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Who Loves The Family Circus? “Not Me.”

August 31, 2011

Wow.  The angry emails are pouring in following my post this week, Inopportune Yuks’ DisorderIn it, I had written that The Family Circus wouldn’t even qualify as funny in remote villages in Eastern Europe.  I’ve since heard from irate Family Circusians (though, surprisingly, not from irate Eastern Europeans) who are offended by my implication that their favorite comic strip is not funny. 

Here is one of those emails.  I apologize for its offensive language.

Dear Sh*t For Brains,

Who are you calling not funny?  You’re the one who is not funny.  I’ll have you know that The Family Circus is why the comics are called “The Funnies.”  Because it’s funny.  I bet your (sic) one of those dumbasses who likes Dilbert and Sally Forth.      



P.S.  I also happen to own that hat you referenced.  I will be sure to send it to you.  I think it would suit you.  And, by the way, that hat is also funny.

Geesh, who knew people were so touchy about The Family Circus?  Well, I think I deserve a chance to defend myself now.  First off, I once loved The Family Circus!  LOVED it.  Honest.  When I was six.  Yes, it was the only comic strip besides Garfield that I actually understood.  It was as if it was written right at my level.  It was as if it was written by a young child.  More on that in a moment.

Here’s my beef with The Family Circus.  Where is the creativity, Bil Keane?  Despite that I don’t enjoy it, I find myself drawn to looking at it every Sunday.  And I can tell you, it has not varied one bit in the 30 years since I learned how to read.  Basically, each day boils down to five main themes that are continuously rerun in slightly different circumstances.  Those being:

1.) “Not Me” Ghosts.  Which completely freaked me out as a kid.  Thanks for the nightmares, Bil Keane.  How was literal-me supposed to know these were meant as a joke?  Eventually I learned to just go with it.  Not Me ghosts run amok in my house?  So be it.  Ate all the gumdrops off our gingerbread house contest entry?  Not Me.  Left chewing gum stuck to the coffee table?  Not Me.  Put a rubberband around the dog’s ankle that caused him injury, leading to a plastic cone on his neck for five weeks?  A very sorry Not Me who was only trying to make Bandit a bracelet.   

I found this expanded version of Not Me to be doubly disturbing as a kid.  Suddenly we learn that Not Me has invited over his equally degenerate kinfolk, Ida Know and Nobody.  And in this one, they’re acting out with violence! 


2.) Grandpa in Heaven (or haunting the family on Earth).  I don’t think I even have to make a case here.    


3.) Follow Billy’s/Jeffy’s/Barfy’s path to see how far out of his route he went.  I’d like follow the path Bil Keane took to writing this one and see how far out of his normal comic strip route he went.  I’d bet my Easy Bake Oven that this path would be one continuous straight line.  That started back at 1960.


4.) Billy takes over the cartoon while Bil Keane is on vacation.  Perhaps Bil Keane has been on vacation since his comic’s launch in 1960.  After making it into the paper, he said, “Here Billy.  You can take it from here.  This thing is practically on autopilot now.  Just keep up with the Not Me, deceased grandpa, and so forth.”  Actually, I believe this theme confirms what I’ve suspected all along.  Billy is really Bil Keane’s developmentally-stunted alter ego.  



5.) Kids say the darndest things.  I’ve heard better “darndest things” from my veteran mommy friends who can mass-produce darndest things stories like they just casually picked them up off the floors of their minivans and were on their way to the dumpster to toss them out.  Oh, this might be funny.  I was just going to throw it out with the string cheese wrappers.  I can’t keep up with ’em all.  You want it?  I’m talking stories that would cause you to double-over into a fetal position of uproarious laughter and piddle in your pantaloons.  Bil Keane, do you even know children?  You should meet one sometime.  They’re funny. 


Now, I’d like to have an open mind about this.  I’ll admit I could be completely wrong in thinking The Family Circus is useless junk.  When I was a kid, I believed The Far Side was so obscure and cryptic that it must’ve been written by aliens as a way to report back to their counterparts through code-embedded comic strips.  Later, much later in fact, I realized “the alien” was the brilliantly funny Gary Larson (who I still believe is an alien).  It is quite possible that Bil Keane’s brilliance has escaped me in the same manner.  Perhaps my simple mind cannot comprehend this depth of comedy.  If so, please explain this one to me, Family Circusians.  Because I don’t get it.  Oh, wait.  Is that the joke?        

36 Comments leave one →
  1. August 31, 2011 11:15 pm

    WAAAAIT A MINUTE!!!! Do you realize that all these years i thought that Tony and I were responsible for bandits lil foot! HOLY COW! I FEEL SO MUCH BETTER NOW! oh…and yes, family circus sucks!

  2. September 1, 2011 7:31 am

    Yes, Jesse, all this time you’ve been beating yourself up about it…and all along it was Not Me. Although, perhaps Ida Know and Nobody were involved too.

