Our New Favorite Thing:
Actor-Inspired Meta-Jokes

Meta-jokes are all the rage on TV these days: 30 Rock makes them all the time, and both Community and Glee kicked off the current season with premieres that made use of the device to hilarious effect. But one of the more entertaining subsets of the world of meta-humor is what I can only really describe as actor-inspired self-reference—basically, when TV shows make jokes that are rooted in their actors' previous work.

For example:

The series premiere of Fox's Running Wilde recalled star Will Arnett's most beloved role—Arrested Development's Gob—when the narrator mentioned Steve Wilde's worry over making "a huge mistake." (Hear Gob and the rest of the gang utter the familiar AD catchphrase here).




Then, last week, the show did it again when David Cross' character, Andy Weekes, let out a frustrated "Come on!"




Meanwhile, the pilot of Raising Hope paid homage to show creator Greg Garcia's last project, My Name is Earl, with a newscaster's mention of a petty criminal who's completed his "bucket list."



And those are just the recent ones. Ahem:

In Season 2 of Castle, Richard Castle (Nathan Fillion) dressed up as a space cowboy for Halloween, sporting the same outfit as Captain Mal, the character Fillion played on Firefly and Serenity.


This past spring, Community's Abed Nadir (Danny Pudi) channeled Mad Men's Don Draper (Jon Hamm) as he practiced hitting on Annie Edison (Alison Brie)—a nod to Brie's other role as Trudy Campbell on the 1960s drama.




And in what is quite possibly the ultimate example of this self-referential humor, Seinfeld creators Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld spent several episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm's seventh season debating—and then staging—a Seinfeld reunion.


If regular TV is like a Hershey bar, then these winks and nods are kinda like expensive Belgian truffles: deliciously rich, thoroughly enjoyable, and appreciated only by an in-the-know minority. Also, they make TV more fun. Remember when How I Met Your Mother's Barney Stinson (Neil Patrick Harris) sat down to write in his blog, Doogie Houser-style? Or when Arrested Development's Barry Zuckerkorn (Henry Winkler) jumped over a plush shark, a la the Fonz on Happy Days? Trendy as meta-humor may be, I just can't get enough of these clever little gags. So keep 'em coming, I say!

Have you noticed any other good ones lately? Speak up (and post video links!) in the comments.


Follow TV.com writer Stefanie Lee on Twitter: @StefAtTVDotCom

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Oct 31, 2010
"Like drwoowoocl said previously 'if you use them too much they are not funny'."



joenamherst.



