to Bob's (voiced by H. John Benjamin) quest in turning his burger joint into the restaurant of his dreams; Linda's (John Roberts) overwhelming and sometimes misguided optimism/obsessiveness; Tina's (Dan Mintz) struggle against perpetual puberty; or Gene (Eugene Mirman) and Louise's (Kristen Schaal) many tangled schemes.

For my own part, I got into the show quite late — one of the many I resolved to start watching while stuck in pandemic quarantine. I arrived at "Bob's Burgers" after falling in love with Benjamin's voice work on "Archer," a show that makes similar use of his sarcasm and hilarious aggravation. There's nothing funnier than hearing Benjamin as Bob expressing exasperation or giving disapproving "Mms," especially when he's yelling. The same goes for the entire Belcher family; their exaggerated and sometimes jaw-dropping idiosyncrasies are at the heart of the show's comical goldmine. According to creator and writer Loren Bouchard, finding a balance between familial frustrations and comedy is at the center of "Bob's Burgers" success and relatability.

Grim humor and Belcher family love

As someone trudging toward the end of their first decade of adulthood without children, I still find both Belcher parents and their trio of kids are relatable. Part of that is because the Belcher family members are underdogs who stay afloat with an abundance of optimism. Speaking with Salon about their 200th episode milestone, Bouchard said it was important to "present their optimism as a choice that's hard fought, and well-earned." Bouchard continued:

"Part of the core of their relationship, in my opinion, is humor. It's not 'ha ha' humor, the way they use it. It's more like foxhole humor — the kind of humor that I imagine doctors in emergency rooms have."

Bob and Linda's gallows humor gets them through the day in the same way "Bob's Burgers" gets me through a rough week. There's something comforting in watching the Belcher family act out all their peculiar personality tics — even when it's aligned against each other, parents vs. children. "If Bob and Linda express exasperation, it's only funny because you never question their commitment to each other or to the family," Bouchard explained of the Belcher's commiseration via humor. "And by expressing it now and then, it's like a little wink, as if to say, 'We're in this together — it's good, but it's hard, right?'" On the surface they might appear dysfunctional, but their annoyances with one another are never outbursts of deeper rifts. And the fact that every episode ends with some reconciliation or rallying around one another reveals a surprisingly functional family. As Gene and Louise tell Tina after she reveals she's being bullied by a fellow student: "No one blackmails our sister but us!" and "Yeah! Messing with Tina is a privilege, not a right." Siblings of the year.

The Belchers were almost cannibals

When Loren Bouchard first conceived of the idea for "Bob's Burgers," however, the Belcher family was a tad more unrelatable in one important, dietary sense. According to an oral history of the show compiled by The Hollywood Reporter, the Belchers were originally going to be more than just underdogs — they'd be cannibals as well. Bouchard elaborated:

"I originally thought the show should be about a family that runs a restaurant who are cannibals. Very early on, [Fox] said, 'Well, do you need the cannibalism?' I had really put it in there because I thought they would want it. I'm coming off of working for Adult Swim, and the darker, more shocking aspect seemed like what you needed in order for an animated idea to cut through the noise."

Fans with long memories might note that the very first episode of "Bob's Burgers" sees the family deflecting — and in the case of Louise, inciting — rumors they use human flesh in their burgers. But thankfully this is the only remnant of the idea. It's not that a show about a family running a burger spot that also happens to be cannibals wouldn't be funny. As Suzanna Makkos, former executive vice president of comedy programming and development at Fox, put it: "I said, 'Loren, do you want to do 100 episodes' worth of cannibal jokes?'" Not only would the cannibalism become played out, it would've elevated the Belcher's kookiness level to near unrelatable heights — or lows, I suppose, given the cannibalism. And as much as I love some dark humor, I can't help but think knowing the Belchers were also serving up said human burgers to their patrons would mar their image a bit. I just couldn't see them doing that to the beloved and ridiculous Teddy.