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The Best Running Gags On Scrubs

"Scrubs," the medical sitcom that ran for nine seasons from 2001-2010, rarely gets the love it deserves. It's not the most groundbreaking sitcom ever, or even of its day, but (with the exception of Season 9, which we don't talk about) it was a well-acted, sharply written show with lovable and complex characters. Throw in plenty of hilarious comedy, some unforgettably powerful moments, and, of course, lots of quality running gags, and you have an underappreciated classic.

Because let's face it: sitcoms without running gags that their fans can turn into inside jokes, hilarious memes, or even just watercooler gossip probably aren't that great. Luckily for all of us, and not unlike every other fantastic sitcom, "Scrubs" — which follows Dr. John "J.D." Dorian, his friends Turk, Elliot, and Carla, his mentor Dr. Cox and a host of other characters in Sacred Heart Hospital — delivers in this department and then some. It roots its recurring jokes in the quirks and idiosyncrasies of its various characters, all of whom are a mess in their own way. And that's exactly how sitcom writing should work.

But the high number of quality recurring gags means competition for the title of "best of" is pretty fierce. So what's in the running? What's at the top? We've taken the liberty of assembling the best running gags ever on "Scrubs."


Sacred Heart Chief of Medicine Bob Kelso is a hard man to read. He's just as hard to intimidate as he is easy to confuse. Dr. Cox, who normally has subordinates and colleagues quaking in their boots whenever he walks in his room or rants in public about their latest failure, has absolutely no power over Kelso. Kelso either laughs off Cox's rants or throws it right back in his face, usually in a slightly less witty way but with just as much confident cruelty. However, the Janitor has managed to pull a fast one on the guy more than once, and he only picks up on what's happening around him occasionally.

Most of this can be explained by the fact that he just doesn't care about his employees one way or the other. In one episode, he parks on the blacktop where Turk and the other surgeons played basketball to unwind before an operation and casually brushes off their requests that he move his car.

And why would he? He doesn't even know Turk's name, frequently referring to him as "Turkleton." At Turk's wedding, a drunk Kelso enthusiastically greeted him with this name. Turk corrects him, but Kelso says "Turk" is merely Turk's first name. An astonished Turk responds, "You think my name is Turk... Turkleton?" But of course, Kelso simply ignores this and turns to Carla, still in her wedding dress. He then shouts, "And Mrs. Turkleton!"

Again, a combination of cluelessness and simply not caring. It might be mean, but it's pretty funny.


Think of J.D. as something of a manic pixie dream guy. That is to say, he's one of those characters whose weirdness is charming to watch on screen but who could be outrageously annoying and off-putting in real life. He's an excellent doctor, but also constantly dancing, singing, making weird sounds, and wasting time. Beyond that, he is often also seen playing stupid games, acting like a child, being inappropriately chummy with patients or their families, and slipping into daydreams before returning to the conversation with absurd non-sequiturs. Dr. Cox might be a perpetually ill-tempered curmudgeon, but we do kind of get where he's coming from in regards to J.D.

One of the many, many bizarre things J.D. likes to do is go airborne and shout "Eagle!" He does this when he tries to leap from Elliot's couch to her counter (only to smack his ribs on the edge and tumble to the floor), when he and Turk see each other after some time apart, and when he rides on top of Dr. Cox's car while attempting to follow him to the store (don't ask). He also shouts "Eagle!" when a patient's family member picks him up and twirls him around in front of the whole family, and when Ben Sullivan does the same, only in a daycare center and in front of a bunch of kids. That's not an exhaustive list, either.

Again, in real life? Annoying and cringy. On "Scrubs"? Charmingly joyful.

The Todd's high-fives

The Todd is one of the strangest employees in Sacred Heart Hospital, which is filled with strange people. He means well and is more than capable as a surgeon. However, he's also a sex hound who usually speaks about himself in the third person, abbreviates words to sound cool, and possesses a child's understanding of social norms. That last part is par for the course at Sacred Heart. But it's more problematic than usual when the bizarre behavior is centered around constant unwanted sexual innuendos that force multiple characters to have conversations with this overgrown frat boy about his behavior.

The Todd also has a propensity for almost violent high-fives. After making a bad sexual pun, he'll frequently say "Show The Todd some love!" or something similar, with his hand held up high. Todd holds nothing back when the other person raises theirs to receive the five, essentially punching them hard enough to make them wince and stumble backward. As usual, the pain he inflicts on others is completely lost on The Todd, who's too proud of his immature sense of humor to notice. Unfortunately, J.D.'s too nice to say no most of the time, so The Todd is rarely forced to acknowledge any of this. But J.D.'s inner monologue makes it clear he only encourages the guy under duress, or, more than once, because he made a surprisingly funny pun and deserves the "love."

