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Nov. 11 2009 - 6:10 pm | 1,071 views | 2 recommendations | 1 comment

David Lloyd, writer for ‘Mary Tyler Moore Show’ – and the man who killed Chuckles the Clown – dies

Main cast, from the final season of the series...

The cast of "The Mary Tyler Moore" show. Chuckles the Clown not pictured. (Image via Wikipedia)

Tomorrow, when you read the obits about veteran television comedy writer David Lloyd, who died after a long illness, they’ll surely mention “Chuckles Bites the Dust” in the first paragraph.

David Lloyd’s first television writing gig was in 1963 for “The Tonight Show” — his last was for “Frasier” in 2001. In between, he had his hands on just about every legendary sitcom (and occassional drama) you can think of that didn’t come out of the Norman Lear factory — “Phyllis,” “Rhoda,” “The Bob Newhart Show,” “Lou Grant,” “Taxi,” “Cheers,” “Frasier” and more.

But it was his work on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” — and that one Chuckles episode in particular — that will be his fitting epitaph.

Macleans has a nice summary of why Lloyd’s TV writing career is so venerated and TV writer Ken Levine has some nice first-person memories of what it was like to work with the Hollywood writer everyone wanted to be.

But over a 40-year TV career, it’s that one episode of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” — “Chuckles Bites the Dust” — for which I want to thank David Lloyd. Not because it’s one of TV Guide’s Top 100 Episodes of All Time, and not because it’s his most famous work (though it certainly is). Not because of the subtle way Lloyd managed to weave some pretty deep thoughts about life and death into a sitcom about a clown dying without making it sound maudlin or treacly (you can read the script here.) I want to thank him for this:

I don’t remember much about 1975 — I was pretty young — but I have vague memories of my family watching that episode on our 15-inch Sony Trinitron (our family’s first color TV). And I remember the sound of my parents joy at each dark joke Lloyd wrote. When you’re a child, there are few noises better than being in a house filled with laughter. It’s what warmth sounds like. And I remember how one line from the show (Chuckles the Clown’s signature send-off) — “A little song, a little dance, a little seltzer down your pants,” became the go-to joke in our house, a winning line that, for weeks, could stop my father in his tracks and reduce my mother to tears. My older brother printed it on a poster-board he got at school and we hung it in the laundry room. When you’re a child and you can make your parents laugh like that, it’s a heady pride you want to feel again and again and a connection you don’t want to forget.

So, thank you, David Lloyd. For “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “Taxi” and more… Thank you for Chuckles the Clown. And thank you for making my parents laugh.

(And if you’re so unfortunate that you’ve never seen “Chuckles Bites the Dust,” here it is in three parts.)


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    I’ve always wondered why the MTM writers, including David Lloyd, never acknowledged seeing a Second City touring company in Pasadena, CA perform their classic sketch entitled “Funeral.” It had the identical premise(trying not to laugh at the funeral of a man who died from getting a gallon can of VanCamps beans stuck on his head)and they saw it months prior to their “writing” of the Chuckles The Clown episode. The SC touring company cast members vividly recall their visit because of the excitement it engendered — “The MTM writers are coming. The MTM writers are coming!” It seems impossible after witnessing the audience’s laughter at such a premise that they could have forgotten it and then mysteriously come up with the same idea at a later date.

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