Petty, self-centred, stupid... hilarious. There's always a reason why we love a sitcom character. Fully formed the second they appear on the screen, their mishaps/adventures/one-liners are what bring us back to a sitcom again and again.
Here we (try) and chart the best sitcom characters of all time. As always, there are a few caveats. We have decided to choose just one character per sitcom. For some sitcoms (It's Always Sunny, Community) the entire ensemble could have been chosen by we narrowed it down to just one.
These are the characters that have made TV watching over the years brilliantly enjoyable. Those characters that, no matter what is going on in the real world, offer up comfort because you know exactly what you are getting - and we can't get enough of them.
Any favourites we've missed off? Let us know at the end
Best sitcom characters
1. Michael Scott (The Office US)
The debate will never end as to which is the best Office. It's clear that we get to know more about Michael Scott from The Office US, though, given there were 9 seasons, compared to just 2 in the UK. the thing that Steve Carrell brings to the role is a strange likability. Compared to Ricky Gervais, he's the caring uncle in the crew - goofy and needy, yes, but he wants the best from everyone.
Typical line: “I have cause. It is be-cause I hate him.”
2. Ron Swanson (Parks And Recreation)
There are myriad reasons to love Ron Swanson. He's billed as a man's man with a love for steak, woodworking and Lagavulin. But beyond that he has a heart of gold and feminist views that bubble under the entire show. He always brings Leslie Knope hope, alongside a stare that just makes you laugh.
Typical line: “There's only one thing I hate more than lying: skim milk."
3. George Costanza (Seinfeld)
Jerry’s bald, bespectacled best mate was based on Seinfeld co-creator Larry David. The self-styled “Lord Of The Idiots”, George is the selfish, lazy, insecure little man inside all of us. He lies to get perceived tiny advantages in relationships. He says things we might think but would never dare admit. A god, despite it all.
Typical line: “No, no, I don’t think I’m special. My mother always said I’m not special.”
4. Captain Raymond Holt (Brooklyn Nine-Nine)
Running for eight seasons Brooklyn Nine-Nine was a masterclass in comedy. Even in its final season, when it tackled police corruption head on, it still managed to find lighter notes in its heavier subject matter. And one of the best characters in the show was Captain Raymond Holt. From having to endure demotion, witness protection and having Jake Peralta as a detective (something that became a brilliant father and son relationship), every second Holt is on screen is an absolute joy.
Typical line: "Now You've Done It. You've Made Me Turn My Chair."
5. Basil Fawlty (Fawlty Towers)
The hotel proprietor with the bendy straw physique is the ultimate sitcom buffoon.
Typical line: [On his wife’s laugh] “Sounds like somebody machine-gunning a seal.”
6. Homer Simpson (The Simpsons)
Our only animated entry has had his role ‘embiggened’ since the early days. The focus of Matt Groening’s creation shifted from Bart to his dad Homer, as everyone realised the doughnut-munching doofus was the hero. No one says “Don’t have a cow, man!” any more. But they do say “D’oh!”
Typical line: “All right brain, you don’t like me and I don’t like you. But let’s just get me through this and I can get back to killing you with beer.”
7. Phil Dunphy (Modern Family)
There’s something of David Brent about the self-proclaimed “cool dad” and doofus estate agent (or “ninja in a blazer”).
Typical line: “I’m hip, I surf the web, I text. LOL: laugh out loud. OMG: oh my God. WTF: why the face?”
8. Larry David (Curb Your Enthusiasm)
Playing an exaggerated version of himself, Larry’s life is a string of faux-pas and petty feuds – invariably culminating in shouting and humiliation.
Typical line: “Can I tell you something about apricots? One in 30 is a good one. It’s such a low-percentage fruit.”
9. Ted Lasso (Ted Lasso)
The pure optimism that emanates from Ted Lasso (Jason Sudeikis) is what is brilliant about the show that's based on his name. It's a typical fish out of water scenario with Lasso, an American football coach who is hired to manage a British football team. While the show is about him trying to train a bunch of English folk with his leftfield ways, it's more about how you can learn life lessons while doing it. Lovely stuff.
Typical line: "If that's a joke, I love it."
10. Joey Tribbiani (Friends)
While the other five tried to be funny – all rapidfire quips or self-conscious kookiness – the originator of “smell-the-fart acting” ploughed his own furrow and quietly became the mega-sitcom’s funniest draw.
