Depending on your age, Nickelodeon means different things to different people. For so many 30- and 40-somethings, what immediately comes to mind when you ask them what shows were on during their childhood is You Can't Do That On Television.
You Can't Do That On Television debuted the same year I did, 1979, and was produced until 1990, though reruns were played on Nickelodeon into the mid-'90s. If you're not familiar with the show, first of all, congratulations on your recent ability to drink legally and/or welcome to North America, and second, it was a sketch-comedy show with a small cast of kids and teens and two adults who played various parts. They're the reason Nickelodeon is associated with green slime—anyone who said "I don't know" on the set would be doused with it from above—and saying "water" meant getting water poured on your head, because why not? It was actually pretty edgy and irreverent for a kids' show; I think it's the first place I heard the word "abortion," during one of their recurring firing-squad sketches. (Seriously.)
I used to remember You Can't Do That On Television quite enthusiastically. I started watching it when I was very young—probably because I have a sister 12 years older—and I so clearly recall many of the early and mid-'80s episodes. But it's that clear recollection that started getting me thinking about some of the truly terrible jokes on the show.
I mean, yes, that was kind of their thing: knowingly bad jokes. But I'm not talking about jokes that are just stupid. I'm talking about body-shaming jokes hurled at two of the main cast members, Christine and Lisa, in what seems like almost every episode.
You Can't Do That On Television never claimed to be politically correct—quite the opposite, if anything. But in retrospect, it seems so hugely effed up that so many of us were watching and loving a show that regularly picked on young women for being fat.
And they weren't even fat! I know that may not seem relevant in the grand scheme of fat-shaming, but I can definitely remember believing, as a very young child, that they were fat and that it was bad to be fat, because it was a running theme: Christine and Lisa are fat, and being fat is something you tease people about. I can't help but wonder if it screwed up a few perspectives.
You can find a lot of full episodes of You Can't Do That On Television on YouTube these days, and I've cued up 10 of them below to some of the fat jokes that stood out to me.
1. Quite often, it was Christine and Lisa throwing the body insults at each other. In this first one, Lisa makes a quick dig at Christine by comparing her to a certain large animal.
2. Ah, the locker jokes. You could always count on a size dig during this segment of the show. Here, Christine tells Lisa she has a future in the circus as... guess!
3. Christine is a super-supportive friend when Lisa tells her that food commercials make her want to eat.
4. A twofer! After Alasdair makes a joke about the size of Lisa's butt, Lisa tells Christine everyone's expecting her to gain weight. (This one's supposed to be cued up to 21:29 but it's acting a bit wonky.)
5. The adults got in on it, too.
6. Here, Alasdair and Kevin gang up on Lisa and Christine, and ultimately, the "fat" girls are pitted against thin Vanessa.
7. This episode is about bullying, ironically, but mostly the stereotypical physical kind. I'm not sure who they were trying to portray as the bully in this sketch: Alasdair for being rude, or Christine for getting her way and retaliating.
8. Start 'em on the fat-shaming young!
9. An episode about space? A weight vs. weightlessness joke was inevitable.
10. It was rare, but the body-shaming went both ways sometimes. Here, Christine teases Alasdair about being too thin. Of course, this quickly turns into a joke about her being too fat.
Meanness, in general, was pretty common on You Can't Do That On Television. As much as I enjoyed it back then and remember it semi-fondly, I'd like to think that a similarly smart kids' show could be produced today without making being a dick seem cool and normal.
Possible? I don't know.