  3. September 1, 2011 11:09 am

    That was just a small drop in Jesse’s full bucket of guilt, anyway. ;)

    • September 1, 2011 4:20 pm

      At least he feels guilt. That guilt will keep you an honest man, Jesse. Tony on the other hand. I’ve yet to hear an apololgy for the 13 years of torture I endured at his hands. No conscience, that guy.

  4. Kelley Shafer permalink
    September 1, 2011 9:26 pm

    Is it the circle cartoon bubble that draws the eye immediately to the Family Circus? Or is it the mind game I’ve been playing with myself for the last 25 years? I have challenged myself to never crack a smile while reading the Family Circus, and let me tell you, it’s not really been that challenging. I usually just end up pissed that the moronic cartoon still has a place in the daily paper. I loathe the Family Circus and anyone who thinks it’s funny.
    PS I am also approximately on my 30th consecutive episode of “My WIfe and Kids” without finding a shred of humor or entertainment. 30 minutes of straight faced torture when I could be enjoying “Wipeout”, physical comedy at its finest . Why do I do this to myself?

    • September 1, 2011 10:20 pm

      Holy crap, Kelley. You are my all-time favorite blog commentator. Ever. Husband is listening as I read this aloud and saying, “You’ve gotta start paying her to post comments on your blog.”

  5. September 1, 2011 10:14 pm

    Well, Ang. This one is the one that sucked me in. I knew your postings would be great. I knew I would get sucked into reading them all at some point, but the chance to throw my NOT ME hat into the ring of Family Circus lovers proved too sweet to ignore. Well said, of course. My ire was raised so many years ago when another cartooning Bill, a Bill Watterson stepped down from his genius run on Calvin & Hobbes and Bil “Classy” Keane said things like Calvin and Hobbes was “repetitive” and “not as original as people think”. Of course, the DYSFUNCTIONAL Family Circus is pretty hilarious, if you want to read a lot.
    See here for Keane’s inane blubberings: and here for the Dysfunctional Family Circus:

    Keep it up, Ang, and thanks for finally sucking me in. It’s good to hear from ya.

    • September 1, 2011 10:28 pm

      What. You better be joking. MY Bill Watterson, MY Calvin & Hobbes being criticized by Bil? I’m so not sorry now that I wrote this. I was starting to feel guilt about kicking at an old guy. No regrets now. None. Can’t wait to read the “inane blubberings” and DFC. Thanks, Tim, for reading. Come back again sometime.

      • Tim James permalink
        November 9, 2011 1:26 pm

        Well, I guess the flowering praise will now commence… Bil Keane is dead, so now any negative comments about him will have the weight of man’s fear of death attached to them. So that the accuracy of the comment becomes irrelevant in the face of “but he died, so everything he did was amazing, and I’ve always loved it!”.

        Well, NOT ME! I’m Tim James, and I don’t like Bil Keane. His death just solidifies the situation, now there’s no way he can change my opinion. Of course, a sufficiently shocking revelation at the reading of his will could do it.

      • November 10, 2011 6:29 pm

        Congratulations, TimJim. You were my prime news source on this breaking story. I hadn’t heard until you posted this comment and, since then, I’ve been BOMBARDED with the news. This very blog post had a record 320 hits yesterday — no doubt, all Family Circusians mourning the loss of Bil Keane. And then they end up here. And hated my guts for throwing salt in their wounds.

        I will make no jokes of the poor man’s passing. But I will be the first to throw out some cash that there will be a “Bil Keane in Heaven” Family Circus soon. Yes, I predict his son Jeff will draw it of him up there yukking it up with the Family Circus clan’s grandpa. Who knows, maybe little Billy will draw it since Bil Keane is now out on permanent vacation. :(

  6. October 22, 2011 11:20 pm

    Whoever wrote you that “response,” couldn’t have ACTUALLY been that upset. That would just be ridiculous! This is your blog, and clearly you are going to write about your own opinions, so my question for DK is the following: “Have you read The Family Circus? Like Really?” It is decidedly pretty boring and must only still be part of the “funnies” (which, let’s face it, are mostly boring and unfunny, though I like “Zits” sometimes) because very elderly people (who I work with and love, but the sense of humor is a bit dated) think it’s funny or cute, and they are the only ones who still read the paper, on paper. Not that there’s anything wrong with that…

    • October 23, 2011 9:26 am

      Ha! You’re so sweet to come to my defense. I might’ve created that letter for dramatization purposes. :-)

      • October 23, 2011 10:03 am

        That crossed my mind, but unfortunately I’ve seen real responses to people’s posts not too different from that one, so I erred on the side of people being jerks :)

      • October 23, 2011 11:02 am

        Yikes – I hope those people never end up on my blog :(

  7. mark permalink
    November 17, 2011 8:19 pm

    Holy crap…you need to read this!,26663/

  8. Emily permalink
    March 22, 2012 6:54 pm

    I hate Family Circus too–it’s much too cutesy for my taste. I consider it to be like the newspaper-comic version of Precious Moments figurines……and, unfortunately, my childhood best friend’s house was full of them.

