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Top 20 Funniest Simpsons Running Gags

VO: Rebecca Brayton WRITTEN BY: Craig Butler
These Simpsons running gags are proof that some things are better the second time around…or third. We’re looking at recurring gags on The Simpsons – excluding simple, if memorable, catchphrases. Let’s pop a seat on the couch and get to watching! WatchMojo ranks the funniest Simpsons running gags. What’s your favorite Simpsons running gag? Let us know in the comments!
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Some things are better the second time around…or third…or… Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down the Top 20 Simpsons Running Gags.

For this list, we’re looking at recurring gags on The Simpsons – excluding simple, if memorable, catchphrases.

#20: “Why, You Little...!”


Ah, every viewer knows what happens when Homer says these three little words – Bart is about to get Homer’s hands wrapped around his throat and his eyes and tongue are going to bulge out. It’s happened hundreds of times and neatly encapsulates a big part of Homer and Bart’s relationship. Homer can be counted on to be fooled or angered by Bart, and Bart always finds it irresistible to push Homer’s buttons, no matter if he has to pay for it.

#19: Homer and Marge’s Shifting History


As a television series runs longer and longer, there’s more opportunity to flesh out characters’ backstories – as has happened with Homer and Marge. The more flashbacks there are to “early days,” the more differences pop up. Often the changes have to do with changing dates, like having them meet in 1974 in one episode to getting married in 1980 in another. But the biggest changes came when they updated the timeline all the way to the 1990s in “That ‘90s Show” – a move that was later quietly forgotten.

#18. Maggie’s Tendency Toward Violence


She may seem like just a sweet little baby, but on several occasions Maggie has revealed her violent side. We’re not talking about the menacing way she looks at her unibrowed baby rival, but actual violence. As in shooting Mr. Burns with a gun and attempting to shoot him again. Or airgunning gangsters into submission. Or attacking Homer with a mallet and trying to stab him with a pencil (we get it, tho). She was even ready to take on Mr. Teeny, if necessary. The lesson: Don’t mess with the silent but deadly type.

#17. Those in Authority Have No Clue


One of the qualities most associated with “The Simpsons” is irreverence, and that quality is readily apparent in the show’s depiction of authority figures. For the most part, the authority figures in Springfield are depicted as hopelessly inept and clueless. You want an example? We give you Clancy Wiggum, easily the worst police chief in television history – and his deputies aren’t much better. Then there’s the eternally corrupt Mayor Quimby, the monumentally incompetent lawyer Lionel Hutz and the well-intentioned but easily outfoxed Principal Skinner. No wonder Bart has no respect for those in power.

#16: Nuclear Negligence


In the real world, Springfield would have been blown sky high numerous times – and probably taken the rest of the country with it. Clearly, Homer is the man most responsible for this gross negligence. He’s supposedly the safety inspector, but the man has no idea what he’s supposed to do – and would be too lazy and incompetent to do it, even if he did know. And while they may not be quite as bad as Homer, knowing that the rest of the crew is of the caliber of Lenny and Carl doesn’t inspire great deal of confidence.

#15: “Treehouse of Horror” Credits


The annual Halloween episode has become a big fan favorite, with viewers anxious to see what strange situations the characters will be placed time after time. It’s also an opportunity for the creative crew to let their imaginations run wild when it comes to the credit sequences at the beginning and end of the episode. Each name is changed in some way to make it seasonally appropriate – which is why names like “Bat Groening” or “Drooly Kavner” flash across the screen.

#14: Flanders Is Smokin’!


Most of the Springfield men have bodies that are best described as, say, lumpy – and then there’s Ned. As has been revealed on several occasions, Flanders clearly spends a lot of time at the gym – and to good effect. There also are suggestions that he packs a pretty big Li’l Ned. All of which is more humorous because of the character’s modesty and hesitancy to promote himself above others. One of the few Simpsons characters with a reason to be conceited instead values his humility.

#13: Things Keep Getting in Lenny’s Eye


Poor Lenny. He doesn’t get a lot of screen time, and often when he does, it’s concerned with a particular running gag – one where some bizarre object or other gets stuck in his eye. Sure, sometimes it’s relatively harmless – a little soap in the eye? Big deal. But other times it’s more serious. Garbage. Pudding. Jigsaw puzzle pieces. A coiled spring. Sorry, Lenny, I know it’s painful – but we can’t help laughing at your misfortune.

#12: “Simpson, Eh?”


Throughout the show’s run, there have been times when Mr. Burns has laid eyes on Homer and asked Smithers who he was. Every time, Burns replies as if this is the first time he has ever heard the name – despite the fact that he has had countless memorable interactions with Homer and/or various members of his family. In addition to being a good gag, it also demonstrates both Burns’ apparent senility as well as the fact that he is so rich and self-centered that he can’t be bothered to remember other people.

