ByCraig Whyel, writer at
Film & TV news, previews and commentary
Craig Whyel

Toughness, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Or perhaps it’s dependent on the person bragging about it.

Regardless, there are several types of tough. One is of the physical sort where a person makes use of their body dimensions and attributes to head off any challenge.

The other is the mental sort where they are unflappable and focused resolving the conflict before them. They use their wits and psychology to forge ahead.

Then there is the eccentric tough. This is the person who is, for reasons unclear, disconnected from any kind of fear and is free to take care of difficult business. Their toughness is personality driven.

There are plenty of memorable tough persons in TV history.

Here is a look at sitcom’s toughest characters:

Character: Herman Munster Actor: Fred Gwynne Show: The Munsters

Big old Herman was big and old…literally. He checked in at well over seven feet tall, weighed nearly four hundred pounds, and was created in a Heidelberg laboratory in the 1800s by Dr. Victor Frankenstein.

Despite the deadly-strength and incredible dimensions, he was clumsy, somewhat effete, and seemingly unsure of himself.

He was exploited for sports on several occasions and never lost a physical confrontation...though they were understandably quite rare.

At best, he could assert himself when need be but was more of a reluctant tough.

Ellie May Clampett

Don't go messin' with a country girl...
Don't go messin' with a country girl...

Character: Ellie May Clampett Actor: Donna Douglas Show: Beverly Hillbillies

Ellie May was, first and foremost, recognized for considerable beauty. On par with her looks was her physical toughness, which was developed by the rigors of mountain life.

She was blessed with considerable strength and speed. Her best physical skill was “wrasslin” for which she was effortlessly able to take down an opponent nearly twice her size. Her frequent grappling partner was her near-giant cousin Jethro and he always wound up pinned, always to his frustration.

She was, at first glance, disarming but that was highly deceptive. 

The Fonz

Fonzie before the thumbs up craze.
Fonzie before the thumbs up craze.

Character: Arthur Fonzarelli Actor: Henry Winkler Show: Happy Days

The Fonz was somewhat of a disconnected, cerebral tough. His size alone didn’t do much to make him appear tough but he was unafraid of confrontation, always confident, and ready to deploy a cutting wit.

While his toughness was universally accepted, he was better known for a near mystical talent with mechanics, jukeboxes and women.

People were in awe of his gifts, which also included ultra-cooperative hair.

In general, his neighborhood seemed glad that he used his incredible powers for good instead of evil.

Tony Banta

Not quick enough with his fists.
Not quick enough with his fists.

Character: Tony Banta Actor: Tony Danza Show: Taxi

Banta was a luck-challenged pro boxer (Tony Danza himself was pro boxer with a better win-loss record).

Despite the requisite toughness needed to be in such a brutal sport, Banta was generally a pleasant, low-wattage bulb who drove a cab in between training for upcoming fights.

His boss, Louie DePalma, always made money in betting against Tony in his fights.

Sadly, Banta’s boxing career was ended when the athletic commission pulled his license due to his getting knocked out too many times.

Carla Torelli

Smiling on the outside...
Smiling on the outside...

Character: Carla Tortelli Actress: Rhea Pearlman Show: Cheers

Carla was generally tough, due in large part to disastrous relationships with four men that produced eight children.

It was difficult to feed that many offspring on waitress money.

Carla was on the miserable side and she generally took out her frustrations on everyone.

The only thing that made her as unhappy as her domestic dysfunction was her beloved Boston Red Sox.

Dan Conner

Large and loveable.
Large and loveable.

Character: Dan Conner Actor: John Goodman Show: Roseanne

Dan was an everyday guy struggling to make ends meet and raise his family.

He worked with his hands, first as a building contractor then as a motorcycle mechanic.

A big, jovial fellow, he was not without a temper and didn’t back down from confrontations.

He was one of the few characters to actually pass away during the run of the show.

David Puddy

"Yeah, that's right."
"Yeah, that's right."

Character: David Puddy Actor: Patrick Warburton Show: Seinfeld

Puddy was the constantly on and off boyfriend of Elaine Benes. Her deep attraction to him revolved around his masculine qualities and that he worked with his hands (a mechanic then later a car salesman). He was a lover of sports who proudly painted his shirtless self before attending New Jersey Devils hockey games.

His toughness came from his indifference. His favorite catch phrase was, “Yeah, that’s right.”

His indifference enabled him to shamelessly steal “the move” from Jerry and later deployed on Elaine in the bedroom.

Nancy Botwin

Pretty and tough.
Pretty and tough.

Character: Nancy Botwin Actress: Mary Louise Parker Show: Weeds

At first glance, with the long, tresses, the doe eyes and long, slender legs, people tended to consider Nancy Botwin a trophy wife.

When her husband suddenly died and she was instantly forced to be a family provider, she developed her toughness seemingly overnight, indulging the unpleasantness of trying to make a living as a weed dealer.

Her toughness originated from her intellect, which was often underrated. She strategized and connived to make money and was often very successful.

She was keenly aware of her effect on men and was not shy about using it to motivate males in her employ.

When it was all said and done, her circumstances released in her the sort of talent that made for a criminal mastermind.

Jack Donaghy
Jack wore big boy shoes for a reason.
Jack wore big boy shoes for a reason.

Character: Jack Donaghy Actor: Alec Baldwin Show: Thirty Rock

Donaghy escaped a life of poverty to ascend to the heights of a network executive. Along the way, he developed an intellectual toughness and a competitive streak that bordered on being sociopathic.

He thrived on the incessant head games that came from micromanaging, never missing an opportunity to psych out an underling.

His competitiveness spilled over to his personal relationships and cost him dearly though he would never admit it because winning was everything.

Ron Swanson

A steak and eggs kind of guy.
A steak and eggs kind of guy.

Character: Ron Swanson Actor: Nick Offerman Show: Parks and Recreation

Ron was a tough guy recluse who could easily live off the land and make a living with his hands. He loved red meat and breakfast foods.

Despite his anti-government leanings, he worked as a county government bureaucrat.

Though he could easily muscle his way out of any situation, he was adept at the cerebral, quick assessment that wound up in some memorable asides.

So popular were his comments that a number of websites exist to memorialize his quotes.


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