November 19 is World Toilet Day.
According to the World Toilet Day website, “World Toilet Day is about the 2.4 billion people who lack access to improved sanitation. It is about the nearly 1 billion people who have to defecate in the open. It is about the millions of children whose futures are compromised by poor sanitation and related nutrition problems. And it is about you, who can’t wait to change this situation.”
It’s a serious issue, yes, and I don’t mean to make light of the very real problems concerning sanitation and global health, especially in poorer regions of the world. But bodily functions are funny—so here is some bathroom humor from sitcoms through the ages.
In the beginning, sitcom characters had to get by without toilets.
All in the Family, which revolutionized so many things in TV sitcoms, also brought us the first TV toilet flush. However, the toilet was discreetly offscreen. (The “terlet” part starts at 2:11.)
“Class Reunion,” All in the Family (1973)
ARCHIE [calling offscreen]: Edith, we’re out of terlet paper!”
EDITH [calling back]: No, we’re not! I bought some yesterday. It’s in the closet in the kitchen.
ARCHIE [still offscreen]: I ain’t in the kitchen…
A few decades later, Seinfeld taught us about toilet etiquette in an episode titled “The Stall.” In a public restroom, Elaine asks the woman in the neighboring stall for some toilet paper, and the woman refuses, insisting she can’t even “spare a square.”
Clip from “The Stall,” Seinfeld (1994)
ELAINE: Excuse me. I’m sorry. This is… this is kind of embarrassing, but there’s no toilet paper over here.
JANE (from the stall on Elaine’s right): Are you talking to me?
ELAINE: Yeah. I… I just forgot to check, so if you could just spare some.
JANE: No, I’m sorry.
JANE: No, I’m sorry. I can’t spare it.
ELAINE: You can’t spare it?
JANE: No, there’s not enough to spare.
ELAINE: Well, I don’t need much. Just three squares will do it.
JANE: I’m sorry, I don’t have three squares. Now, if you don’t mind…
ELAINE: Three squares? You can’t spare three squares?!
JANE: No, I don’t have a square to spare! I can’t spare a square!
In the 21st century, we as a society have become comfortable enough with our bodily functions that we can show toilets on TV. In this Family Guy clip, for example, Peter and Lois compete to be first to use the toilet.
Clip from “Spies Reminiscent of Us,” Family Guy (2009)
In closing, toilets are funny, but they’re also serious, especially when you don’t have one—a little something to remember on World Toilet Day.
- Celebrating World Toilet Day, reinventing sanitation (news.berkeley.edu)