Family Guy is much more than just an adult-oriented, non-yellow version of The Simpsons. It’s a dark, surreal odyssey into the mind of Seth MacFarlane. In Family Guy, story doesn’t really matter. It takes a back seat to humor. Family Guy is a show that you watch when you want to laugh.
It won’t move you or give you a deeper understanding of the family dynamic or the human condition, and more often than not, it won’t even really make a point about anything. But it will definitely make you laugh. It’s all about the jokes.
The heavy use of cutaways in the show have faced a mixed reception over the years. In one review, The AV Club wrote, “Family Guy’s cutaway-driven plasticity is kind of an all or nothing asset.” But there’s no denying that the cutaways are brilliant slices of Monty Python-inspired madness. Here’s some of the show’s best explained for laymen.
25. Prom Night Dumpster Baby
This dark, yet cute little musical number is a reference to Melissa Drexler (aka “The Prom Mom”), who gave birth in a bathroom stall during her high school prom, severed the umbilical cord on the serrated edge of a sanitary towel dispenser, told her friend, “I’ll be done pretty soon.
Go tell the boys we’ll be right out,” threw her baby in the trash, and went right back to the dance. She was caught when a school nurse found the baby in the trash and got sentenced to 15 years in jail, although she was released after just over three years. Trust Family Guy to make light of that.
24. Officer Reese’s
According to Family Guy, the Reese’s candy empire was built by a vengeful cop named Officer Reese’s who happened upon a head-on collision between two drunk drivers, one eating chocolate and the other eating peanut butter.
Tasting this delicious combination, the cop shoots them both dead and steals the idea, and that’s where we get one of our most beloved candies from.
23. Mayor McCheese assassination
This cutaway works so well because of its absurdity and its simplicity. It’s essentially a shot-for-shot remake of the Super 8 footage of President John F. Kennedy getting assassinated, right down to his wife picking up the pieces of his brain, except instead of JFK, it’s Mayor McCheese, the mayor of McDonaldland from the McDonald’s commercials.
It’s this kind of blending of real life history and pop culture icons that makes Family Guy so uniquely surreal and hilarious.
22. “You’ve Got the AIDS” barbershop quartet song
A lot of Family Guy’s humor derives from bringing an upbeat mood to an otherwise gravely serious topic. A prime example of that is when Peter tells Brian he has “a knack for delivering bad news.”
Cut to a hospital room as Dr. Hartman prepares to diagnose a patient with AIDS and allows a barbershop quartet (including Peter) to tell him the bad news through song.
The brilliant thing about this gag is that it gets out all the major points about the diagnosis (what may have caused it, it’s not HIV, it’s full blown AIDS etc.), it nails the tone and style of the barbershop quartet perfectly, and it’s a really catchy song.
When Chris gets expelled and enrols in Carter’s old private school, the family all have to take extra jobs to pay his tuition fees. One of Peter’s jobs is selling buttscratchers at the ballpark.
As he walks around yelling, “Buttscratcher! Get your buttscratchers here!” it captures ballpark vendors’ sales technique, except with a made-up device – a long stick with a pointy end that you use to scratch your butt – that would actually come in handy during a ball game.
20. Fozzie Bear doing Arab jokes in Saudi Arabia
Fozzie Bear is the resident standup comic on The Muppet Show. He has the lovable catchphrase, “Wocka! Wocka!” and he’s famous for his tie, his little brown pork pie hat, and his total lack of comedic talent. He bombs every show he does, and so Family Guy took that usually cute tradition from The Muppet Show and planted him in the middle of Saudi Arabia, where he awkwardly tells some Arab jokes. He says, “It’s good to worship Allah because I used to worship some-ah! Wocka, wocka!” No one laughs, so he moves on to his next joke. He says, “I once knew a guy who was so Arab.” An intimidating and angry-looking Saudi Arabian audience member asks, “How Arab was he?” and Fozzie panics and says, “Uh, he was so Arab that everybody liked him and there was nothing funny about him at all.”
19. Mad Men with lightsabers
In “Ratings Guy,” Peter manages to get control over all of television by stealing a bunch of Nielsen boxes and dictating half the ratings on TV. He uses his newfound power to get Jon Hamm to changed Mad Men.
