Best Running Gags On How I Met Your Mother

"How I Met Your Mother" has left behind a complex legacy. This nine-season CBS sitcom is framed by Ted Mosby, telling his two teenage kids about the adventures he shared with best buds Marshall, Lily, Robin, and Barney, as he searched for love in New York City. The show's final stretch focuses on the lead-up to Barney and Robin's wedding, only to torpedo the whole thing with a divorce literal minutes into the finale. In that same episode, audiences learn that Tracy, the titular mother Ted has spent the entire show building up to, died six years prior. Then, infamously, Ted gets back together with Robin.

This ending was controversial among "How I Met Your Mother" fans, to say the least. But erratic finales aside, the show remains surprisingly rewatchable. At its peak, it was one of the most solid network sitcoms on TV, and its best moments can still get big laughs out of even the most seasoned fans. Of course, like any good sitcom, "How I Met Your Mother" establishes more than its fair share of hilarious running jokes over the course of its lengthy run. In fact, this show might be one of the true kings of the form. We've taken the liberty of assembling the best running gags from "How I Met Your Mother," from the slap bet to Robin Sparkles.

Nobody knows what Barney's job is

Barney is easily the strangest member of the group. A serial womanizer who has multiple catchphrases, he's rarely seen without his suit and tie. Beyond that, he's a mystery. We know he makes quite a bit of money, as evidenced by his gorgeous bachelor pad, and that he holds a high-ranking position within AltruCell, and later, Goliath National Bank, where he gets both Ted and Marshall work. Yet nobody knows the specifics of these jobs. Whenever the gang presses him on his actual title and duties, he dismisses them with a simple "please," and changes the subject. 

Hints are dropped throughout the show that Barney's line of work might not be completely above board. In "The Possimpible," Barney ominously states that "actually doing things gets you fired." In "The Goat," Marshall is shocked to find a contract detailing the poisoning of a Portuguese water supply in Barney's desk. In "Last Cigarette Ever," Barney suggests his life is in danger because of how much he knows. As usual, though, he refuses to go into further detail.

His job is finally revealed in "Unpause." Turns out, Barney's been telling everyone the truth all along. His job is "Provide Legal Exculpation and Sign Everything" — P.L.E.A.S.E. for short. Get it? In a final pair of twists, we learn that this essentially establishes Barney as a fall guy for Goliath's illegal activities .... and that he's secretly an FBI informant working against the bank. Wild.

Ted and Robin's mock salutes

The sexual tension between Ted and Robin never dissipates. Even when it's been several seasons since they last dated and both are in firm agreement that it's never going to work out between them, they (especially Ted) get jealous whenever the other starts seeing somebody. That being said, they're always close friends who confide in each other, bond over gossip, and share inside jokes. One of the best of the latter category, which nobody else in the gang appears to be party to, is their "military rank" gag. Whenever someone says something with a word that happens to also be a rank in the armed forces, Ted and Robin try to beat each other to the joke: Repeating the phrase starting with the "rank," paired with a salute. "General Knowledge," "Corporal Punishment," and "Colonel Stuck In My Teeth" have all gotten their due. They usually get there at the same time, which is part of the fun.

"Slapsgiving" chronicles the joke's origins. After the pair agrees to end their friendship after a break-up, someone at the table describes something as a "major buzzkill." Both Ted and Robin do the mock salute out of muscle memory. They share a look, clearly realizing their friendship isn't over. This happens two more times in this episode, when Ted references "major clean-up" and Robin references a "general idea." They keep the joke going after everyone salutes the last time. Then everyone in the room does it again.


Barney is the most "sitcom-y" character on "How I Met Your Mother." This is another way of saying he's the least like an actual human being. Real people don't go on "The Price is Right" to tell Bob Barker he's their father, knowing full well it's not the case. They don't have catchphrases, either, but Barney's got several. "Suit up!" is perhaps the most iconic: Barney believes a suit and tie is the only appropriate getup for any occasion, even drinking at the bar with pals. He genuinely doesn't understand why his friends show up in T-shirts and jeans — another lapse in normal personhood.

The only catchphrase he has that functions like a running joke, however, is "Legen — wait for it! – dary. Legendary!" He describes all of his harebrained schemes, which nobody else ever seems very excited about, in this way. If he really wants to sell it, he'll embellish further. "It's going to be legen — wait for it — and I hope you're not lactose intolerant, because the second half of the word is — dary! Legendary!" Somehow, this still doesn't convince Ted it'll be anything of the sort. But you have to respect the gusto.

Haaaave you met Ted?