#11: Troy McClure’s Films and TV Shows


Troy McClure’s typical entrance includes references to at least two of his past masterworks – all of which are bizarrely titled. Hollywood has-been McClure was a multimedia master, appearing in big-screen pictures, TV movies, television series, plays, self-help videos, nature films, computer travel guides, filmstrips – you name it. But with titles like “Gladys, the Groovy Mule” and “Locker Room Towel Fight: The Blinding of Larry Driscoll,” it’s no wonder McClure’s career took a turn south.

#10: Moe’s Illegal Activities


Moe’s Tavern is Homer’s preferred hangout, his home away from home – and that by itself should indicate it can’t be a success. Which must be why Moe finds very creative ways to supplement his income. Very creative, including supplying illegal guns and grenades to help in revolutionary struggle or transforming into a law-breaking speakeasy. But come on, Moe – smuggling pandas? Stealing Shamu from SeaWorld? Be a little more chill.

#9: Smithers’ Attraction to Mr. Burns


One of the most frequent running gags in the whole Simpsons canon is the fact that Waylon Smithers has an inexplicable crush on Montgomery Burns – and Burns is somehow oblivious to it. Why Smithers has these feelings will never be understood – love can be opaque, after all. But it helps explain why Smithers remains steadfastly loyal to Burns, when any other assistant would have long ago thrown in the towel.

#8: Reminders of Mr. Burns’ Age


Speaking of dear old Mr. Burns’s age – well, he’s old. Insanely so. Creepily so. Impossibly so. And the writers take advantage of that fact to pop jokes at his ancientness every chance they get. Sometimes these take the form of references to people or events far in the past, which seem to Burns to be totally current. Other times, they refer more directly to his elderly state, especially how thin and physically slight he has become. In either case, these gags are simply . . . excellent.

#7: They Keep Offing Hans Moleman


This character resembles nothing so much as poor shriveled up peanut – and he gets about as much respect as one. The writers have arranged for Hans to die several times over the course of the series. We’re not counting things like his apparent marriage to Selma Bouvier, which some would say is a fate worse than death. No, we’re talking real death – by an exploding AMC Gremlin. By execution, without a last meal. Buried alive. Drilled in the head. Burnt by magnifying eyeglasses. Hans, thank you for making death so entertaining – for us, at least.

#6: Springfield Elementary’s Awfulness


The school’s staff isn’t explicitly horrible – they simply don’t care. And that attitude is apparent in everything that happens in the school. It’s why you hire someone like Otto to drive a school bus that barely holds together. And why the surly lunch lady casually serves “malk” and “mystery meat” and doesn’t care about unloading food on the floor. The teachers pretty much just do what they have to in order to get by, and Skinner has his hands full just trying to keep Bart in line. Is it any wonder Lisa and Martin are about the only decent students the school has?

#5: Billboard Gags


“The Simpsons” has always been notable for the amusing names of its businesses and restaurants, from The Frying Dutchman and Municipal House of Pancakes to the barbershop Hairy Shearers and Lionel Hutz’s I Can’t Believe It’s a Law Firm! When a weekly billboard gag was added to the credits, businesses like McBain Capital and the Squidport joined the crew. But the billboard gags go far beyond funny names to include great stand-alone gags.

#4: Springfield’s State


Just what state is Springfield actually in? Maybe it’s one of the 34 states with an actual Springfield, maybe it’s not. But the intentionally misleading clues the writers drop – like saying it borders Ohio, Kentucky, Maine and Nevada – don’t help. Whatever state it’s in, it seems to have geographical features that can change at whim. Often when viewers look through the window of the Simpsons’ kitchen, they see something totally different than they saw before.

#3: Bart’s Prank Calls


Obnoxious prank phone calls are probably the most harmless thing that Bart does – so harmless that even Lisa likes to engage in them. But the object of those calls – most often our hapless friend Moe – doesn’t find them so funny. At all. The calls work so well because they emphasize Moe’s unchangeable gullibility and his inability to learn from his mistakes. And because, hey, they may be juvenile, but they’re still funny.

#2: Chalkboard Gags


The chalkboard gags have been a major part of The Simpsons’ appeal from day one. Coming almost at the top of the opening credits, they immediately paint Bart as a troublemaker and a rascal – and one with quite a mouth on him. But they also give the creators plenty of latitude to come up with brilliant stand-alone gags and, when necessary, trenchant commentary. Sometimes the inspiration may lag slightly, but at their best they’re unbeatable.

#1: Couch Gags


Well, what else could be at number one? Not every opening credits sequence includes one, but the vast majority do, and they are one of the gags most strongly identified with “The Simpsons.” They started out pretty tame, as just a way to make the credits more interesting. But through the years, there have been some pretty elaborate variations, as well as references to other TV shows. Who knew sitting on a couch could be so much fun?
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