Well, this is not a post just about the geekier comedies which I love, such as Genshiken (which may not exactly be a comedy, but a slice-of-life series) and The Big Bang Theory, but it’s true for all comedies, and many stand-up shows as well, certainly all those who deal with current events and politics.
I think intertextuality is what geeks thrive upon, and geeks who are into “geeky things” seem to respond and be proud of it, but having watched some comedies that deal with sports, I think it’s true for all geeks – all those who are nearly obsessed with a field respond well to shows that “reward” them for their knowledge, and which separates them from those who do not “get it”. Geeks do tend to take it one step further.
Think of Genshiken, with all of the anime and mangas referenced, and which those of us who watched with subtitles usually had helpful notes explaining what is being referred to. And then you have the self-proclaimed “Big Geeks”, who scoff at those who do not recognize all such references immediately, or TV-Shows such as Stargate where things from the first couple of seasons will show up in season 8 (and then think of conventions where there are minutiae quizes, to prove you’re the biggest fan).
This is the reward, in and of itself. The reward is the gratification, the reward is the self-gratification. It is not others patting you on the back that is important, it’s you patting yourself on the back for your own knowledge of trivia. And when you comment on how good others are to catch these references, you are also congratulating yourself, who had also recognized them, or turn this recognition into an ideal to be mimicked.
This also happens in sports comedies, where if you don’t know why something can’t happen you may not laugh at the jokes (aside from the universal ones). A year or so ago I’ve watched a comedy show that had references from the mid-90s, USA politics. Now, aside from the big issues, I don’t know these things too closely, certainly not enough to remember them, as such, not only did the series date itself, but it wasn’t funny – the jokes had an expiration date, and it had passed.
There are also shows that are “timeless”, or at least, as long as we all live within the current culture, they are. Seinfeld, for instance, or even more timeless humour such as the Charlie Chaplin films (but are they truly funny?).
Overall, comedies, most if not all, rely on specialized knowledge, or at least the thought that this knowledge is both specialized, private, and marks those who possess it with some value. We like these series because they affirm our view of ourselves as those “in the know”, they mark us as members of the subculture which we so wish to be a part of, they give us our identity (or at least keep re-affirming it, which amounts to the same thing).
And of course, it helps if it’s funny, but it wouldn’t have been (as) funny without the specialized knowledge, now, would it?