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Sanford And Son Scenes That Aged To Perfection

This content was paid for by Sony and created by Looper.

Norman Lear is responsible for producing some of the most innovative TV shows of all time, and among his most popular was "Sanford and Son," which premiered all the way back in 1972 and ran for six seasons. The show's focus on Black junkyard dealer Fred G. Sanford (Redd Foxx) and his put-upon adult son and business partner Lamont (Demond Wilson) meant it was able to tackle a lot of topical issues, including racism and classism, while still including all the gags, punchlines, and physical humor we've come to expect of our most beloved sitcoms.

All of that makes "Sanford and Son" a trailblazer, and while some of the humor in the series has become a bit dated after all these years, there are still plenty of scenes from the show that hold up surprisingly well. Not only do these scenes remain hilarious, they also continue to speak to fundamental human truths that are still just as relatable today as they were 50 years ago. What's more, many of those scenes laid the groundwork for comedy plots that are now recognizable tropes — but were brand new at the time. Here are several "Sanford and Son" scenes that will tickle your funny bone and make you nod in recognition even all these years later.

A Hysterical Sequel

"Earthquake" is a 1974 film starring Charlton Heston and Ava Gardner that follows the dramatic aftermath of a devastating earthquake hitting Los Angeles. "Earthquake II," is a 1975 episode of "Sanford and Son" that serves as a ridiculous follow-up to the movie. It also centers on an earthquake, but this one has a very different outcome. Fred and Lamont live in the Watts area of Los Angeles, which means they regularly endure earthquakes like the rest of California's inhabitants. After Fred wakes up to find his house and business in disarray, he initially believes someone broke in...at least until Lamont tells him a small earthquake — which Fred slept through — is responsible for the damage.

But when an aftershock thoroughly rattles him, Fred, who moved to Los Angeles from his hometown of St. Louis decades prior, hysterically questions why anyone lives in California. Things really go off the rails when Officer Hoppy (Howard Platt) brings over an ailing Grady (Whitman Mayo) who's seasick from the Earth moving. This leads to an amusing conversation about a news report predicting that the Big One is poised to hit Los Angeles... in only five days. Grady doesn't immediately understand the magnitude of the situation, and when he finally does, his mind is immediately put to rest by Lamont's confident denial of the possibility.

If only Fred listened to his son the way his friend does. The rest of the episode centers on Fred's ill-fated move to Las Vegas to avoid the quake, an overreaction that leaves him in worse shape than if he'd rolled the dice and stayed in California.

A Classic Conundrum

Fred often spends his free time singing and dancing to his favorite records, but in the third season episode "The Blind Mellow Jelly Collection," it's established there isn't a singer he adores more than the fictional Blind Mellow Jelly. In the episode, Lamont convinces Fred to give his Blind Mellow Jelly records away because Fred often plays them instead of doing his work. Even though Fred insists they're valuable collector's items, Lamont believes they're junk, but he figures that if they donate the records to the library, they can at least get a tax deduction for them.

However, when the librarian at the university where they bring the records says they're worth a substantial chunk of change, Fred enlists his pal Bubba (Don Bexley) to pretend to be Blind Mellow Jelly's son so he can get his collection back — and sell it instead. Many sitcoms since have featured a supportive friend attempting to help out the main character with their zany schemes, but in this "Sanford and Son" example, Bubba is far from a worthy partner in crime. Instead, the only thing Bubba can muster when he's in front of the librarian is stubbornly repeating, "I want my Daddy's records." The line may not be all that convincing, but it's still hilarious to watch Bubba's brief but insistent whine combined with Fred's long-winded explanation. When the scheme works, Bubba is so tickled, he continues to practice his one line in case Fred needs his help getting the records back again.

Fred justifies a boffo find

As junk dealers, Fred and Lamont regularly come upon all kinds of unique treasures, but one of their most exciting finds happens in Season 1's "The Suitcase Case" when Lamont brought home a shabby-looking suitcase only to find a huge cache of money inside. At first the men are thrilled at the windfall and imagine everything they could do with the funds, including purchasing a home in Beverly Hills and taking a cruise to a tropical island. But their daydreaming is interrupted when a siren rings out and Lamont panics, assuming it's the cops coming to retrieve the cash.

Fred soon realizes the siren is coming from a fire truck, not a police car. But Lamont's attack of conscience doesn't dissipate. Assuming the money must have been taken in a bank robbery, Lamont is convinced they should give it to the police. Fred doesn't want to give up on their life-changing plans so easily, though. To try to convince Lamont to keep the find, he claims to quote the Bible, but the so-called insight he chooses — "Finders keepers, losers weepers" — doesn't seem to have the air of holiness one might expect. When Lamont questions him, Fred claims that this piece of scripture appears next to the real Bible quote "Seek and ye shall find," identifying a godly excuse to justify keeping the money after all.