It's no secret that Barney Stinson knows how to pick up women at bars ... or anywhere else. But he's also good at getting his buddies hooked up. Bizarrely, while Barney goes to outrageous lengths to get women into bed himself, his wingman tactics are disarmingly simple.

Rather than putting on costumes, pretending to be an astronaut, or something similarly outlandish, he simply chats with a girl before spinning her around to see his friend (usually Ted), saying, "Haaave you met Ted?" Then, confident in a job well done, he leaves. He does this in the very first episode of the show, which is how Ted meets Robin. Sometimes it works out. Other times, Ted is hardly in the mood. But, unsurprisingly, he's never able to convince Barney to give it a rest. Over and over again, Ted is forced into conversations with beautiful women at the bar, while Barney heads off to do God only knows what else.

Of course, this tactic isn't reserved exclusively for Ted. Barney pulls out this catchphrase whenever he's in a position to play wingman with anyone, whether they like it or not. This is probably because he can't imagine someone not being as passionate about one night stands as he is.

The Playbook

Plenty of shows have a designated horndog. But while most are handsome doofuses who rely on good looks, Barney Stinson is something else entirely. First of all, as socially oblivious as he can be, Barney cannot be described as a hapless buffoon. Whatever job he has at the bank pays very well, a fact made clear by his sharp wardrobe. On top of that, the lengths he goes to in pursuit of women — often when a simple conversation would've probably sufficed — are mind-blowing. He details each and every approach in his oft-referenced "Playbook," which is real and published.

One strategy, "The Lorenzo Von Matterhorn," sees Barney create fake websites describing the exploits of the mega-successful fictional character he pretends to be, just so a skeptical girl might find the information herself with a simple online search. Another involves Barney being an astronaut for "SNASA" (Secret NASA) who wants to find love before going to the "Smoon." In another, Barney hijacks his own pal's pain by pretending to be Ted, who was left at the altar. In still another, he goes to the top of the Empire State Building and tells random women, standing by themselves, that "he's not coming." Most react with confusion, but eventually, he meets someone who really is waiting for a star-crossed lover. Then, he takes her home. None of this has aged well, but it's still a pretty well-crafted running joke.

Eating sandwiches

Even today, it's rare for network sitcoms to come right out and say, "And then the characters all smoked a joint. Here is them doing it." Especially in the 2000s, when public and legal stances on cannabis were even more strict, shows had to dance around the fact that groups of young, bored friends sometimes smoke things other than tobacco. "That '70s Show" establishes a fantastic running gag with the "circle," filling the room with smoke to give viewers the right idea.

"How I Met Your Mother" finds another way in. They simply show the characters, usually in flashbacks to their college days, "eating a sandwich." Usually, the sandwich is a comically large hoagie, overflowing with meat and cheese. Viewers see Ted, Marshall, and Lily partake in "sandwich-eating" in their dorms, alone and together. They even steal a "sandwich" at their 2020 high school reunion.

You might not pick up on the joke the first time you see it. After all, bored young people eat, too. But then you'll notice how giggly and meditative everyone gets after these sandwiches, and you'll realize they say "eating a sandwich" with some heavy-duty air quotes. It helps to remember that Ted is telling this story to his teenage kids, thus establishing a character motivation for not talking about things directly.

Mocking Canada

New York City isn't really all that far from the Canadian border, but Barney Stinson acts like it's a bizarre foreign land home to an inexplicable culture. The fact that Canadian Robin Scherbatsky fits in just fine in the Big Apple, not to mention with Barney and his friends, doesn't seem to persuade him that Canada isn't a weird or distant place. Canadian jokes aren't just Barney's forte, admittedly — other characters crack jokes about the Great White North as well. But he's easily the most likely to bust one out.

In "Slapsgiving," Robin defends Canadian Thanksgiving. An offended, dumbfounded Barney replies, "Did you just say Canadian Thanksgiving was, and I'm quoting, the 'real' Thanksgiving? What do Canadians even have to celebrate 'aboot'?" Robin shoots back, "Canadian Thanksgiving celebrates explorer Martin Frobisher's valiant yet ultimately unsuccessful attempt to find the Northwest Passage." Barney's response is simple: "Why are you guys even a country?"

In "Duel Citizenship," Robin brings up Canadian citizenship tests. Barney scoffs at the notion that a person has to study for them at all. Robin asks, "How do you know the Canadian citizenship test is easy?" He doesn't miss a beat. "It's Canada," he says. "Question one: Do you want to be Canadian? Question two: really?" Hilariously, in Season 7, it's revealed that Barney is actually one-quarter Canadian, due to his paternal grandmother's origins.