Typical line: [Trying not to spoil The Shining] “All blank and no blank makes blank a blank blank. Oh, and the end, when Jack almost kills them all with that blank but at the last second they get away.”
11. Stewie Griffin (Family Guy)
On paper, Stewie is already a winner: a sociopathic baby who sounds like Rex Harrison. But over the course of 20 seasons, he's never faulted and is still as hilarious as ever. Whether he's trying to build a time machine to stop himself from being born or whether he really wants to murder his mother Lois, he's the best thing about Family Guy.
Typical line: “Mother, I come bearing a gift. I'll give you a hint: it's in my diaper and it's not a toaster.”
12. Charlie Kelly (It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia)
Officially the longest running live-action sitcom, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia works best when the gang are altogether. But if we had to choose one character that exemplified the absurdity of the show it would be Charlie. Charlie Day plays the pub's janitor to comedic precision, who's child-like nature makes him ever watchable.
Typical line: "What is this word 'spa'? I feel like you're starting to say a word and you're not finishing it. Are you trying to say 'Spagetti'? Are you taking me for a spaghetti day?"
13. Lucy (I Love Lucy)
Lucille Ball wasn't just the face of I Love Lucy but the creative force behind the show. She was a natural comedian, with Lucy in the show constantly getting into unpredictable situations (just watch the grape scene to see a genius at work) but always there with a determination to make right what went wrong. The show ran for six seasons, with colorized specials peppered in with the normal B&W episodes and they are still a joy to watch.
Typical line: "Here I am with all this talent bottled up inside of me and you're always sitting on the cork."
14. Al Bundy (Married With Children)
Before starring in one of the greatest sitcoms of the Noughties, Modern Family, Ed O'Neill had already proved himself as king of the sitcom as his time as Al Bundy. He's a loser of sorts - a one-time brilliant sportsman who got down on his luck, now married with children and not that happy about the situation. Packed with an insult for every occasion, his character hasn't aged that well but taken within the context of when it was released and the tongue and cheek he's made from and he's still up there.
Typical line: “I hate life, life hates me.”
15. David Brent (The Office)
To think the chilled-out entertainer began life in a 1997 sketch called ‘Seedy Boss’. The beauty of Brent is in Gervais’s mannerisms – tie-fiddling, finger-pistols – and the gap between his view of himself and the reality. In his mind, he’s a comedian, hip dude and musical genius. In truth, he’s incompetent, offensive and even in his Sergio Georgini jacket is deeply uncool.
Typical line: “There are limits to my comedy. There are things that I’ll never laugh at. The handicapped. Because there’s nothing funny about them.”
16. Selina Meyer (Veep)
If six consecutive Emmy wins doesn't convince you that Selina Meyer is the one of the best sitcom characters of all time, then maybe this will: she's played with comic perfection by Julia Louis-Dreyfus and, whisper it, is a better character than Elaine Benes in Seinfeld.
Typical line: "I need that stuff that junkies use. You know, when it takes a cop 15 bullets to put him down."
17. GOB Bluth (Arrested Development)
George Oscar Bluth has ridden his Segway into the history books: selfish, vain and prone to disastrous magic ‘illusions’, he really is the thinking man’s idiot.
Typical line: “You didn’t eat that dove, did you? Because I only have a couple of days left to return it.”
18. Troy Barnes (Community)
When Troy (Donald Glover) left Community in its penultimate season it was pretty clear that he was the heart of the ensemble. The show never felt the same and that proves just what a strong character he was in Community. He may not have had the pop culture knowledge of Abed but he was a perfect pairing with him. He was his own thing in the show, though, with proper character development - turning from the 'jock' of the first season to a more caring, compassionate character, and one that could still offer up a ton of laughs.
Typical line: "Don't eat the crab dip."
19. Edmund Blackadder (Blackadder)
Before sabotaging Chariots Of Fire performances, Rowan Atkinson played a dynasty of Edmunds across the mock-historical series. The standouts are the dashing Elizabethan nobleman and the wily butler to the Prince Regent. All were scathingly sarcastic.
Typical line: “I couldn’t be more petrified if a wild rhinoceros had just come home from a hard day at the swamp and found me wearing his pyjamas, smoking his cigars and in bed with his wife.”
