Kate Stone

Kate Stone

Why Helga Pataki is a Comedy Icon

When it comes to girls and young women characters there seems to be an odd belief that there are few examples of them in comedy, specifically examples who could be held up as comedic role models. I seem to have some extra time on my hands right now and rather than rearrange my wardrobe I have decided to dedicate an essay each to the fictional girls and young women who deserve more recognition for their comedy.

First up I would like to present to you Ms Helga Pataki of Hey Arnold! While Helga wasn’t the first female comedy character to walk onto my screen, she does hold a place in my heart for speaking to me so viscerally. Like Helga, I too was not invited to sleepovers. Like Helga, I too had a stubborn unibrow which only became tamed when thick brows became fashionable and like Helga, I too had a secretive life, though this did not extend to a shrine in my wardrobe.

Hey Arnold! first came to our screens in 1996 and realistically portrayed life for a lot of kids without adding sentiment or sickly sweet conclusion. Some of us lived with lodgers, some of us had alcoholic parents, some of us didn’t have parents and some of us just couldn’t leave the stoop. Life is hard but the characters in Hey Arnold! like in real life, just had to get on with it.

With her mother in a constant alcoholic or pill-induced fug and her workaholic father hardly noticing her in the shadow of her perfectionist sister Olga, it’s hardly surprising nine-year-old Helga appeared to be aggressive and easily exercised over small injustices. Nobody understood Helga on the show (apart from BFF Phoebe) and she instantly became everybody’s favourite character (I will not be taking questions), not because of her distinctive appearance but because we all have an inner Helga.

Those who missed Hey Arnold! might be wondering where the comedy lies here. Some of the comedy is in the children’s earnestness, their faith in playground myths and childish solutions to problems. But a lot of it came from Helga, who could always be relied on for a cutting jibe or passionate outpouring in response to various events.

Simultaneously bringing the tragedy and the comic relief through slapstick and wit, Helga is the clown of the cast. Much of this stems from her secret yet all-consuming crush on Arnold. In one episode Helga decides her bubble gum Arnold shrine will not be complete without his trademark little hat that somehow stays in place upon his football head. In a routine where an Acme anvil falling from the sky wouldn’t look out of place, Helga goes on a quest to steal the hat. Then again to return the hat.

I would also argue Helga is a good role model for girls, her refusal to be sugar and spice and all things nice is refreshing. She’s not ‘pretty’ or graceful and she doesn’t apologise for it, she refuses to be anybody but herself. She isn’t some tiresome foil on the boys antics in the show, she’s often is the show. We should all let our inner Helgas out once in a while, if not for the comedy value, for the improvement it would make on our lives.

If you have a character you’d like to suggest for this, then tweet me @funnywomened

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