Regardless of whether Fred or Lamont are right, by the end of the episode, Fred has locked the suitcase of cash in his safe, where he's also locked the combination. Without any way to open it, the money ends up staying with the Sanfords after all, but they won't be using it anytime soon.

Saying what Fred really means

Redd Foxx didn't appear in several episodes at the end of the third season of "Sanford and Son" after walking off over health and other issues. While that created plenty of off-screen drama, onscreen, the show had to go on. To explain Fred's absence, the story claims that Fred took an extended trip to St. Louis and put his pal Grady in charge of running his house while he's away. The episode "Tyranny Thy Name is Grady" shows that Grady takes that responsibility just a little too seriously.

When the episode begins, Lamont finds Grady vigorously cleaning the house with so much gusto that Lamont worries Grady's going to wear himself out. But Grady is determined to keep the place spotless as Fred instructed. To distract Lamont, Grady tells him to get the lunch he fixed for him, a gesture that clearly surprises Lamont. By way of explanation, Grady claims Fred asked him to make sure Lamont is fed because he cares for him so deeply. But this doesn't sound like Fred at all — and Lamont knows it. When he asks Grady if his dad really expressed such a touching sentiment, Grady undercuts his own attempt to sanitize Fred's words by repeating his much less sentimental instructions. While Grady may be more kind-hearted than Fred, he also made Lamont a peanut butter and sardine on rye sandwich for lunch, which sounds like its own kind of punishment.

A rivalry of Olympic proportions

Fred was often jealous and possessive over his son, and those qualities also extended to his on-again/off-again girlfriend Donna (Lynn Hamilton). Even though Fred periodically strayed, when Donna even hinted that she might do so, Fred had a tendency to overreact. That was especially true in "The Olympics" in the fifth season, when Fred goes to Donna's house for a date on Saturday night and discovers she's already entertaining another man, Lou Turner (Percy Rodrigues), who happens to be a Senior Olympics champion in the decathlon.

Fred returns home dejected, so when Grady, who's there watching Fred's television, realizes the root of Fred's glum mood, he convinces him the only way to win Donna back from Lou is to enter the Senior Olympics decathlon himself. However, at 65 and spending more time watching TV than doing calisthenics, Fred isn't exactly in peak physical condition. So in the exchange that follows Grady's bold suggestion, Fred goes from hilariously skeptical to having his confidence built up by Grady to the point that he agrees to challenge Lou, leading to a punchline where Grady knocks Fred down once more.

Despite the odds, Fred miraculously wins the decathlon — because he's the only one who competes. Seeing the reality of the situation, Grady calls in a threat to Lou's business, ensuring he doesn't show up for the Senior Olympics and securing Fred's triumph. In the end, though, Lou still wins by feigning injury after an impromptu arm-wrestling match with Fred in front of Donna, a move that garners Donna's sympathy and results in her leaving to take care of him instead of sticking around to celebrate Fred's big win.

A matter of superstition

Throughout "Sanford and Son," Fred expresses a range of superstitious and strange beliefs, but Lamont doesn't share his father's perspective, instead preferring to stay rational and realistic. So in the Season 1 episode, "Coffins for Sale," Lamont thinks nothing of it when he brings two coffins home with the intention of selling them for a hefty profit. Fred, however, is shocked Lamont would do such a thing because he believes the coffins will bring bad, perhaps even fatal, luck. In fact, he's so nervous about the coffins' presence, he refuses to sleep in his house as long as they remain there. Instead he decides to spend the night in the bed of the Sanfords' pickup truck.

Lamont scoffs at Fred's silly behavior, but as soon as he turns out the lights and hears a group of cats yowling, he gets spooked and finds every excuse he can to check on Fred outside. Lamont claims his actions are out of concern for his father, but like many sitcom characters after him, Lamont doesn't want to admit the truth to himself — he's just as superstitious as Fred. So he finds a more acceptable reason to stay away from the coffins in the house. It's the rare scenario where Lamont takes things even further than Fred, ultimately deciding to sleep outside too, even as he continues to protest that he isn't superstitious like Fred is. Although Lamont isn't comfortable acknowledging his real feelings about the coffins, viewers know the truth, and Lamont's antics turn his unease into an extended joke.

Sometimes fatherhood is creepy

Even today the issue of paternity can be a source of both tension and comedy on TV. Of course, nowadays paternity tests can clarify who's actually a child's father, but that doesn't make the revelation that one's son or daughter may not be biologically related to them any less harrowing. That's exactly what Fred goes through in "Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe." The Season 3 episode saw Fred's old friend Grip (Sonny Jim Gaines) come to visit from St. Louis. While Fred is initially happy to see him, things take a turn when Grip informs him that Lamont is actually his son.

This leads Fred to question everything he knows about Lamont and his long-dead wife Elizabeth. To convince himself that Grip can't possibly be Lamont's biological father, while Lamont is eating lunch, Fred dotes on him and compares their features for similarities. But Lamont, who's used to his father dismissing him and calling him a "dummy," has no idea what's going on, resulting in Fred's odd shenanigans hilariously creeping him out.

