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Longest Running Inside Jokes On TV

Nothing beats the feeling of plopping down in front of a TV screen, a laptop, or even a phone and catching up on our favorite shows. There's something comforting about the escapism and familiarity that comes with watching the best television has to offer, and it's even better when we can appreciate all the little inside jokes and running gags that help connect threads through the seasons. When done right, these sly references can bring back fond memories and help us connect with characters more deeply. More importantly, they can make us laugh. Here's our tribute to some of the best running gags in television history. Some might be NSFW—but only slightly.

Arrested Development - The chicken dance

Based on the difficulty each member of the Bluth family seems to have imitating the sound and motion of a chicken, we have to assume none of them have ever actually seen one. In fact, GOB's portrayal got him in trouble in Mexico, where his gestures were seen as obscene and earned unwelcome attention from the local authorities. The Chicken Dance is arguably the best of the countless running gags in Arrested Development, and it was perhaps funniest during this scene, when the whole family called Michael out on his dating insecurities while busting out their own versions. George Sr. cried out with a "cuckoo ka cha!" while Lindsay and Lucille flapped their arms and kicked out their feet. GOB arrived to the scene late, but only because he left to get a fake beak to complete the illusion.

How I Met Your Mother - The slap bet

The "Slap Bet" episode from How I Met Your Mother's second season gave viewers one of the show's finest running gags. In fact, what makes the bet even more special is that it's tied in with one of the show's other great running gags: Robin Sherbatsky's past life as a Canadian pop star named Robin Sparkles. The bet involved Barney and Marshall getting slapped in the face if either was wrong about the secret Robin had been hiding. Marshall ended up winning and Barney agreed to receive the slaps over time.

Season after season, we'd get a few more of the slaps in, with some added to the pool along the way. It all culminated in an epic slap in the show's final season, after which Boyz II Men came out to sing their rendition of Marshall's "You Just Got Slapped" song. The very last slap was used on Barney to stop him from running away from his own wedding, so we're glad such comedic violence was used for something good.

Archer - Phrasing

Archer, in its many iterations, has always been a bastion of wordplay and clever writing. Ever since its inception, there've been plenty of references to historical figures, literature, and a whole lot of Tolkien, but never is the show wittier than when doling out the double entendres. Whenever a character said anything the least bit sexual in nature, you could bet Archer or another character would follow up with a "Phrasing, BOOM!" This bit was so prevalent that Archer repeatedly asked about its absence in the Archer Vice seasons, wondering if the catchphrase was still in rotation. Consider "phrasing" the "that's what she said!" of the adult animation world and you've got the right idea.

New Girl - True American

It's probably one of the more bizarre rituals to come out of a TV series, but New Girl's True American drinking game became a hit with fans after its debut on the show. The seemingly nonsensical game involved dizzying bits of American history, a lot of running and yelling, and a healthy amount of booze. Different versions of the game were played throughout the series, with a special "First Lady" edition being played before Schmidt and Cece's wedding. If you'd like to give it a shot, here are some rules. While it might seem complicated, the most important rule for True American is to just have fun drinking with your buddies.

30 Rock - Kenneth's an immortal

For whatever reason, Kenneth Parcell from 30 Rock seems to be an immortal being with a mysterious past. The goofy NBC page often references his old life and we're even given a look at how he sees the world (everyone is a Muppet to him), but there are never any clear signs about what Kenneth could be, other than an incredibly cheerful person. Of course, all is revealed in an almost nonchalant manner when his mother reveals that when he was born, he told her that his body was just a "flesh vessel for an immortal being" with a name that would cause her madness if she heard it. At the end of the series, it was revealed that Kenneth truly is immortal, having retained his youth years into the future.

Scrubs - Dr. Cox's nicknames for J.D.

Nothing was more enjoyable on Scrubs than Dr. Cox's constant hatred of others. This lovable misanthrope, played by John C. McGinley, always seemed to direct his anger towards his de facto protege, J.D. His ire would usually take the form of calling J.D. a bunch of girl names to emasculate him, a tradition that ran the length of the entire series. Just check out this compilation of names that Dr. Cox has used over the years—while he could definitely be downright nasty, it's hard not to be impressed.

Avatar: The Last Airbender - The cabbage merchant has the worst luck

While the Fire Nation laid siege to different countries in Avatar: The Last Airbender and razed the earth wherever it went, there was one constant victim through the entire adventure. Meet the cabbage merchant, who apparently has a Luck stat of zero, since he always seems to be where the action follows our young heroes Aang, Katara, and Sokka—inevitably losing his cabbages or otherwise having his cart or stall destroyed. Each time he lost his wares, the merchant would scream out "My cabbages!" or something similar. The joke would be brought back in the sequel series, Avatar: The Legend of Korra, when the merchant's ancestor would have his Cabbage Corp. seized by the police. No luck at all in that family.

Conan - Paul Rudd shows the same clip

Anytime Paul Rudd appears on Conan O'Brien's show, he always shows a clip from whatever upcoming project he's out promoting. Well, that's not totally true—he always claims he's going to show a clip from his latest movie, but invariably ends up showing the same clip from the 1988 release Mac and Me, a scene featuring a wheelchair-bound young man named Eric falling off a cliff and landing in water. Rudd trolled O'Brien even harder when he actually showed footage from Ant-Man during an interview, only to have the clip transition to the same Mac and Me clip he's been showing for years... twice. You have to appreciate his dedication to the gag.

