I suppose I could look it up on the Interwebs and find out who gets credit for inventing situation comedy. Every writer has a different answer, I suppose, unless the world has divided into two camps, one arguing for Greek playwrights and another for medieval troubadours. But they did exist long before The Honeymooners. (That alone should get me hate mail. “How dare you mention the Honeymooners when Fibber McGee and Molly had the territory covered on radio long before, etc. etc.” We live in an age of lively debate, to call it nothing nastier.)
In any case, the postcard cartoonists were well aware of all the themes which made the sitcom. Marital woes were at the top of everyone’s list, and in every society where marriage was considered vital, infidelity was considered vital to comedy. A wife walking in on a husband at precisely the wrong moment, as seen above, was one of the most basic story motifs, whether the husband was actually being faithful, just thinking about it, or just in the wrong place at the wrong time. (Some writers prefer their heroes to be guilty and some innocent in these situations. I don’t have time or resources (or the brains) to consider the cultural distinctions right now.)
Is this chap from the early days of radio (or wireless) acquainted with the young ladies in question or just wishing he was? Unnecessary to know, really: the joke is in his wife being unaware of the wireless communication.
A standard gag in the sitcom is watching the hero stammer as his wife turns up evidence, which she may or may not pretend to misunderstand. (Some fabric softener might have prevented this situation: let us all take a lesson from this.)
Unlikely though the evidence might seem from a logical standpoint, we are talking sitcom here, not pure logic. Surely, in the days of homes with servants, the cook was not ALWAYS baking, her hands covered in flour. But you’d never know it from the postcards of the time.
In the situation comedies of our ancestors, though, the cook was often busy entertaining passing policemen, who always found the kitchen while walking a cold beat. The master of the house was more likely to be found fondling the upstairs or downstairs maid. (Note to self: see if anyone has already written a song called “I fondled the downstairs maid upstairs.”)
Of course, the master of the house had to go to work. Which led to confusion about what he was working on.
I used to work at a place myself where, according to legend, one maintenance man’s chief job description was to keep an eye on the doors and if the wife of the CEO dropped by, he was to get to the CEO’s office before she did so that certain female members of staff could head for a side door.
According to the same legend, this never especially fooled the wife of the CEO, just prevented her – usually – from catching hubby with his hands in the cookie jar (so to speak.)
There was the famous double standard in those days, of course. You DO realize that it was always the husband who did the cheating, and never the pure, poor wife. Well, you’re realizing wrong.
The sitcom of the postcard (and the pop song AND the stage farce) did not discriminate. The Mrs. was just as likely to stray as the Mister whenever it was funny.
The evidence might seem to be more obvious in her case.
But it wasn’t, really. Not to the cartoonists.