Just like any sitcom, Seth MacFarlane’s Family Guy has a number of running gags. It’s a generally inconsistent show, because it’s been canceled twice and came back with a slightly different tone each time.
At first, it was a vain rip-off of The Simpsons, then it came back as a dark alternative to The Simpsons with more graphic violence and sexual content, and finally, it has settled on being a meta, self-parodying shadow of its former self. So, for any running joke to stick through all that, it must be pretty endearing. Here are Family Guy’s 10 Funniest Running Gags, Ranked.
10 The chicken fights
Peter has had so many long, unwieldly fights with Ernie the Giant Chicken now that some fans are sick of them. As soon as they see Ernie giving Peter an angry look, they roll their eyes and settle in for five minutes that have nothing to do with the plot.
However, the writers have found creative ways to escalate the fights over the years. Now, the two will go onto a space shuttle as it launches or survive the explosion of an oil rig. And it’s also absurdly delightful to see Peter dust himself off, return home, and continue whatever conversation he was having before.
9 Brian’s novel
In the first few seasons of Family Guy, Brian was working on a novel called Faster Than the Speed of Love. Both the premise and the title made Lois laugh hysterically, and Stewie asking Brian about how his novel was going as his voice got higher was also a great joke.
Then, in the episode “420,” Carter published Brian’s book to get him to change his stance on pot laws, but it was a resounding failure that didn’t sell a single copy. Since then, a lot of recurring laughs have been gotten out of the terrible failure of Brian’s novel.
8 Peter’s barbershop quartet
Peter and his barbershop quartet when some bad news needs to be delivered in a chipper manner, like a hospital patient with HIV getting diagnosed with AIDS. The singers also showed up to educate Peter about vasectomies when Lois first suggested that he get one.
Family Guy has always been great at musical gags, because whoever’s in charge of writing the lyrics for the musical numbers has a strong sense of rhythm and timing, both in music and in comedy. The sound of barbershop music is replicated perfectly in these gags, so the juxtaposition with the dark content of the words is pitch-perfect.
7 Live studio ostrich
Very few sitcoms these days have a laughter track, or are “filmed in front of a live studio audience,” because TV producers have realized that these are tacky, contribute nothing to the show (and, arguably, detract from them), and condescend to the viewers by telling them when to laugh.
Family Guy spoofed the idea of the “live studio audience” with a “live studio ostrich.” He’ll show up to punctuate a bad joke in a show like Two and a Half Men to emphasize how unfunny it is. The ostrich earnestly lets out a laugh, but since he’s the only one there, it sounds sarcastic: “Hah-hah!”
6 Corey’s World
Corey’s World is a YouTube channel hosted by Corey, a hilarious satire of millennial YouTubers. He makes how-to videos that the Griffins sometimes watch to get out of sticky situations. Corey opens all his videos by saying, “What’s going on, guys? I’m Corey!” and then implores everyone viewing to subscribe and says he’ll try to get around to answering all the comments, but can’t promise anything, and he’s just delaying the how-to information that one of the Griffins needs urgently.
He only made his debut on the show recently, but he’s already become an endearing running gag. In his fourth and most appearance, in the episode “Girl, Internetted,” Corey made his first in-person appearing at Streaming Con, a convention for online celebrities.
5 Holden Caulfield
To fans who are unfamiliar with the classic literature of J.D. Salinger, this character is simply known as the “Phony!” guy. He’ll show up when someone is doing something fake, like Peter pretending to play the mall piano that plays itself, and yell, “You’re a phony! A big, fat phony!”
This character is a reference to Holden Caulfield, the lead protagonist in The Catcher in the Rye, who gets mopey and angsty about the phonies at his school. He’s probably the biggest, loudest brat in the history of literature, and Family Guy has given us a terrific spoof of the character.
4 “Surfin’ Bird”
Fans are as sick of the Trashmen’s song “Surfin’ Bird” as Stewie and Brian got when Peter played that record a thousand times in the first act of the episode “I Dream of Jesus.” However, it was a wildly popular bit when the episode first aired – at the height of Family Guy’s popularity, no less – and the show has since come to make some hysterical meta-references to this.
For example, in the episode where Peter got amnesia and heard the song when he couldn’t remember anything, he turned it off after a few seconds, because he found it annoying.
3 Quagmire hates Brian
This running joke has only appeared quite recently, because if you look back at earlier episodes, Brian is hanging out with Peter and the guys and they’re all getting along. But it’s hilarious, because you can totally see why Quagmire hates Brian.
He’s just the only person in Quahog who’s willing to call him out on his B.S. – he’s a phony intellectual, he acts like he’s better than everyone, and he blindly holds liberal views without being properly informed. And ever since it was established that Quagmire hates Brian, Brian has been trying to win him over, and everything he’s done has only made it worse.
2 Peter hurts his knee
It’s been a while since Family Guy used this joke, but if the writers decided to throw it into an episode in the upcoming season, it would be a hilarious throwback. On one occasion, it was Lois who got in on this gag, and instead of hitting her knee on the ground, she hit her boob.
If there’s one type of joke that Family Guy is great at doing, it’s gags that go on for so long that the initial laugh wears off, then it becomes annoying, then it becomes funny again, just because it’s been going on for so long, and this is a perfect example of that.
1 Cleveland’s bathtub
Easily the funniest running joke in Family Guy, because it never fails to kill, is when Peter will destroy half of Cleveland’s house while Cleveland’s in the bath and the tub will slowly slide off the collapsing floor as he says, “No, no, no, no, no, nooo!” Cleveland even made a self-aware reference to it one time: “I’ve gotta stop taking my baths during Peter’s shenanigans.”
After Cleveland moved out of Quahog and started starring in his own Virginia-set spin-off series called The Cleveland Show, one of Peter’s schemes smashed up the side of his house and an empty bathtub falls out and smashes. A deadpan Peter says, “Oh, yeah, Cleveland moved.” This gag was used as the basis of an episode of The Cleveland Show in which Cleveland’s ex-wife died in a similar bathtub-related incident and Cleveland got survivor’s guilt.