Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Defining Generation X: Joe Flaherty

Joe Flaherty was born in 1941 making him a part of the Silent Generation and also very likely the parent of Generation X children.  He died yesterday after an illness and is for me the perfect example of an influencer over Generation X.  

So what was it about Flaherty that I think makes him such a good Generation X influencer.  First there is the fact that he was part of SCTV.  In 1981 when Generation X kids were hitting the ripe age of 16 SCTV appeared on NBC.  Right there at the fore was Joe Flaherty playing recurring characters, Guy Caballero, Sammy Maudlin, Count Floyd, and Floyd Robertson.  He also, like everyone else, played a million other roles, but I always loved his Kirk Douglas.  What Flaherty brought to all these roles is what I think is so really important.  He brought cynicism.  Generation X kids were watching their parents get laid off from companies, watching the tide turn against working people in favor of the rich and watching it all happen on television where we all smiled and everything was wonderful.  Flaherty's take on his characters was a very cynical look at the reality of the situation.  From Guy Caballero using a wheelchair to try and get sympathy, to Sammy Maudlin being fake sincere about things.  For me at age 13 it rang so true as it did for many other Generation X kids.  

Parody, heck comedy in general, is very hard to pull off.  You have to set the right tone for things to work and I always thought Flaherty, with his recurring characters on SCTV, nailed that tone perfectly.  We loved Floyd Robertson, we were able to laugh at Sammy Maudlin and Guy Caballero was honest about who he was and what he wanted.  Something that for a 13 year old kid you really crave from an adult in power.  For me he was the heart of SCTV and so for that alone I see him as a big influence on Generation X, because that show had a huge influence on our generation of comedians and script writers. 

Then of course he got to play the role of the father on the most Generation X show there is Freaks and Geeks.  A show developed by a Generation X writer and introducing some Generation X actors who would go on to have real success in Hollywood.  What makes Flaherty so perfect for this role is his ability to be what our generation thinks of as a typical parent.  He's clueless about his kids lives and really that's what he wanted to be clueless.  There is a reason Generation X is referred to as the latchkey kid generation.  


Joe Flaherty was a great comedian and actor and was I believe a huge influence on Generation X.  He will be missed but never forgotten.  

NOTE:  Just wanted to note that Paul Feig was the creator of the show and he is a tail end Boomer born in 1962, but Judd Apatow was the producer and he was born in 1967.  The show is set in 1980 and much of the show is based off of the younger brother who represents Feig.  In 1980 Feig would have been 18, but Apatow would have been 13, so the show has always felt more influenced by Apatow to me than Feig.  If you have not seen the show it is worth watching.  Funny to see a high school show where there is a smoking area for the kids during lunch.  I remember it well.  


  1. S.C.T.V. was one of the greatest shows of all time and he was vital to its success.

    What is interesting about that clip from Freaks and Geeks is how the Gen X kids are showing behavior that we associate with young people of today.

  2. This post is great and correct--and the best of the tributes to Joe Flaherty that I saw. A big part of his appeal to me was his cynicism seemed to be an honest and unfortunate jadedness--not something he manufactured as a means to an end on which he had already decided. There's no way I could possibly know whether this was true ever or even some of the time, but it always felt to me--something about his face--that Flaherty actually wanted to be a happy, straight-arrow person who accepted things on face value, list price, square deal, etc.

    Agree here on everything. Huge influence on our generation--sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly.