Ever since Charlie Chaplin weaned a kid on a teapot in 1921′s The Kid, Americans have been enjoying the hilarious spectacle of a man attempting to care for a baby. Nearly a century later NBC is hawking the latest iteration of hapless fathers and babies in a sitcom called Guys with Kids. Along with fat guy dancing, granny rapping, macho guy cross-dressing, and ethnic-stereotype-neighbor sassing, a male attempting to care for an infant is among the most common go-to comedy elements chosen by the network’s increasingly lazy sitcom-o-matic-3000, or whoever wrote Guys with Kids. (Turns out the writer is the kid of the guy who played Gopher on The Love Boat.)
NBC unveiled the Guys with Kids teasers while doling out doses of spangled, twirling gymnasts during their Olympics coverage. I didn’t stay up to watch Gabby Douglas flip her way into America’s heart, but I did get to see the three “guys” do a slow motion baby bottle relay every seven minutes when NBC cut to commercial. These snippets of the dads dealing with the apparently Mars-rover-landing-like difficulty of giving a baby a bottle sent me into such conniptions that I began to perform a little comic bit for the assembled living room crowd (my wife and the cat) called “Fuck You Notes” patterned after Guys with Kids Executive Producer Jimmy Fallon’s “Thank You Notes.” To wit:
Fuck you, Jimmy Fallon, as you rest at night on a mattress stuffed with cash, lightly used iPads, and Oreo cookie crumbs, for championing yet another show built on the idea that somehow after millions of years of evolution a man does not know how to take care of a child. BTW, I love your late night show. Please do an impression of Van Morrison singing the Oscar Meyer wiener song. Think about it.
My annoyance with the show comes not from actually watching it, which I haven’t, but from the fact that I am a former single, now remarried, father. I raised my kid successfully in the sense that the kid is now a tween who functions as well as anyone who listens to One Direction alone in her room can be expected to. As a lone guy with a kid, I was not alone. According to the U.S. Census, there are 1.7 million single fathers in America. Most of them are living on less than $50,000 a year. Hilarious!
The Guys with Kids website explains that the new show centers on three guys who “help [each other] navigate the highs and lows of fatherhood — while still trying desperately to remain dudes.” The trailer introduces the friends: “Single Guy,” “Working Guy,” and “Stay-at-Home Guy.” These three desperate dads sit around a bar quaffing beer while sporting matching Baby Bjorns. At the bar, they talk. Just “talk.” There are no jokes. If you look at the clips, as I have, there are literally no jokes on display. Not bad jokes. No jokes. The totality of all the funny that caused the producers to open a can of laughter and lavish it upon this show the way one might dump ketchup upon a tofu hot dog is the central hilarious conceit that these are guys being harried, upset, and annoyed by kids. That’s it. That’s the joke.
Watch this clip in which a couple with four kids (Anthony “Kangaroo Jack” Anderson and Tempestt “Vanessa Huxtable” Bledsoe) answer the question “Can I get the name of your babysitter?” with such existential ennui that, played slightly differently, they could be in an off-Broadway version of No Exit. Hell is other people, especially your own kids. Here is the actual Guys with Kids script:
Dad: We have nothing.
Dad: (to child) That means you have nothing too.
According to Beckett nothing is funnier than unhappiness, so in that sense Guys with Kids ought to be hilarious. Nowhere is there any joy on display. Just some disintegrating DILFs whose lives ended when their children’s began. The point is, I guess, that to be stripped of one’s “dudeness” is to be a complete bore. A sad, impotent schlump who just takes care of his kid. But what could express more dudity than fathering a child? Is that not the ne plus ultra of dude-osity? The full expression of maleness? A guy might even have a modicum of pride or awe-struck wonder in the ultimate issue of his guyhood. But, of course, American sitcom dudery is all about being callow and free. About putting off the moment of domestication indefinitely. Either you are a berserk Apatow man-child or a castrated neuter subjugated to an imaginary authoritarian gynocracy. The ultimate goal of the sitcom, rom-com, guy is to be enjoyably goofy, young, and uncommitted forever. To strip him of his shallow freedoms — beer, sports, babes, video games — is to render him useless and unattractive. No wonder these dudes are so desperate.
I guess I’m not much of a dude. It wasn’t particularly difficult for me to take care of a baby all by my little self. Here is a simple four-step guide to baby care for the new single father, who may be frightened by years of comedies that insisted he was not up to the job:
How to Feed Your Baby
Is your baby hungry? Feed it.
How to Change a Diaper
Take off the old diaper and throw it away. Have you ever wiped your ass? Do the same thing but on your baby’s ass. Remember to wipe away from the hoo-ha or the dingy. Powder. Put on a new diaper.
How to Quiet a Crying Baby
Pick it up. Gently shake or rock. Sing a song. Still crying? Repeat.
Is there Something Horribly Wrong with Your Baby?
Call a doctor. Describe what is wrong. Follow instructions.
If you are a man and feel that you cannot follow these four guidelines, you should walk (don’t drive, because that is much more complex than baby care) to the nearest medical clinic and have a simple procedure called a vasectomy. Then grab a cold one and be sure to watch Guys with Kids, Wednesdays this fall on NBC.