20. Moira Rose (Schitt's Creek)
Moira Rose (Catherine O'Hara) is the one constant in Schitt's Creek. Even when the family have downsized from their millionaire mansion(s) to running a motel in a small town that bear their name, she acts like she is still at the upper echelons of society - and we wouldn't have it any other way. O'Hara is one of the greatest character actors that's ever lived and Moira is her best character.
Typical line: "Sorry, David, I had nowhere else to turn."
21. Nadja (What We Do In The Shadows)
What We Do In The Shadows is one of the best movies-to-shows adaptations we've seen and Nadja (Natasia Demetriou) is a big part of this. She's got the wit needed to stand up to the rest of the undead and is way more than the wife of Lazlo. Apart from being brutally honest and packed with sarcasm, there's also a warmth to her that makes her hugely likeable.
Typical line: “I don't want these virgins. They are going to taste too sad.”
22. Eric Cartman (South Park)
Eric Cartman and the rest of the South Park crew have been around for some 25 years now and still Cartman and his foul mouth is still going strong. He's a character without filter - politically incorrect but at the same time usually skewering just what is going on in the world so perfectly.
Typical line: "I am nothing like Family Guy! When I make jokes, they are inherent to a story – deep, situational and emotional jokes based on what is relevant and has a point! Not just one random, interchangeable joke after another!"
23. Tracy Jordan (30 Rock)
Just about the best in an ensemble of enormously funny characters. And that’s down to his preposterous lines and their pin-point delivery by Saturday Night Live alumnus Tracy Morgan (try spotting the difference between the actor and the 30 Rock caricature).
Typical line: [On his tough upbringing] “I once saw a baby give another baby a tattoo. They were very drunk.”
24. Malcolm Tucker (The Thick Of It)
Peter Capaldi pitches No10’s policy enforcer (“the PM’s all-swearing eye”) somewhere between Alastair Campbell, Sir Alex Ferguson and Begbie from Trainspotting. Armed only with a mobile phone and a lethal line in put-downs, he’s terrifying and funny.
Typical line: [His response to a knock at his office door] “Come the f*ck in or f*ck the f*ck off.”
25. Sister Michael (Derry Girls)
Never has a character on TV been as brutally honest as Sister Michael in Derry Girls. The fantastic series ran for three seasons and a special, and the best moments were always when Sister Michael was on the screen. From her entrance in a sports car to her vicious one liners, she may not be the most loved matriarch but you can't help but admire her.
Typical line: “If anyone is feeling anxious, worried or maybe you just want a chat, please, please do not come crying to me.”
26. Patsy Stone (Absolutely Fabulous)
A character that many would have met if they were a media dahling in the 90s, Patsy was a magazine fashion director who lived to party, in a constant haze of booze and fags with her best friend Edina close by. She's blunt, obnoxious and the sort of person you would meet once and never forget. In short: she's absolutely fabulous.
Typical line: “Darling, if you want to talk bollocks and the meaning of life, you're better off just downing a bottle of whisky. At least that way you're unconscious by the time you start to take yourself seriously!”
27. Del Boy Trotter (Only Fools And Horses)
Some of the jokes may be as careworn as that falling-through-the-bar clip, but Del is a true one-off. He drinks disgusting cocktails, drives a yellow three-wheeler, misuses French phrases and dreams of trading in his council flat for something more salubrious. A ludicrously attired hero.
Typical line: “Don’t you realise those watches are a very sought-after property? They are especially sought after by the River Police and the Flying Squad.”
28. Uncle Phil (The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air)
Will Smith was always the central force of Fresh Prince, but the autocratic Uncle Phil was there to coax his wayward nephew in the right direction. He was Will's teacher, his confident, is father figure. The late James Avery was the perfect casting for Phil. He was brilliant at the comedy but could reduce you to tears with one of his many pep talks. Oh, and he also was the voice of Shredder so that gives him extra bonus points.
29. Father Dougal Mcguire (Father Ted)
The titular priest’s dunderheaded pal believes in Darth Vader more than he does in God. Yet while Ted rails against the universe, Dougal sleeps soundly. In He-Man sheets.
Typical line: “It’s like a big tide of jam coming toward us, but jam made out of old women.”
