Somehow this weekend Wendell and I ended up discussing Monty Python. It turns out that we have the same favorite skit, The Parrot Sketch. Surprisingly we both first encountered the Parrot Sketch in an audio format and not via the televsion show. Wendell first heard the audio portion of the television sketch via a morning radio show. I first heard it as it was performed live and released on a "best of" audio cassette entitled "The Final Ripoff." Since then I have heard another live performance of the Parrot Sketch that was recorded during the troupe's live tour of the British Isles. I am not familiar with the chronology of these live recordings but they were done after most of the seminal sketches of the group were already well known in the UK. Since the crowd is familiar wit the sketch, John Cleese, who plays the exasperated purchaser of a deceased parrot, carries his performance so far into camp that it comes back around and is fresh and funny. That is what I first heard and I still think it's funnier than the original televised version. It's like hearing the live version of Freebird before ever hearing the studio version. The studio version, when heard, seems staid and boring. I played the live version for Wendell this weekend after I informed him that it was better than the original televised version. I think he liked it, you can't tell with him sometimes. I think he just wanted me to stop talking.
My point is that a comedy routine that can live without it's original visuals is an obvious sign of strong writing. As a child I used to record MASH episodes on my portable tape player with a microphone hung over the channel selector by its cord so the mic would hover near the silver metal speaker on the front of the television. I used to record Hogan's Heroe's also but it didn't hold up to repeated listens like a good MASH episode could. The most seminal television recording I ever made was the original network airing of Blazing Saddles. I was never the same after that. That is why I can now repeat back to you the entire script of that movie.
Another good example of a televised comedy routine that can live without its video is the job interview with Richard Pryor and Chevy Chase from the first season of Saturday Night Live. I have never done this but I would be willing to wager that most of the better episodes of Seinfeld could be listened to without losing any of the humor. They might actually be funnier as your mind's eye addes its own images. This is why the old Jack Benny radio programs are so hilarious. The next time you are stealing music on a P2P service download a couple of Jack Benny shows from the 40's. Once you learn the characters it is funny beyond words.