Jimmy Kimmel Live - No time for Matt Damon

Here's another gag that involves a talk show host. This time, it's funnyman Jimmy Kimmel and his schtick with Matt Damon on his show, Jimmy Kimmel Live. For whatever reason, Kimmel started signing off at the end of his show by apologizing to Matt Damon for bumping him due to time, despite not having him scheduled as a guest. He's continued this running gag for years, which has fueled a fake feud between the two (and inspired some unforgettable music along the way).

The Office - Michael's hatred for Toby

As much as Dr. Cox hates J.D., he grew a little more attached to him as time wore on. The same cannot be said for The Office's Michael Scott and his inexplicable hatred for Dunder Mifflin Human Resources rep Toby. It seemed any provocation, even in the form of an innocent statement, from Toby would set Michael off. His cartoonish hatred is actually kind of endearing in a messed-up, mean-spirited way.

The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air - Jazz gets tossed out of the mansion

A mainstay of the '90s, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air starred Will Smith as a poor kid from Philadelphia who was sent to live with his wealthy aunt and uncle in a lavish Bel-Air mansion—whose picturesque front door would become very familiar thanks to one of the show's running gags, which involved Will's best friend Jazz getting thrown through it, usually because he offended Uncle Phil in some way or another. According to E! Online, the show used the same footage just about every time Jazz got tossed, meaning if he entered the house wearing a particular shirt, you could pretty much bet the gag was coming.

Boy Meets World - Corey and Shawn's bromance

Boy Meets World was a part of ABC's TGIF programming block in the '90s and helped spawn one of the greatest bromances of all time between lovable dork Corey Matthews and his good-hearted bad-boy buddy, Shawn Hunter. As they grew up, their bond became stronger and stronger until they pretty much acted like an old married couple, oftentimes to the chagrin of their respective girlfriends, Topanga and Angela. We enjoyed how close these two became and appreciated the fact that their friendship continued well into adulthood on the show's sequel series, Girl Meets World.

The Simpsons - Hi, I'm Troy McClure. You might remember me from...

There were few things as comforting in the early days of The Simpsons as hearing Phil Hartman play Troy McClure, a B-list actor who'd often show up in commercials or educational videos. His signature introduction would be something along the lines of, "Hi, I'm Troy McClure. You may remember from..." and then he'd list a few of his other projects, usually with weird titles like Buck Henderson: Union Buster or Troy & Company's Summertime Smile Factory. There was something we enjoyed about the familiarity of hearing Hartman's voice as McClure, and we looked forward to each time we'd see the character at the beginning of some random video or infomercial.

Spongebob Squarepants - My leg!

There's one running gag in Spongebob Squarepants that fans have probably heard for years but might have never really noticed: Fred the fish getting hurt and screaming, "My leg!" He's usually offscreen when he gets injured, but if you pay attention, you can almost always hear it. We're not sure if he offended some ancient deity of misfortune, but injury always seems to find him. In fact, according to Mental Floss, Fred was even hurt in the feature film, only he screamed "My eyes!" instead of "My legs!"

Modern Family - Gotta fix that step...

In the early seasons of Modern Family, the Dunphys had to deal with a broken step on their staircase, which they always seemed to forget about until they tripped over it. The step's most frequent victim was the patriarch of the Dunphy family, Phil, who always responded by nonchalantly saying "I gotta fix that step." Sometimes other family members tripped, but it was always funnier when Phil did it. In fact, Phil would find that other steps would have similar effects, like his front porch or even the landing of his father-in-law's stairs. There was just something about Phil's constant forgetfulness that made it that much funnier.

Seinfeld - George is Art Vandelay

Here's a classic gag from a legendary sitcom. George Costanza, played by Jason Alexander, made up the character of Art Vandelay early in the series and constantly used him in different situations, either assuming the name as an alias or referring to him a different person entirely—a long-running gag that came to a head in the series finale. While the show's last episode has been maligned over the years, it contained at least one punchline several seasons in the making: the gang got into some trouble with the law and appeared before a judge...whose name happened to be Arthur Vandelay.

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia - Charlie's illiteracy

The main characters on It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia might be some of the worst people on TV, but at least Charlie Kelly is as lovable as he is stupid. His lack of smarts is exemplified with the gag that he's illiterate, though he pretends he can read and write. We're not saying illiteracy isn't a problem or that it should be used as a joke, but we can't help but chuckle a bit when Charlie tries to write his name and comes up with "Trundle" instead. It's almost endearing how hard Charlie tries to hide the fact that he can't spell or read, especially when he makes up a sign for gas that reads "UNLED'D" with a backwards "N."

Reno 911 - Dangle's bike

Poor, unfortunate Lieutenant Dangle from Reno 911!. There's a gag throughout the series that involves Dangle somehow losing his bike or finding it vandalized. For some explicable reason, Dangle's bike is always a target of theft or some other mishap. A few fans on Reddit discussed who might be behind all of Dangle's bicycle woes, theorizing it was Junior that kept stealing it because he ended up trying to sell it at one point. Whatever the reason for the bike's constant disappearance or damage, it was always funny to see Dangle's reaction.