I agree with both but I like when they make sense at the history.
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Oct 14, 2010
One of my favourites was on NCIS a few seasons back the team was giving Tony a hard time about the kind of girl he would be able to get. Ziva then looks at him and says him getting a girl like one his interested in is as outragous as him dating Jessica Alba. In real life Michael Weatherly was engaged to Jessica Alba.
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Oct 13, 2010
There have been two scenes in William Shatner's new comedy in which he criticizes the impression of him his son performs.
Shatner had a couple of similar 'in jokes' during Boston Legal. One was a reference to Klingons, and the other was the Star Trek Communicator sound when Shatner flipped open his cell phone in court.
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Oct 13, 2010
there was one in yesterday's episode of LUX... when Nate was asked what his dream-girl should be like... "oh, let me guess, as tall as a pint, brown hair, big eyes, looking like the chick on Roswell" - the joke being that Kate (the girl she's referring to) actually played "the chick on Roswell" (Shiri Appleby) :-)
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Oct 13, 2010
When Paris Hilton guest starred on Supernatural as a demon... Jensen Padalecki says something about never watching House of Wax and Jared Padelecki's facial expression is meant to imply that he co-starred in House of Wax as well.
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Oct 13, 2010
Unfortunately using 'meta-jokes' DOES NOT improve ratings. The perfect example is 30rock. The meta-jokes can't help an unfunny unwatched show! Like drwoowoocl said previously 'if you use them too much they are not funny'.
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Oct 13, 2010
Castle, Richard Castle (Nathan Fillion) dressed up as a space cowboy LOVE IT and last night watching Eureka Dr. Grant (James Callis)The Ex-Files ep and he lied an said his imaginary person was tall and blond lol
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Oct 13, 2010
Its funny if you use them sparingly, but if you use them too much they arent funny anymore.
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Oct 13, 2010
The NCIS Agent Gibb's reference to Ducky's younger looks, " Well, he looked a lot like Illya Kuryakin" is a classic...LMAO
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Oct 13, 2010
Numb3rs had many many examples of these jokes - I just now rewatched the episode where Don Epps is advised that if he steps on the wrong toes he could get assigned to a job in Alaska, the obvious reference to Rob Morrow's role in Northern Exposure, but there are so many more. It's fun trivia.
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Oct 13, 2010
In NCIS, a few seasons back, the closer of one episode had a line for those of us "in the know." Agent Todd, played by Sasha Alexander (as I recall) was responsible for guarding Dr. Mallard, played by David McCallum. She became quite enamored with the doctor and inquired of Agent Gibbs (Mark Harmon) as to what "Ducky" (the doctor's nickname) looked like when he was much younger. Agent Gibbs replied, "Well, he looked a lot like Illya Kuryakin." Well, of course he did! That was McCallum's character in the 1964 series, "The Man from U.N.C.L.E." This show has not been on the air for 40 years. It was a great reference and I got a chuckle from it.
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Oct 13, 2010
Maybe the best one ever was when William Shatner guest-starred on 3rd Rock From the Sun. He arrived at the airport and was greeted by John Lithgow, who asked him how his flight had been. Shatner replied, "It was horrible! I looked out the window and this monster was destroying the plane!", a reference to Shatner's appearance in a famous Twilight Zone episode. But what made the gag so great was Lithgow's response: "The same thing happened to me!" Lithgow had played Shatner's role in the remake of the Twilight Zone episode included in the Twilight Zone movie.
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Oct 13, 2010
Supernatural, season 2, in Hollywood on the set of Gilmore Girls- Jared Padalecki's face! :D
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Oct 12, 2010
How about Seinfeld when Jerry and George decide to make a show about nothing? Seinfeld was the first king of meta-jokes.
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Oct 11, 2010
William Shatner on Boston Legal referred to his great role in Star Trek a couple of times. And there was a Battlestar Galactica referrence on Eureka, where James Callis described a "tall, leggy blonde. Slinky red dress." and Allison asked wether it was an old girlfriend...
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Oct 11, 2010
In the secret life of the american teenager...They all forgot Amy's 16th birthday and Molly ringwald's character says" everybody forgot my 16th birthday..." referring to her movie 16 candles :)
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Oct 10, 2010
Oohh, I love these jokes whenever I spot them on shows. The Castle one here is great!
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Oct 10, 2010
Fisher and the Avatar premiere on Bones!!
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Oct 10, 2010
Shawn also made a reference to The Mentalist on an episode of Psych (or was it Patrick Jane making a Psych reference? I can't remember), which was funny because I've described The Mentalist as a grown-up Psych before.
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Oct 10, 2010
In one of last season's episodes of House, Hugh Laurie went to an 80s costume party dressed much like he was in Annie Lennox's "Walking on Broken Glass" video.
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Oct 10, 2010
I loved the mobsters in Chuck Versus the Fake Name meta-gagging the will-they/won't-they Chuck and Sarah relationship. Or the unplanned meta reference of Morgan calling Shaw (Brandon Routh) a "block of wood" (the gag was actually filmed LONG before Routh's first appearance and the fans began calling him wooden).
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Oct 10, 2010
Wasn't there an ep on "Cougar Town" where Jules' son saw her dancing in a Bruce Springsteen video, the meta-joke being that Courteney Cox's first claim to fame was dancing in Bruce Springsteen's "Dancing in the Dark" video? I didn't see the ep, but I think I read about it. And if it DIDN'T happen, then it totally NEEDS to happen!
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Oct 09, 2010
Not a recent meta-fiction joke, but one that really made me laugh : When Dean and Sam from Supernatural visited a Hollywood studio and come across... The Gilmore Girls set. Sam (who used to play Dean on the show) literally fled....
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Oct 09, 2010
yes gmx he mentioned double rainbows in the second ep i believe when they had the psychic who had been murdered since becket doesn't believe in superstitions
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Oct 09, 2010
"Psych" has been doing this for years. How many "LA Law" jokes have there been on that show??
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Oct 08, 2010
Another new one:
Donald Glover wearing spidy pajamas on Community's season premiere (after all the gossip during the summer!) hillarious
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Oct 07, 2010
I remember they made a few MacGyver references on Stargate SG1. And Chuck does it all the time, like with Dolph Lundgren and Scott Bakula.
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Oct 07, 2010
Nathan Fillion on Castle talked about how Ryan Reynolds would be voicing the 'wee triangle' in the movie version of Asteroids the video game, adding that RR is good; they worked together ages ago on Two Guys A Girl And A Pizza Place
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Oct 07, 2010
Nathan Fillion was Captain Hammer in Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog. And Neil Patrick Harris was Dr. Horrible. So, I would watch for meta-jokes on Castle and How I Met Your Mother.
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Oct 07, 2010
You have to follow Nathan Fillion to get all the off character jokes he throws into Castle. I think he even mentioned Double Rainbows in this season's Castle.
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Oct 07, 2010
I just wanna say: Boston Legal!

