15 Running Gags in Sitcoms That Are Complete Nonsense to Outsiders
Sitcoms can be a little formulaic, especially if they’ve been around for, I don’t know, let’s say 34 seasons. But that’s also why we love them. If we know what to expect, we can turn our brains off. Here are some of the best running gags that sound like gibberish to those filthy channel-surfing sitcom tourists…
The Office: Michael Scott’s Soft Teeth
Jan scolds Michael for dipping his meat into his wine. Wounded, he replies, “You know I have soft teeth, how could you say that?” We can assume his habits of pouring sugar into his Diet Coke and drinking a big mug of milk and sugar every morning have messed up his chompers.
Seinfeld: Jerry v. Newman
Out of all the characters Jerry suffers in his life, why does he hate this one neighbor? Despite having mutual friends, they greet each other with pure loathing from the very beginning. It turns out that there really is no canonical backstory. Wayne Knight and the writers just created such a detestable dude, the real Jerry has said, “It was an instinctive dislike of the character.”
BoJack Horseman: Hollywoo
Way back in Season One, BoJack got drunk and stole the D from the Hollywood sign in an ill-advised romantic gesture. The city embraced its new name for nearly the rest of the series — until it was erroneously fixed to read “Hollywoob” in the finale.
30 Rock: How Old Is Kenneth?
To drive home the point that no one cares about the lowly NBC page, Kenneth will occasionally make a quiet remark or (even a bold declaration) that implies he’s some kind of immortal deity.
Scrubs: JD v. The Janitor
In the first episode of the series, The Janitor mistakenly believes that JD broke a door that was a huge pain to fix, setting up a series-long feud between the two. That character was originally meant to be a figment of JD’s imagination, but he was received so well, they made him a major part of the show. On paper, yeah — seems a bit random to carve out time for a doctor to fight a janitor every episode.
The Office: Creed Bratton’s Whole Deal
Creed Bratton, both the character and the actor of the same name, are weird dudes. He gets like 11 seconds of screen time per episode, but he uses them to drop some wild breadcrumbs about his past. Probably the most telling and concerning is: “Nobody steals from Creed Bratton and gets away with it. The last person to do this disappeared. His name? Creed Bratton.”
Everybody Loves Raymond: Robert’s Always Touching His Chin
If you’re just channel surfing, you might not even notice he’s doing it, and it’s only briefly mentioned (though not explained). Brad Garrett very casually, compulsively touches his chin at random moments, particularly when he’s about to eat a bite of food.
Bob’s Burgers: The Revolving Door of Neighbors
You need to be a serial binger to notice that the businesses next to Bob’s Burgers change from intro to intro. You also need to be a superfan of the show to excuse questionable puns like “Lin Manuel’s Verandas.”
How I Met Your Mother: Why is Barney So Coy About His Job?
Whenever someone asks Barney what his job is, he offers a placating “Please,” before changing the subject. A casual observer might expect the writers to just come up with a job, any job. In the end, it’s revealed that his job was actually to Provide Legal Exculpation and Sign Everything.
The Simpsons: Mr. Burns’ Archaic References
If you’re not familiar with the series, you might easily brush off his less accessible quips as feeble-minded gibberish. But he’s actually very sharp — he’s just making obscure, century-old references. For example, his standard greeting, “ahoy-hoy,” was how Alexander Graham Bell intended for the phone to be answered — back in 1876.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia: The Gang Keeps Taping Over the Same VHS
Whenever they record a video for one of their schemes, they’re using the same camcorder loaded with the same tape. We know this because any pre-recorded segment ends with a miniature POV clipshow of past capers.
Parks and Recreation: Pawnee’s Murals
Pawnee City Hall is covered with murals depicting the town’s shady past, including a vivid depiction of this anecdote: “A traveling magician came through one time, and he pulled a rabbit out of a hat. A mob burned him at the stake for being a witch. The year was 1973.”
Friends: Joey and Chandler’s MagnaDoodle
The crew would write goofy little messages that in some way related to the episode, usually without referencing it directly, as a little Easter egg for eagle-eyed fans. It even says “Thanks for all your stuff” when their apartment gets robbed.
Malcolm in the Middle: The Hamster Ball
Why is there a bright orange hamster ball rolling around the background in random scenes? Dewey once decided to let his class hamster free, after the class bully threatened to hurt it, by dumping some Cheerios into its ball and releasing it onto the sidewalk. Bernard the hamster is alive and well!
Paul Rudd on Conan
Fine, it’s not technically a sitcom. But Rudd’s made a habit of setting up a clip from his newest movie, only to show a scene from the low-budget E.T. rip-off Mac and Me.