On September 25, 1979, the funniest moment in television history occurred when the Taxi episode “Reverend Jim: A Space Odyssey” aired. Don’t try to debate me on this issue, as you will never convince me otherwise.
Some context: Christopher Lloyd did a guest spot as lovable burnout Jim Ignatowski during the show’s first season. The appearance was so well received that the creative decision was made to bring him in as a series regular when Taxi returned for its second year. The only problem was that the character of Jim had already been established as a reverend, not a cabbie. And so episode writers Glen Charles and Les Charles (who would later go on to create Cheers) wrote an installment of the show in which Jim would take his driving test so that he could work alongside of the rest of the misfits at the Sunshine Cab Company.
Featured above in its entirety, the scene in which Jim stops by the Department of Motor Vehicles is so hilarious because these characters are so clearly defined: Alex is a well-meaning schlub, Tony is a struggling boxer who has taken one too many blows to the head, Bobby is an aspiring actor, etc. Throwing a rich comedic presence like Lloyd’s Jim Ignatowski in the mix was the sort of comedic alchemy that can never quite be planned or duplicated. Jim’s complete lack of guile combined with his acid casualty personality resulted in a character who was an instant phenomenon. Watching this scene is witnessing actors at their absolute best. Although Christopher Lloyd is the clear focal point here, every one of his co-stars on screen also delivers a mesmerizing and above all, real, performance. The exasperation on the always great Judd Hirsch‘s face and the mix of shock and annoyance that Jeff Conaway evokes is especially worthy of mentioning — as is the repetition that keeps building the scene to its glorious crescendo.
During Taxi‘s five-season run, it often brought laughs alongside of critical acclaim. But here, in the third episode of its second season, it transcended the show and maybe even the television medium itself to become something so hilarious that it qualifies as true, unmistakable art. What does a yellow light mean? Genius, that’s what.
Feel free to tell me what you think the funniest sitcom moment ever was in the comments below. I’ll probably disagree with you given that my pick is above, but I still want to hear what you have to say.