Mad Men is a period drama set in the 1960s and it’s about an ad agency and it’s a brilliant series with investable characters, intriguing office politics, and a deeply flawed protagonist. But to an idiot with a short attention span like Peter, that’s no good.
So, he makes Mad Men ‘better’ by having the ad executives of Sterling Cooper and Partners battle their clients with lightsabers when they can’t reach a deal, and having Ace Frehley from Kiss rock out an awesome guitar riff. Peter also puts Breaking Bad on roller skates, whatever that means.
18. Jewish Fight Club
Family Guy likes to play around with stereotypes, specifically Jewish ones since a lot of the writers are Jewish, so it’s the one minority group they can get away with making fun of the most.
In the Jewish Fight Club cutaway, Mort Goldman is standing shirtless in a dark basement with a bunch of other Jewish guys, so it’s like Fight Club with Brad Pitt and Edward Norton, except with Jewish guys. But then Mort introduced the first rule. In the non-Jewish version in the movie, the first rule is, “Do not talk about Fight Club.”
It’s also the second rule. But the first rule of Jewish Fight Club is, “If somebody says, ‘Ow,’ you stop.” It’s a joke on the stereotype that Jews don’t like violence or confrontation and will avoid it at any cost (even though, historically, they have faced a lot of it).
17. Monopoly Man
Once again, Family Guy has taken a beloved cultural icon and twisted him into something dark. The Monopoly Man is simply the mascot of a family friendly board game, but Family Guy showed us what happens after you finish playing, after he’s gone to jail.
This cutaway sees the Monopoly Man transplanted into the prison rape scene from The Shawshank Redemption, complete with Morgan Freeman’s voiceover.
16. Black Jesus
What if Jesus Christ was black? That’s the question posed by this quick Family Guy cutaway. It’s a serious question, because Jesus is often portrayed as white, but who says he was white? He was from the Middle East, technically. However, in true Family Guy fashion, there’s not much depth here. It simply sees an African-American Jesus adhering to the stereotype that black guys get laid a lot by saying, “I rode into town on an ass…yo mama’s ass!” It’s really funny, though, and it’s complete with a flashy, ‘70s Blaxploitation-style title card.
15. Describing Reggie
In the Family Guy episode “Thanksgiving,” Peter says that’s his second favorite holiday after Pretend Not to Notice People’s Race Day. This, of course, sets up a cutaway gag to that day, where Peter stands in an office describing a co-worker named Reggie without specifying his race, using only characteristics that are African-American stereotypes.
“Today, he’s wearing yellow pants, uh, yellow shirt, yellow hat, yellow shoes. He’s got a gold tooth, uh, diamond earring. He’s got that big necklace with the dollar sign on it. He’s always grabbing his crotch when he’s telling a story. Like the one about when he found out his mother is really his grandmother.
He always wears cheap cologne, drives a Mercury Cougar with a crown on the dashboard, never pays his alimony, he’s extremely cut for a guy who never works out…” By now, Peter’s built a pretty clear image in your head of a stereotypical black guy and then Reggie comes along and, to everyone’s surprise, he’s a white guy!
14. Robin: Boy Wonder
This cutaway was a joke about how useless Robin is as a character. You tend not to notice when he’s at Batman’s side or he’s fighting with the Teen Titans, but if Warner Bros. ever made a standalone Robin movie, he wouldn’t be much use as a hero.
In the movie within the Family Guy cutaway, some women are trapped in a car on the edge of a cliff, screaming for help, and then Robin turns up. “Hey, don’t worry. I’m here.” Confused, they say, “Robin? They sent you?”
He tells them everyone else is busy and they tell him there’s nothing he can do to help them and his defense is this: “I got a cell phone. Oh, no bars.”
13. Racist Kermit the Frog
The Family Guy writers love to do jokes about the innocent Muppets that turn them not so innocent. In the episode “Stewie Loves Lois,” there was a reference to “the folks you meet in those Louisiana swamps.”