Ted's band

Ted Buckland, Sacred Heart's resident lawyer, isn't really cut out for his job. Lawyers need to be confident, knowledgeable, and able to draw from a wealth of training and legal scholarship to support their clients. None of that describes Ted. He's a friendless sad sack and a neurotic mess who appears to live in a near-constant state of fear and anxiety about just about everything. One thing he can do, though, is sing. And the same goes for the other members of his band, the Worthless Peons.

At random moments, characters will round the corner or step onto an elevator to find Ted and his buddies in their element, singing a cappella show tunes and TV show theme songs. These songs are often thematically relevant to whatever's happening in the episode, including selections from "Underdog," "Speed Racer," "Charles in Charge," and more. People rarely seem to notice them, unless they're stuck in a room with them, in which case they're usually annoyed or visibly uninterested in the music. Which is more than a little bit weird, since the Worthless Peons are actually incredibly talented and have clearly honed their craft to near perfection.

There's a reason behind that, too: the Worthless Peons were a real band called The Blanks, who are talented and seasoned professionals. Sadly, they broke up after Sam Lloyd, who played Ted, passed away in 2020.

The Janitor's outrageous stories

The Janitor is a delightfully absurd character in all the best ways. He serves almost no narrative purpose whatsoever, being used exclusively to lighten tension (for us, not the colleagues he loves to torment) and sprinkle an episode with bizarre comic relief. Despite his dramatic insignificance, he's surprisingly at the center and the source of more than his fair share of running gags. 

One thing he loves to do is offer, without ever being asked, utterly absurd stories that may or may not be completely made up. Most of these tall tales have to do with his supposedly storied past. To take him at his word would be to believe that he had served in the "Janitor" branch of the U.S. Military (which, just for the record, doesn't exist and never has), once found a head in a storage closet at Sacred Heart, doesn't believe in the Moon, and was a world-class hurdler who didn't sleep with Amy Carter, but did "everything but" with her.

He's not crazy. He just loves to mess with people, especially J.D., and is so confident and comfortable in this role that it's impossible to tell what, if any, parts of his elaborate stories might be genuine. He says absolutely everything with a perfectly straight face and can deftly parry any attempt to find plot holes in his stories. If you roll your eyes or call his bluff to his face, he'll play the victim and make you feel terrible.

The Janitor's alter egos

The Janitor is one of J.D.'s arch-nemeses at Sacred Heart, but it's all in good fun (at least for him). And although J.D. is the person we most frequently see him antagonize, that's probably because the audience is usually following J.D. around in the first place. The thing is, the Janitor likes to prank everyone. As J.D. notes, he's like this because "he gets bored."

We know that the Janitor is a liar who frequently makes up facts about his past. But his pathological dishonesty manifests in real-time, too, whenever he pretends to be someone he's not. Sometimes this is as simple as putting on a bad accent and trying to convince J.D. it's been his real one all along. At one point, he pretends to be his own twin brother, Roscoe. Multiple times he poses as Dr. Jan (pronounced Yan) Itor. 

In one episode, he even poses as Sacred Heart's Chief of Medicine, only to get caught red-handed over the phone by Bob Kelso, the actual Chief of Medicine. But this is the Janitor, so he has no intention of backing down even when there's nothing to gain and plenty to lose by keeping up the charade. "I'm you," he tells Bob in a weird voice after the boss demands to know who he is. "I'm talking to you from a future phone. By the way, sell all your gasoline stocks. Everything now runs on potatoes!"

Dr. Cox despises Hugh Jackman

In one episode, after finding out that Elliot's boyfriend is also a fan of his favorite hockey team, Dr. Cox says, "For the next twenty minutes, you will sit in silence while I tell you why the Detroit Red Wings are the greatest franchise in the history of professional sports." That may seem like an extreme reaction to a shared interest, but only the perpetually ill-tempered Dr. Cox could still be so angry and bitter over something he actually likes. As evidenced by his legendary rants, he has much more to say about the things he hates than about the things he enjoys. Usually, his vitriol is reserved for J.D., Elliot, Turk, or whichever patient is annoying him that day. Or anyone who asks him questions or exists too long in his line of sight. You get the point.

Bizarrely, however, he also has a special spot in his heart for his loathing of actor-singer Hugh Jackman. On multiple occasions, whenever Cox rambles off a list of things he doesn't care about or despises, he makes a point to complete the list by adding Hugh Jackman. This surprises J.D. the first time he hears Cox speak disparagingly of the otherwise beloved Australian actor. "Hugh Jackman's Wolverine!" J.D. thinks to himself. "How dare he?"