Robin's terrible news jobs

For a character often depicted as being the most career-focused member of the gang, Robin Scherbatsky sure does struggle to find good work throughout the show. Eventually, she fulfills her dream of becoming a news anchor at a respectable network and hour, but it's a rough road getting there. During the early seasons, she frequently jumps between being a journalist on the streets and an anchor at the desk. Regardless, she almost never gets to report on stories with any substance, and is almost always on the air before dawn. Whenever she tries to quit her embarrassing jobs at dead-end networks with nonexistent ratings, like when she briefly moves to Japan, she ends up in an even worse gig. Eventually, she's forced back to the so-so news jobs of the Big Apple.

Robin can't even get her own friends to watch her shows. Whenever they promise to, they either fall asleep, or get distracted. In "The Front Porch," everyone gathers to check out Robin's predawn news program. But then, Lily admits to sabotaging several of Ted's previous relationships without permission. They proceed to fight over that, completely missing a series of outrageous events on TV: Robin cries over how much she loves her friends for supporting her, resuscitates the weatherman after he has a heart attack, and delivers a baby. Now that's prestige TV.

The five doppelgangers

Each member of the gang has a doppelganger. "Mustache Marshall," seen on a bus advertisement, is a Latino lawyer. Barney later sees him in person at MacLaren's. Then there's "Lesbian Robin," who's named for stereotypical reasons that haven't aged too well, to say the least. Next up is "Stripper Lily." Guess what she does for a living? She appears in "46 Minutes," in which Ted, Robin, and Barney go to a strip club to adjust to Marshall and Lily's absence. "Mexican Wrestler Ted," dubbed the "coolest" doppelganger (by Ted, of course), is glimpsed by Marshall, Lily, and Barney at "Wrestlers vs. Robots."

Barney's doppelganger is much harder to find, but Marshall and Lily become convinced he's out there. There are several candidates: Cab Driver Barney, Kristoff Doppelganger (an Estonian street performer), and Pretzel Vendor Barney. However, all of them either end up being Barney in disguise, or not actually resembling him at all, upon a second glance. When they find Dr. John Stangel, a fertility expert, they're convinced they're being duped again. However, after Marshall tugs on his beard and Lily gets the doctor and Barney in the same room together, they become convinced they've found their man. Hilariously, Barney later impersonates Stangel to get Marshall to join him in laser tag.

The slap bet

This joke is used so sparingly and well, most viewers forget about it by the time it's brought back. In a nutshell, Barney and Marshall make a bet about what Robin's deep, dark secret actually is. Marshall cheats and gets slapped three times by Barney as punishment, but Barney, riding high after winning the bet, doles out an illegal fourth slap. Lily, slap bet "commissioner," gives Barney a choice: Get slapped 10 times now, or five times at any point Marshall chooses, until the end of time. It's understandable that Barney chooses the latter option, but Marshall makes him regret it.

The first slap comes a few minutes later, when Barney's guard is down. The second comes after Barney forces his friends to watch a purposefully bad play to prove a point about how people should be able to say no to watching their friend's stage performances. The third and fourth come on different Thanksgivings, in episodes appropriately titled "Slapsgiving" and "Slapsgiving 2: Revenge of the Slap." The fifth and sixth slaps come back to back, after Barney agrees to let Marshall have an additional three in exchange for taking off an embarrassing tie he's been forced to wear. The seventh slap comes after Marshall convinces Barney he's been trained to slap in an Asian slapping dojo. The eighth and final comes, almost charmingly, right before Barney's wedding, when Marshall clocks him to restore his fraying nerves.

Robin Sparkles

Nobody saw this one coming, least of all the members of the gang who try to guess what Robin's big secret is after she refuses to go to the mall. Barney guesses she's been in adult films. Marshall suggests she's been married at a mall. Finally, Barney discovers an incriminating film ... but it's not rated X. Instead, it's a teen-centric music video about, well, going to the mall. 

Robin Sparkles, as she used to be known, dances in a teased-out blonde wig and jean jacket, supported by a robot sidekick. The whole thing smacks of '80s cheese, despite having been produced in the '90s. As Robin explains, culturally speaking, Canada is a decade behind the US. That explains why her next video, produced in the 2000s, looks like it came out in 1994. "Sandcastles in the Sand" features a darker, brooding Robin, showcasing her "artistic" side. Yet another video, "P.S. I Love You," crops up later. It's about Paul Shaffer, and features the short-lived identity, "Robin Daggers."

Later on, it's revealed that Robin was in a kid's show in which she and a partner solved math-related crimes in space. Much to Ted and Barney's delight, it's filled with unintentional sexual innuendos. Eventually, Barney, who's always hunting down Robin Sparkles content, finds a "Behind the Music"-style documentary about Robin Sparkles, which claims she was essentially the face of the '90s in Canada.