Cut to Kermit the Frog playing his banjo out in the woods as a black man arrives on a rowboat and asks, “Excuse me, do you know how to get to town?” Kermit whips out a shotgun and tells the black man, “Yeah, it’s back the way you came.”
They take the fact that Kermit lives in a swamp and plays the banjo and combines it with the kind of backwoods hick you’d expect to find there and come to the logical conclusion that the seemingly innocent Kermit the Frog’s regional identity would make him a violent racist redneck.
12. Mickey Rooney’s Crazy Pills
Family Guy once treated us to a commercial for Mickey Rooney’s Crazy Pills, the pills that kept entertainer Mickey Rooney “so crazy.” The ad shows him doing some pretty insane things like screaming at a rodent with his shirt off, pooping down his chimney, and stealing other people’s scabs.
Rooney is one of the most respected entertainers in the industry, with a career spanning pretty much his entire lifetime. He was an Academy Award winner, a Golden Globe winner, and an Emmy winner, and he was best known for his Andy Hardy character.
So, why did Family Guy have him as a scab-stealing, pill-popping lunatic? Well, that’s because in his later years, Rooney became addicted to sleeping pills and turned violent against his family. Like Warren Buffett says, it takes decades to build up a reputation and five minutes to destroy it (see also: Harvey Weinstein).
11. Robert Loggia
In the episode “Peter’s Two Dads,” Peter complains about the hardships of waiting behind Robert Loggia at the airport. Cut to the airport, where Loggia is spelling his name out for the rep: “R as in Robert Loggia. O as in ‘Oh my god, it’s Robert Loggia.’ B as in ‘By God! It’s Robert Loggia.’ E as in ‘Everybody loves Robert Loggia.’ R as in Robert Loggia.
T as in ‘Tim, look over there! It’s Robert Loggia.’ Space. L as in ‘Look! It’s Robert Loggia.’” Robert Loggia is a character actor who disappears into his roles in high profile movies such as Scarface, Big, and An Officer and a Gentleman.
He’s a very talented guy, but he’s not very known, so the joke here is that he thinks he’s a movie star when nobody really recognizes him. Loggia had a good sense of humor about the joke, reciting part of it for TMZ and appearing on Family Guy as himself in two separate episodes in the years to come.
10. Popeye’s tumors
As with all the funniest Family Guy cutaways and pop culture references, the joke with Popeye in the doctor’s office brings an element of reality to a beloved cartoon. All of Popeye’s quirks, like his speech impediment, his winking eye, his babbling gibberish, and his bulging forearms, are all serious medical issues.
As Dr. Hartman tells him, “Sir, I think you should know, these growths on your forearms – they’re giant tumors. I’m surprised you haven’t realized this is not how a human being is supposed to look. And the speech thing, and what you’re doing with your eye – you had a stroke about seven years ago.
That you’ve managed to be walking around all this time is nothing short of a miracle.” The punchline is that Popeye has two months to live.
9. Alan Rickman’s answering machine
There’s an element of tragedy to this joke now that Alan Rickman has passed away, but it’s still really funny. It’s set up as a beer looking “lonelier than Alan Rickman’s answering machine,” and we cut to the answering machine of Alan Rickman.
Rickman’s slow, pausing way of delivering Severus Snape’s lines is parodied as well as the melancholy in his voice that suggests loneliness. “Hello. You’ve reached Alan Rickman at 555-0122. Please leave a message at the beep.” “Hello, Alan Rickman.
It’s Alan Rickman reminding you to move the pork chops from the freezer to the refrigerator so they defrost properly. Do not disappoint me.” “Hello. You’ve reached Alan Rickman at 555-0122. Please leave a message at the beep.” “Alan, it’s me again. Remember that turtle joke for the party.”
8. Conway Twitty
We’ve all felt the fury of sitting through one of Family Guy’s infamous Conway Twitty segments.
These segments apparently follow a formula for comedy that’s been developed in the writer’s room that goes “funny-horrible-hilarious” — they let a joke go on for so long that it stops being funny and you find it unbearable, but after a while, it’s been going on for so long that it becomes funny again, simply because of how ridiculous it is.