Nobody knows the Janitor's name

"Scrubs" isn't the only show to use the "nobody knows this character's real name" bit. But unlike the Waitress in "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia," who's insulted whenever someone doesn't know her name, or Fez from "That '70s Show," who simply doesn't care, the Janitor probably delights in this unique form of anonymity. After all, he's a habitual liar who loves keeping details of his past and private life a mystery, so he can better sell whatever white lie he's entertaining himself with on any given day. If you don't know his name, you almost certainly don't know enough about what he was really doing in the '80s to call him out when he lies about being the president's bodyguard.

He does get several nicknames throughout the show, though, like "Jumpsuit," "Lurch," "Stretch," "Big Monkey," and "Jolly Green." One little girl on a playground even called him "Giant Man," in reference to his intimidating height.

In the Season 8 episode "My Finale," which was intended to be the show's last episode (until, like "The Office" and "How I Met Your Mother," it returned for a regrettable, legacy-damaging Season 9) it's finally revealed that his real name is Glenn Matthews. This was doubted by fans, though, since an orderly hilariously calls him "Tommy" seconds later. However, showrunner Bill Lawrence confirmed that Glenn Matthews was indeed Janitor's real name. "JANITOR'S REAL NAME WAS GLENN MATTHEWS," Lawrence tweeted in 2011. "He told [the] truth to J.D. for once."

Dr. Cox calls J.D. girl names

Dr. Cox has a complicated relationship with J.D. It's revealed on multiple occasions that deep down, he has tremendous begrudging respect for the kid and admires (even envies) his childlike optimism. On the surface, though, Dr. Cox finds the "newbie" spectacularly annoying and never misses an opportunity to insult or belittle him whenever he screws up. J.D.'s also a convenient punching bag for Cox even when he doesn't do anything wrong at all, and Cox is just in a sour mood. Which, to be fair, is almost all the time. One of the ways he takes it out on J.D., who adores his mentor despite the abuse, is with long-winded but impressively sharp rants that he lets loose on the fly.

When he doesn't have time to ramble about what's grinding his gears, though, Cox will simply call J.D. girl names. "You're having a big day there, Susan." "What in the name of 'Are you there, God? it's me, Margaret,' were you thinking?" "Just a real nice helmet there, princess." He has a seemingly never-ending list of these names and, despite firing them off on the spot, makes a great effort to keep it creative and never repeat a name. Sometimes, though, he puts in no effort whatsoever, and that's every bit as funny. "Hey, girl's name!" he says in one episode. When J.D. is unimpressed, he defends himself: "Give me a break. I've got a lot on my mind!"

The Janitor's pranks

The Janitor is a man of many talents. Being good at his job doesn't appear to be one of them, since he's always getting yelled at by Bob Kelso for slacking off. Among other things, he's a pathological liar who frequently pretends to be people he's not, simply to annoy his coworkers. Why? Why not? The dude gets bored and entertains himself by trolling the people around him. Most notably, J.D.

He's also a dedicated prankster, although some of his pranks are more creative than others. In one episode, he has J.D. stand inside a circle in the parking lot, only to have a bunch of other Sacred Heart employees throw tennis balls at him. Simple, stupid, and funny. But he has no problem going after his superiors, either, like Dr. Cox and Bob Kelso. Once, he even had Kelso's car lifted off the ground just so the unwitting Chief of Medicine would be momentarily confused about where he'd parked. It's a whole lot of effort for a quick prank and a very, very simple reaction out of the target. But that's what makes it so funny. The Janitor isn't out to impress anyone. Not Elliot, Turk, Carla, Dr. Cox, or Dr. Kelso. Certainly not J.D., with whom he has a long-standing grudge. And he has no intention of impressing the viewer with his antics, either. The man is simply out to entertain himself, and on some level, you've got to respect that.

J.D.'s fantasies

"The Office" had talking head interviews. "That '70s Show" had the circle. "Arrested Development" had a narrator. The most unique and notable storytelling device on "Scrubs" was J.D.'s fantasies — elaborate daydreams the quirky main character would imagine up on the spot to help him emotionally navigate whatever bizarre situation he found himself in. 

In different dreams he was a pro wrestler, fantasized romantically about Elliot, imagined Turk beating up a horde of ninjas, and even mistook patients for his friends. When he snapped out of it, he'd toss out a hilarious non sequitur that would only make sense to him (and us, who got to see the fantasy play out), and undoubtedly confuse whoever J.D. was talking to before he slipped into the daydream. Other characters also get their own fantasies throughout the show, but this is merely a riff off J.D.'s defining joke.

In one hilarious scene, it's definitely confirmed that time is most certainly not put on hold while J.D. fantasizes. After asking Todd how he could change Turk's mind after his best buddy had made it up and looking off to the side, an annoyed Todd says, in his own head, "Oh, great. There he goes off into his fantasy world. I'm stuck here waiting until he snaps out of it with some weird comment." Immediately after, J.D. says, "We'd have to find a whole lot of gnomes." To which Todd smiles and sarcastically replies, "That's helpful."