15 Funny Meta Jokes and Gags That Broke the Fourth Wall Like the Kool-Aid Man
When a sitcom starts running out of steam, it may lean toward self-referential humor. Done clumsily, it can turn a perfectly good show into a comedy ouroboros, doomed to consume itself until it simultaneously starves and eviscerates its own emaciated husk. Gross.
But done well, it can lead to some of the best moments in the series. Here are some of the most satisfying fourth-wall breaks we’ve ever seen…
Ned Flanders Calls It Like He Sees It
In the Season 10 Simpsons episode “Homer to the Max,” Homer explains that “networks like animation because they don’t have to pay the actors squat.” Flanders pops in the window and agrees, in a suspiciously altered voice: “Plus, they can replace them and no one can tell the diddly-ifference!”
‘Seinfeld’ on ‘Seinlanguage’
A couple of years after the real Jerry Seinfeld published his book, Seinlanguage, Elaine’s old boss in the show is heard complaining, “Why is it every half-wit and sitcom star has his own book out now?”
‘Family Guy’ Goes Back to the Drawing Board
The Season 10 episode “Back to the Pilot” ramps up this already-meta show’s self-reference to 11. Stewie and Brian travel back to January 31, 1999 — the date of the show’s premiere — to contrast the modern and OG art style and voice actors, among other changes.
The Meta World of Gumball
The Watterson family notices their animated universe crumbling around them as they themselves run out of money, signifying the lack of quality that follows an animated show getting its budget cut. As their own animation deteriorates in front of our eyes, they try to make it to Joyful Burger to film a commercial to replenish their budget.
The Self-Referential Prince of Bel-Air
In the 1994 episode “Same Game, Next Season,” Will Smith — the character or the actor??? — says, “If we so rich, why can’t we afford a ceiling?,” and the camera pans up to reveal the studio equipment hanging overhead.
Abed Becomes the Fourth Wall
In Community, Abed would often refer to himself as if he were on a TV show. This was taken to the next level in the animated episode “G.I. Jeff,” when Abed plays a character named Fourth Wall, who says, “I believe that what we perceive as life is actually a syndicated children’s cartoon.”
Illuminati Everywhere All at Once
While cruising through an extremely rapid slideshow of alternate realities, Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh) is seen in two extremely meta scenarios. At one point, Yeoh is on a green screen while the VFX team talks about that very scene. Later, Evelyn is on a thumbnail for a YouTube video titled “Illuminati Symbols Hidden In Hollywood Films for One Frame,” which features one frame of Illuminati symbols.
‘Seinfeld’ Justifies Its Own Finale
Jerry Seinfeld has said that he turned down $100 million for one more season of Seinfeld. He caught lots of flack for calling it quits while the show was still at the top of the ratings, and he and the writers addressed this in an episode when Jerry advises George to go out on top: “Showmanship, George. When you hit that high note, say ‘Goodnight’ and walk off.”
The Hot Priest Can See You
Fleabag was all about the fourth-wall breaks, but the Hot Priest was the only other character (besides Fleabag) who looked straight into the camera. He asked, “What is that? That thing that you’re doing?”, turned around and seemed to notice the camera for the first time.
Chip ‘n Dale’s Nod to Ugly Sonic
Fictional characters in the Rescue Rangers universe are actual people, not just characters. So they took the opportunity to revive the hideous, human-toothed Sonic the Hedgehog that the internet had previously memed to death, and made him a Hollywood has-been voiced by Tim Robinson.
Angel Would Never Sleep with Darla
In Season Two of Angel, just two episodes after he slept with Darla, Angel states a bold-faced lie — “You know I would never (sleep with Darla)” — before looking straight into the camera.
She-Hulk She-Hates Meta Jokes
In an episode of She-Hulk: Attorney at Law, She-Hulk climbs through the Disney+ menu and yells at the writers room of that very show for their lazy writing. She then faces off against a Kevin Feige stand-in: an omnipotent entertainment algorithm known as K.E.V.I.N.
‘Tiny Toon Adventures’ Hates Fox
Right after the show was moved over to Fox, Babs and Buster Bunny introduced the audience to “some brand new characters: our enemies, the Fox network executives!” They’re portrayed by two actual foxes, which Babs then smashes with a mallet.
Kathy Griffin’s Real and Fake Beef with Jerry Seinfeld
After her first appearance on Seinfeld as comedian Sally Weaver, Griffin made jokes in her real-life stand-up act about how rude Jerry was on set. The show ended up asking Griffin to reprise her role in a later episode, having Sally Weaver create a one-woman show called “Jerry Seinfeld Is the Devil.”
Let Ferris Bueller Have His Day Off
After looking down the barrel of the camera and babysitting the audience through his whole adventure like it was some kind of escort mission, Ferris stares into your eyes one last time in his classic post-credit scene: “You’re still here? It’s over. Go home.”