    • March 23, 2012 8:33 pm

      “…like the newspaper-comic version of Precious Moments figurines…” That might be the best comparison ever made about The Family Circus or Precious Moments in the entire history of The Family Circus or Precious Moments. I worked at a Hallmark store in high school that sold Precious Moments and I can’t tell you how many times I plotted to “accidentally” throw a brick into our glass display case.

  9. May 4, 2012 11:54 am

    I tell the kids I work with one of the Not Me Ghosts live at our store since they are all always innocent. Lol

  10. June 13, 2012 10:31 pm

    Hey! It’s my first time to your blog, even though I see you hanging out in the comments section of most of the other blogs I read. You sucked me right in with the Family Circus sidebar… mostly because I think the Family Circus sucks as well!

    Did you ever watch the cartoon “Pinky and the Brain”? They had an episode once where Pinky was complaining about how The Family Circus wasn’t funny anymore, but then people misinterpreted his comments and assumed he was saying something deep/symbolic about how the family unit had become a “circus” and wasn’t funny anymore. Anywho, Pinky ended up running for politics on that platform but his campaign was sabotaged by Bil Keane. I still hate The Family Circus but appreciated this nuanced examination of *why* I hate it. Thanks! :)

    • June 14, 2012 9:11 pm

      You know, Dana, how when someone tells you about a funny show they watched and it almost never comes out funny to just hear about it? That was seriously hilarious! I have never watched that show (haven’t had cable for a decade) but now I want to.

      I wrote this post about three weeks before Bil Keane died. I hadn’t heard the news yet and wondered why all of a sudden I got 200 hits on my old Family Circus post, all referred by Google searches — then I learned why. Poor Bil, I hope he isn’t looking down from Heaven at me in a disturbing fashion like the grandparents in The Family Circus. That would be the best way to get back at me.

      • June 14, 2012 11:09 pm

        Even the *thought* of Bil Keane looking down at you from heaven is disturbing…

        And if you ever get the chance to see an episode or two of Pinky & The Brain, do it! It’s a cartoon but most of the references and humor are totally aimed at adults. I can’t imagine a six-year old boy (a la Billy or Jeffy) understanding the nuances of the show at all. Dolly *might* understand some parts, but I doubt it. ;)

      • June 17, 2012 7:22 pm

        I will have to check it out! I googled-imaged it and it looked familiar — but I don’t think I’ve ever seen it. I love smart cartoons. As in, cartoons that are the antithesis of The Family Circus.

  11. August 24, 2012 8:57 am

    Love this post and love this blog!

  12. April 29, 2013 6:17 pm

    I felt it could be FUN… sometimes.
    Or CUTE… every once in a while.
    TOUCHING… here and there.

    But I used to read it, my friend, simply to see how dumb it was and if Id say “what the hell?”. I totally feel your point. I thought the mom’s hairdo was like a cat wrapped around her head. I thought the girl was a brat 24/7. And the things the kids said must’ve only been funny to the real kid’s grandma. It shows you how an artist can be successful by pushing their stuff and not have a great sense of humor.

    I hit the comics for Far Side. Far Side got flak BAD! WHAT?? When Gary Larson retired, the comics had no main feature. There were 5 others like Garfield violently smacking Odie, Bloom County, Hagar the Horrible, B.C., Beetle Bailey. Ugh. Peanuts almost became as “credible” but dumb as Family Circus.

    • EricP permalink
      July 31, 2013 3:09 pm

      I agree most comics were weak and are even moreso today. But not liking Bloom County? Really? Breathed had a subversive streak to him, and he didn’t try to milk his creation until his passing (or beyond).

      • July 31, 2013 8:33 pm

        I missed Bloom County…must not have hit my region’s newspapers because, though I’m familiar with it, I’ve never read it before. Sounds like I missed out.

  13. April 29, 2013 6:29 pm

    Also, if you received negative mail with explitives- Oh My God… YOU WIN! Who loves & defends Family Circus with hate & spite, I have a new ghost name, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”. Who likes Family Circus? Ugh… don’t ask. Heh heh heh. Gramps has his hand on my shoulder and told me, “Yeah… let’s stop the necromancy.” Hahahahahhh!!!!

  14. Thomas Tresser permalink
    September 30, 2015 1:20 am

    I weep for the slaughtered trees that were sacrificed to make the paper on which this crap was printed. I don’t think a single news paper was chosen over the other for containing this crap and I consider it a insult to any person with half a brain.


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