Has there ever been a greater sitcom actor than Three’s Company‘s John Ritter?
That may be debatable, though Ritter’s Jack Tripper is about as iconic a character as you’ll find.
What isn’t up for debate at all is that Ritter was the king of physical comedy on the small screen.
Wikipedia describes “physical comedy” this way:
Physical comedy is a form of comedy focused on manipulation of the body for a humorous effect. It can include slapstick, clowning, mime, physical stunts, or making funny faces.
If that doesn’t sound like Jack Tripper, then neither does “Jack Tripper.”
Ritter could light up a dead scene like a funeral pyre, and he could do it all without saying a word … if he wanted to.
From tripping (Tripper-ing?) to chasing after his roommates in mock lechery to a face that always told you what he was thinking, Ritter covered physical comedy like no one this side of Lucille Ball.
You gotta think they’re raising a ruckus together somewhere out there in the great beyond these days!
For us still here on Earth, though, we can remember them fondly … and ponder these five reasons Ritter wears the physical comedy crown.
Cartoonish Facial Expressions
Man, Jack couldn’t lie to save his life.
I mean, sure, he lied all the time. The whole show was built on a lie, in fact … you know, the premise that Jack was gay so it was OK for him to live with two women?
Yeah, Mr. Roper and Mr. Furley bought it, but they weren’t the most observant dudes on the planet. Besides, they were most interested in collecting the rent check each month.
But you and me and millions of other viewers? We knew exactly what was going on , and not only because we heard the plot unfold in the very first episode.
No, we knew what was going on — always — because Ritter had the most expressive face in the biz, and he used it to put Jack’s emotions right out there on his sleeve … er, face.
If Jack was in love, you knew it.
If he was mad, you knew it.
If he was drunk, you knew it.
All through a turn of his lips, a raising or lowering of his eyebrows.
Lying was a given on this show, but so was looking through the deceit like a window on the truth.
Undeniable Body Language
And if Ritter’s face didn’t give away Jack’s state of life, his body language would.
Often, the two worked in combination to provide some of the most hilarious scenarios of the whole show.
He’d stand with his arms folded, and his face drooped in a pout to show he was angry with someone, but his hips would angle toward them … and you knew he wanted to be close, wanted to make up.
Or he’d stand tall, hands on hips, and hurtle some forceful words toward a bully on the other side of that door there.
But the uncertainty on his face told you the chest-puffing just might not hold up in a court of law.
Jack never met a prop he couldn’t use to entertain a crowd, even a crowd he ostensibly didn’t know was around.
Remember the old lampshade-hat trick that you probably saw unveiled during your college years or in some other drunken setting?
Jack whipped that one out during a frou-frous party while loopy on pain meds … and when things got just a bit too stuffy for him. In typical Tripper fashion, he won over at least some of the stuff shirts and made a lovable fool of himself.
Or remember the time he filleted himself trying to sit backwards on a chair in the Regal Beagle to impress a girl who had a thing for mustaches? You know, while he was wearing a monster fake ‘stache?
Problem there was that the chair had wraparound arms and slats all along the back, making it about as poor a mounting point as you’ll ever find.
And of course, Jack was at his physical best when he had to maneuver around the obstacle courses that others in his life set up for him.
Like the time Cindy’s ironing board decided to go all ninja on his ass …
The Cringe Factor
Life is full of pain, but it somehow hurts a little less if it’s happening to someone else.
Especially if it’s happening in a most ridiculous fashion.
And Jack Tripper was nothing if not ridiculous, in a sublime sort of way.
So, when you combine Jack and his silliness with Ritter’s physical brilliance and a setting rife with pain, you have a perfect formula for hilarity.
Like the aforementioned leg-splitting chair scene, were Jack pulls himself apart like a wishbone.
Or the infamous episode where Terri decides not to marry her dentist boyfriend and he decides to take out his frustrations on Jack … in the dental chair.
Or, at least the show intimates that’s what’s about to happen.
You’ll have to watch the full episode to get the full story — shouldn’t have too much trouble since the reruns are always on somewhere these days.
But even the threat of pain ends Jack into a squirming, wincing, generally cringe-filled display that will have you trying to hold your own splitting sides together.
You could make a pretty strong claim that “slapstick” falls into the categories we’ve already covered here, but Jack/John made it enough of an art form that it deserves its own entry.
Going back to Wikipedia, we get this definition:
Slapstick is a style of humor involving exaggerated physical activity that exceeds the boundaries of normal physical comedy. Slapstick may involve both intentional violence and violence by mishap, often resulting from inept use of props such as saws and ladders.
See that “exceeds the boundaries” bit?
That’s Ritter in a nutshell.
He infused so many of his scenes with physical humor that it’s tough to think of an episode where his physicality didn’t shine.
But sometimes, he went way above and beyond, and he took on the kind of stunts you just don’t see on TV these days. And you just know his body had to yelp at him about it from time to time, right?
Can you imagine how “great” Ritter must have felt the day after Jack took on a sassy hammock in the woods? Dude left it all there on the set in order to create an(other) iconic moment sitcom history.
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