The situation is eventually resolved when, after a confrontation between Fred, Aunt Esther (LaWanda Page), and Grip, the group realizes the night Grip thought he spent in Elizabeth's company was actually spent with Esther, her sister, who Fred can't stand. It's a revelation that not only puts Fred's mind at ease but leads to plenty of laughs.

Have piano, will move it... across a room

Lamont may be more level-headed than his father, but he's also always eager to take advantage of a deal. So in the first season finale "The Piano Movers," when a wealthy man (Lester Fletcher) offers Lamont a grand piano for free if he'll simply remove it from his apartment, Lamont jumps at the opportunity. He enlists Fred's help to remove the piano from the premises, but it's no easy feat when Lamont has to deal with a reluctant Fred, an eccentric apartment owner who won't allow anyone to so much as sit down on his fancy chairs, and a door that's way too small to push a grand piano through. If that weren't enough, the man with the piano decides Lamont is a terrible son for making his father move such a heavy object and treats him accordingly.

In a ridiculous scene, Fred and Lamont manage to get the piano across the room and to the door, but despite Lamont's protests that if someone got the piano in the apartment they can get it out, the pair ultimately can't agree on how to make it happen. They continue to argue offscreen as the wealthy man takes a phone call, leaving viewers to imagine all the ludicrous ways Fred and Lamont are attempting to get the piano out of the apartment. By the time a police officer (Rick Hurst) arrives to tell Lamont he has to remove his vehicle from a loading zone or risk getting a ticket, the writing's on the wall, mostly because the piano's stuck in the door. To the wealthy man's utter dismay, Fred and Lamont leave the piano there, no longer interested in the profit that could come from such an unwieldy object.

Getting a taste of his own medicine

Fred and Lamont had more than a few run-ins with criminals through the seasons of "Sanford and Son," but Fred often preferred not to get involved with the police unless he could somehow bend the situation to his advantage. So when Fred witnesses a crime at his neighbor Julio's (Gregory Sierra) place while Julio's out with Fred in the Season 3 episode "Fred, The Reluctant Fingerman," he refuses to report what he saw to law enforcement, arguing that if he does he'll become the crooks' next target. It's not very neighborly — especially since the burglars took Julio's beloved pet goat.

To teach him a lesson, Lamont and Julio pretend the Sanfords' truck was stolen and that Julio witnessed the whole thing. Of course, like Fred, Julio also refuses to report what he saw, leading to Fred's amusingly oblivious explanation for why Julio should help him even though he wasn't willing to help Julio. Ultimately Julio makes a deal with Fred that if Fred fingers the men who robbed Julio's place, Julio will finger the men who took his truck. While Fred never admits he was wrong, the episode delivers a potent message about treating people the way you'd like to be treated with all the silliness and style that "Sanford and Son" is known for.

A shockingly funny revelation

"Sanford and Son" may be named after Fred and Lamont's business, but Lamont often made it known that he'd prefer to leave the junk yard and pursue his own dreams. One of those dreams was to make it as a performer, and in "Rated X," Lamont and his friend Rollo (Nathaniel Taylor) get wind of an opportunity to land parts in a low-budget movie that they believe could be their big break. Fred initially dismisses his son's and Rollo's optimism, but after he reads the flyer about the film, Fred decides that if they can be in a movie, he can too, and follows them to the audition.

What the flyer doesn't make at all clear is that the movie is a porno, but when the three men are finally given an opportunity to read the script on set, their growing looks of horror indicate they're slowly catching on to what they've inadvertently signed up for. Fred's response to the revelation is particularly funny, especially because it's followed by the place being raided and the trio being forced to spend time in jail thinking about what they almost did.

A hangover for the ages

Through the years, TV sitcoms have made an art of the drunken stupor and the difficult morning-after hangover, but "Sanford and Son" was one of the first to use the hilarious trope, particularly in the fourth season premiere "The Surprise Party." Since Fred had been absent from the last few episodes of Season 3, the show went out of its way to welcome the character back at the beginning of the following season. Unfortunately, on the very first night of his return, Fred overhears Lamont telling Grady that he did a better job looking after him and the business than Fred does. Needless to say, this presses all of Fred's buttons, and he takes his hurt and jealousy to a bar and proceeds to drink his feelings, only returning home when he's good and drunk.

Drunken Fred is appropriately silly, but things get especially funny when Fred wakes up the next day with a brutal hangover. He responds to his plight with his usual histrionics, making Lamont help him around the house and concocting a hangover cure that involves some extremely questionable ingredients, including a whole lot of vodka. In between Fred's hung-over hijinks, he and Lamont manage to clear the air in a poignant exchange, showing the gruff pair can be silly and sentimental all at the same time.