30. Alan Partridge (I’m Alan Partridge)
North Norfolk’s premier broadcaster started in spoofs (The Day Today, Knowing Me Knowing You With Alan Partridge) before moving into sitcom territory with the two series of I’m Alan Partridge. He remains Steve Coogan’s masterpiece: your textbook Daily Mail-reading, Top Gear-watching menopausal man who loves the sound of his own burbling voice. Alan’s nonsensical rants are legendary, but what distinguishes him is Coogan’s immersion in the character. We believe that Alan Partridge is real, from his fastidiously combed hair to his sports-casual loafers. From catchphrasey bravado to the little-boy-lost look in his eyes.
Typical line: “Right, dry skin cream. I’m having an attack of the old flakes again. This morning my pillow looked like a flapjack.”
31. Arnold J Rimmer (Red Dwarf)
Again, Red Dwarf is so good because of the ensemble cast but it's Rimmer who gets our vote as one of the best sitcom characters of all time. He's often the target of ridicule and is repulsed by Lister but his pomposity, love of authority and meticulous attention to detail makes him a tragic character that you can't help but chuckle at.
Typical line: "Kryten you're forgetting Space Corp Directive 1742."
32. Norman Stanley Fletcher (Porridge)
Ronnie Barker’s portrayal of the cynical HMP Slade inmate – truly his finest hour.
Typical line: “When Harry Grout asks a favour, it is on the understanding that it gets done. Otherwise he takes it as a personal insult, and sends a henchman to mete out dire retribution. From Crusher With Love.”
33. Blanche Devereaux (Golden Girls)
Again, it was hard to choose between the four main characters of The Golden Girls, but Blanche Devereaux edges it. She's a flawed character, part of her Southern upbringing, which means that uncomfortable storylines were brought up at a time when it just never happened. And that's the beauty of the Golden Girls, it was way ahead of its time.
Typical line: “Oh please, it's bad enough hearing all those snickers as you walk down the aisle, but me in white, even I couldn't keep a straight face.”
34. Richard Richard (Bottom)
Richie in Bottom was one of the great comedy characters of Rik Mayall. The show played out like an ACME cartoon with him and Eddie harming each other in ways never thought possible. It was vile in every single way and we couldn't get enough of it.
Typical line: "I've just had a fantastic idea."
35. Tahani Al-Jamil (The Good Place)
A scene doesn't go by in The Good Place without a Tahani name drop and the show is all the better for it. Jameela Jamil is fantastic in the role. She shifts from pure narcissism to empathy naturally and ends up being by far the most likeable character in a show about people facing their ultimate fate.
Typical line: It really is the most incredible chime I've ever heard, and that is coming from someone whose godfather is the most famous clock in the world.
36. Jim Royle (The Royle Family)
The entire family was fairly sedentary, but Ricky Tomlinson’s patriarch was especially immobile. On the rare occasions when Jim wasn’t slumped in his armchair, controlling the remote, he was off down The Feathers or to the loo for “a Tom Tit”. Despite the nose-picking and ball-scratching, Tomlinson made him hugely lovable.
Typical line: “Anne Robinson, my arse. Watchdog? I’m watching a bloody dog.”
37. Super Hans (Peep Show)
Mark and Jez are superbly observed, but it’s Jeremy’s deadpan, drug-hoovering band-mate Super Hans who’s the cult star. Notable for getting addicted to crack (“moreish”).
Typical line: “People like Coldplay and voted for the Nazis. You can’t trust people, Jeremy.”
38. Bob Belcher (Bob's Burgers)
A man who loves his meat and family in equal measure, Bob from Bob's Burgers is a brilliant, layered character who is always trying to do right but doesn't always get the right chances. He's level headed when the rest of the world is around him is absurd and even though he sounds a lot like Archer, something that is eventually played on, he is voiced perfectly by H John Benjamin
Typical line: “I’m literally grasping at straws.”
39. Sergeant Arthur Wilson (Dad’s Army)
The true star of the classic Home Guard comedy wasn’t jobsworth Captain Mainwaring or any of his naive troops, rather it was second-in-command Wilson – the well-spoken day-dreamer with a mysterious side and a winningly louche demeanour.
Typical line: “Would you mind awfully falling in, please?”
40. Jill Tyrell (Nighty Night)
One of the great grotesques of 21st-century sitcom, Julia Davis’s psychotic beautician will do anything to get her man – married doctor Don.
Typical line: “You know my feelings on asthma: take a deep breath and get over it.”
- These are the best British sitcoms of all time.