Mon. Jul 22nd, 2024

Back in October 1993, a classic episode of The Simpsons gave birth to an iconic gag, born out of the necessity to extend the episode’s runtime: Sideshow Bob’s infamous rake scene in “Cape Feare”.

Short Summary:

  • The episode needed extra time to meet runtime requirements
  • Sideshow Bob stepping on rakes became a memorable gag
  • The gag evolved from being mildly funny to hilarious through repetition

The infamous scene where Sideshow Bob repeatedly steps on rakes in The Simpsons’ episode “Cape Feare” has become one of the series’ most iconic moments. The origin of this unforgettable gag, however, was somewhat of an accident born from a necessity to lengthen the episode’s duration. Let’s delve deeper into how this scene came to life.

The origin of the gag dates back to October 1993 during the airing of a memorable Simpsons episode, where Sideshow Bob steps on nine rakes in succession. The rakes, upon being stepped on, swing up and repeatedly hit him in the face. According to executive producer Al Jean, the original script only had Bob step on one rake after he emerged from beneath the Simpsons’ car. Nevertheless, the episode’s duration was still short. This led to the idea of extending the rake sequence. As Jean recounted, the intention was to drag the joke until it ceased to be funny, and then stretch it even further until it regained its humour.

Expanding on this comedic principle, Jean explained, “When something’s funny, and then you do it so much that it’s not funny, if you keep doing it, it might get really funny.” This was echoed by Simpsons creator Matt Groening who added that the scene’s humour was tested by repetitive edits. Initially, the scene lacked comedic impact but the more rakes that were added, the funnier it became. They thus decided to fully embrace the exaggerated gag by incorporating as many as possible.

“How can it still be 20 friggin’ seconds short?” Jean recalls telling his co-editor Mark McJimsey, “so I said, ‘Add a couple more rakes hitting him.’”

This unorthodox method of humour, known as a “rake gag”, purposefully challenges the audience’s expectations by repeating a joke until it evolves in hilarity. In comedy, the success of this type of joke often depends on its execution and timing, both of which were masterfully employed in “Cape Feare”. This scene also employed a form of antihumour, a style where the humour arises from its absence of typical punchlines, relying instead on the sheer repetition and the audience’s anticipation.

Unbeknownst to many viewers, Kelsey Grammer—who voices Sideshow Bob—had only recorded one take of Bob’s reaction to getting hit with the rake. This single take was then looped multiple times to match the extended sequence. Jean humorously noted, “He was very surprised by how many there were.”

This controversial gag has had varied reactions from fans. Matt Groening acknowledged that the scene was divisive, noting that while some viewers found it hilariously effective, others were less impressed. Al Jean mentioned that fans often praised the gag but with an amusing caveat: “Some people have said it’s the funniest thing they’ve ever seen, usually followed by ‘and I was so high when I saw it.’”

The rake scene’s enduring popularity is evident as it has been referenced and recreated in subsequent Sideshow Bob episodes. This demonstrates the show’s ability to transform a simple concept into an enduring piece of its comedic legacy.

“It’s a lesson about the need for commitment,” Eric Marcoullier explained at TribeCon, paralleling the joke’s evolution with overcoming initial failures in any venture. “After initial high expectations and the buzz of starting, … it is in that trough that we truly understand how to make things work.”

Furthermore, Josh Radnor from How I Met Your Mother recently shed light on this piece of Simpsons history during his appearance on the You Made It Weird podcast. Radnor recounted a conversation with Simpsons producer Bonita Pietila regarding the episode. Pietila revealed that the rakes were added to fill time in an episode that was running short. This simple solution resulted in one of the most memorable jokes in television history.

“I said, ‘I love the rakes so much,’ and she said, ‘I’ll tell you a story about the rakes.’ Pietila said, ‘It was the one episode we were short on time-wise and a writer goes, ‘What about more rakes?’ That’s why that’s in there,’” Radnor reminisced.

The technique behind the rake gag is rooted in the concept of running gags. Running gags are jokes repeated throughout a show, gaining their humour from their recurrence and the recognition they invoke in viewers. This style of humour requires the audience to remember previous instances, creating a sense of camaraderie and insider knowledge. The repetition of the rake gag echoes this approach but accelerates the timeline, challenging viewers to perceive the humour in its overuse.

This idea is paralleled in the concept of freeze-frame series like The Simpsons and Arrested Development, where viewers are encouraged to notice quick, subtle jokes through repeated viewings or paused frames. These visual gags reward attentive viewers and contribute to a richer viewing experience, creating a form of comedic intimacy between the show and its audience.

Indeed, the initial rake gag in “Cape Feare” was a somewhat serendipitous experiment in prolonging an otherwise short episode. However, its success laid the groundwork for one of the series’ most iconic moments, transforming an incidental filler into a staple of the show’s innovative humour.

In the realm of television comedy, the rake gag from The Simpsons serves as a testament to the power of ingenuity and the value of pushing creative boundaries. Through its audacious repetition and unanticipated success, it stands as a symbol of the show’s willingness to experiment and entertain in the most unexpected ways.

To explore more fascinating stories behind iconic television moments, stay tuned to News on

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