There are lots of these jokes... Denny Crane and Alan Shore always get off-character and I LOVE it!!!
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Oct 07, 2010
YES! I loved seeing Nathan FIllion don the browncoat again but what Alexis said was brilliant! "A. There are no cows in space and B. Didn't you wear that like 5 years ago?" Castle,"So?" Alexis, "So, don't you think you should move on?" Castle, "I like it." (WE ALL DO TOO, NATHAN!!)
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Oct 07, 2010
My favourite ones: 1) Dirk Benedict in "A-Team" when looking to a Cylon-disguised actor. 2) Captaiin Dylan Hunt (Kevin Sorbo, from HErcules) in an episode of Andromeda, when he takes a sword and shield (very HErcules-like) from a panel of the ship. He only said "long story".
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Oct 07, 2010
I swear there was an episode of Castle where he dressed up like Dr. Horrible. Maybe I'm crazy or remembering wrong, but I'm almost positive...
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Oct 07, 2010
I've just started watching the Modern Family season 1 DVDs tonight and was amused to note that, in the pilot, Gloria referred to a boy 'having his hand down his pants all the time' (which I took to be a reference to Al Bundy, obviously)
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Oct 06, 2010
Community is so the King for Meta Jokes!!!
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Oct 06, 2010
The Castle is just the best! Captain Tightpants!!!
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Oct 06, 2010
The Castle one is the BEST!!! It was soo awesome to see Nathan Fillion as The Captain once again!!! DRATW!!!!! And Supernatural is full of this jokes!!! :D
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Oct 06, 2010
Supernatural has done a few fun ones over its time. And they love to make fun of pretty much anything and everything. If you want to see an episode that just mocks all of television watch season 5's Changing Channels ;)
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Oct 06, 2010
TVTropes calls those "Actor Allusion" and has a ton of examples.
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Oct 06, 2010
I love that Castle one, along with Castle's line in "Boom" where he said 'I was aiming for his head', (same line was in Firefly).
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Oct 06, 2010
The castle one is the best, but community comes in at a close second!
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Oct 06, 2010
Dolph Lundgren on Chuck (I will break you!!) and Castle was really good.
There's no cows in Space!!
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Oct 06, 2010
The newest episode of Running WIlde also referred to AD, with Cross saying that his "Blue Man Group was freezing" or something like that.. And the premiere of Community sort of did a actor inspired joke, by having Donald Glover dressed as Spider-Man, after a bunch of web sites demanded he should play the first black Spider-Man or something like that over the summer. My favorite is probably the Henry Winkler shark jump on AD, though.
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Oct 06, 2010
Supernatural has quite a few of them. Season 1, "Faith" - Dean (Jensen Ackles) mentions awful 'daytime television' - He was on "Days of Our Lives." Season 3, "Hollywood Babylon" - While the brothers do a tour of a Hollywood set, the guide mentions "Lois & Clark," a part of the Superman franchise as well as Stars Hollow from "Gilmore Girls" - Dean (Ackles) was on another Superman show, "Smallville" and Sam (Jared Padalecki) spent several seasons on "Gilmore Girls" as a character named Dean. The same episode also references a character named McG who is one of the show's producers. Season 5, "Fallen Idols" - guest stars Paris Hilton to whom Dean quips "I've never even seen 'House of Wax.'" - Sam (Padalecki) was in "House of Wax" with Paris Hilton. Season 5, "Changing Channels" - numerous jokes about shows that play opposite "Supernatural" such as "CSI" and "Grey's Anatomy" - a few jokes with "Grey's Anatomy" due to Dean (Ackles) having starred alongside Patrick Dempsey in a mini-series as well as Jeffery Dean Morgan's duel roles (Winchester dad John on "Supernatural" and "Grey's Anatomy" love interest / ghost Denny). And, of course, the introduction of the prophet Chuck who writes the book series "Supernatural," allowing the writers to make in-jokes regarding their fan base.
More+
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Oct 06, 2010
Yeah that Firefly joke on Castle was great.
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Oct 06, 2010
Love those too! one of my favourites: when the kids from Dawson's creek talk about the Breakfast Club and Josh Jackson alias Pacey makes a reference to Emilio Estevez being great in those Ducks movies saying: "Those were classic! So funny!" and everyone just looks at him like WTF!

Or on Supernatural when Sam & Dean take a tour through Universal Studios and pass by the set of Stars Hollow and Sam wants to leave. Or Lilly on HIMYM referring to the lesbian relationship she always wanted to try...so many great actor-inspired meta-jokes i TV-land!
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Oct 06, 2010
The Castle one made my mouth drop when I first saw it... AWESOME!
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Oct 06, 2010
oh thats in here
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Oct 06, 2010
Wow. That Castle clip may get me to actually watch Castle. My Captain o Captain
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