Seth MacFarlane also says that he does the Conway Twitty bits as a way of mocking the coveted primetime airspace that Family Guy is taking up, which advertisers fork over millions of dollars for. He thinks it’s funny to waste this precious time with an uncharismatic performer like Twitty.
7. Asian Santa
Stewie goes to the mall to see Santa and finds that he’s Asian. Talking extremely fast, the Asian Santa asks, “What you want?” Stewie says, “Fire truck.” Asian Santa asks, “What color?” Stewie says, “Red.” Asian Santa tosses him aside and cries, “Next!” It’s a parody of how Asian countries are more efficient than Western capitalist countries.
6. Homicide: Life on Sesame Street
In one episode of Family Guy, Peter has watched so much television that all of the shows start to blur together. Then he watches an episode of Homicide: Life on Sesame Street, which combines the characters of Sesame Street with the dark, gritty tone of Homicide: Life on the Street.
The show “contains adult content and is brought to you by the letter H.” It stars Bert as an alcoholic cop and Ernie as his lover. Bert gets called into work and gets dressed, drinking a swig of liquor and telling Ernie, “Some poor bastard got his head blown off down at a place called Hooper’s.”
Concerned, Ernie said, “Bert, I wish you wouldn’t drink so much, Bert.” Then Bert yells, “Well, Ernie, I wish you wouldn’t eat cookies in the damn bed!” Ernie cowers back and says, “Bert, you’re shouting again, Bert.” If only that were a real show.
5. Fire truck documentary
In the episode “Petarded,” Lois switches out Peter’s cards in a game of Trivial Pursuit for the kids’ edition so that he has a chance of winning. He manages to answer the question, “What color are fire trucks?” because he recently watched a National Geographic documentary on fire trucks.
Cut to the deserts of Africa as a fire truck hunts down a gazelle and kills it with its ladder. This cutaway makes no logical sense, really.
It’s just funny because of how absurd it is, and how closely the look of it and the style of the narration matches an actual National Geographic documentary about the animal kingdom on the plains of Africa, except the predator is a fire truck. It’s the most absurdist thing ever.
4. Hitler at the gym
According to Family Guy, the key to Hitler’s madness is that he was once at a gym, being all scrawny and struggling to lift a dumbbell, while a buff Jewish guy was getting all the attention from the girls. This made him so furious that he set out to exterminate all Jews.
It’s a simple explanation that, in a way that only Family Guy can, makes a lighthearted joke out of one of the worst tragedies in history. Funnily enough, this joke was actually in the show’s pilot.
3. Peter out-farts Michael Moore
“I’m not afraid of a challenge. Like that time I out-farted Michael Moore.” Michael Moore is a serious political documentarian with a left-leaning agenda and there’s all worlds of possibilities for satire if you wanted to include him in your comedy show.
Instead, Family Guy opted to use the fact that Moore has the same body type as Peter and the fact that this probably means he farts a lot to have the two of them squaring off in adjacent bathroom stalls for a beautiful fart symphony.
2. Cookie Monster in rehab
Family Guy likes to put the characters of The Muppet Show and Sesame Street in real world scenarios, and it always makes for the funniest jokes. In this cutaway, the Cookie Monster is taken to task for his unhealthy obsession with cookies.
Stewie sets it up by saying, “Oh, and if Cookie Monster calls, tell him I am not talking to him until he gets out of rehab.” Cut to some doctors finding cookies in the Cookie Monster’s room at the rehab center.
The Cookie Monster tries to talk his way out of it, saying it was a guy named Derek who left them there, but then all of a sudden, the doctors hold him down to sedate him and he screams, “You guys are Nazis, man! You’re freakin’ Nazis!”
1. Two and a Half Men is filmed in front of a live ostrich
Family Guy loves taking shots at Two and a Half Men. They don’t see it as being a very funny show, and they demonstrated that in this cutaway that states that Two and a Half Men is “filmed in front of a live ostrich.”
Every joke spoken by Alan Harper is met with a brief “Hah-hah!” from an ostrich sitting in the bleachers. They’re saying that the show isn’t funny enough for a full studio audience.