5 Great Ideas That Started As Throwaway Jokes

We also look to sci-fi to predict the future, but it turns out we should've been paying closer attention to our comedies.
5 Great Ideas That Started As Throwaway Jokes

Science fiction has been predicting the future since its inception, because ... well, that's pretty much its job. When a writer looks at the world around them and sees naught but drones and pornography, it shouldn't come off as a prophecy when they predict the rise of Sexdrones. But that's sci-fi; you don't expect comedy to predict the future. Although perhaps you should ...

The Critic Joked About A Hunchback Of Notre Dame Musical Two Years Before Disney Made One

Disney's 1996 film The Hunchback Of Notre Dame was a surprise move for the kid-friendly company. Although they cut the juiciest parts from the original novel, like the condemnation of the church and all that necrophilia, the stuff they left was still rather adult for them. There were themes of lust, racism, and persecution, and a song about rape.

Truly, this movie has it all.

How did it ever get made? The only answer we can come up with is that someone at Disney was a big fan of The Critic. For those who don't (or are too young to) remember, that was an animated sitcom from the producers of The Simpsons which ran on ABC in the early '90s. It followed the everyday life of film critic Jay Sherman as he reviewed "joke" productions with ridiculous premises that could never exist in real life. Like an Arnold Schwarzenegger action flick in which he plays a cop going undercover as a Hasidic Jew, a Smokey And The Bandit / Spartacus mashup, and, as seen in Season 1, Episode 7, a stage musical adaptation of The Hunchback Of Notre Dame.

Which also saves you a trip to France to gawk at a big church.

Yes, when The Critic tried to think of an idea that would never work in a sane world, one of their first ideas was the exact premise of Disney's next big hit. Even better, an actual stage version of that musical came along a few years after.

An Over-The-Top Italian Impression Gave Us One Of The Best Characters On The Sopranos

The Sopranos kicked off the modern "Golden Age" of television by exploring the world of the Italian-American mob. The show's nuanced takes on mental illness, familial relations, and drug addiction helped audiences realize that TV could be artistic and entertaining at the same time. Which brings us to the series' colorful movie buff, Silvio Dante.


If New Jersey was a person.

Tony Soprano's second in command, Silvio usually operates behind the scenes -- unlike the actor playing him, who operated as upfront as you can get. Silvio was played by Steven Van Zandt, whom you might recognize as the guitar player from Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band. Musicians act on TV shows all the time (did you know Hodor is a club DJ?), but what's surprising is that Van Zandt never auditioned for the role. Or at least, he never knew he was auditioning. David Chase, the show's creator, happened to be watching the 1997 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony when Van Zandt introduced the Rascals. The Rascals were an Italian-American rock group from New Jersey, so Van Zandt decided to really ham up the presentation when introducing them. Heavy accent. Funny words. Dude talked with his hands like he was rapping in ASL.

When Chase saw it, he reached out to Van Zandt about playing Silvio. "That's perfect for the complex drama I'm creating," he presumably proclaimed. "And this must be a good idea, because I'm only extremely drunk!"

A Silly Twitter Joke Is Set To Become A Netflix Original Movie

Have you heard about the recently announced Netflix heist flick, wherein Rihanna plays a professional conwoman and Oscar winner Lupita Nyong'o plays her genius computer hacker partner? It sounds killer, especially considering that description comes straight from the Twitter post that inspired Netflix to make this movie in the first place.

Yes, it is a movie inspired not by a book, or a graphic novel, but a goddamn tweet.

It all started after Rihanna and Nyong'o were photographed together at a fashion show back in 2014:


This tweet and an earlier, nearly identical Tumblr post went viral, and it wasn't just the internet that loved the idea. At the 2017 Cannes Film Festival, which is basically the Oscars if they did absinthe instead of coke, Netflix acquired the rights to the idea, and got both Rihanna and Nyong'o on board. The movie is now being written by Issa Rae, the creator of Insecure, and will be directed by Ava DuVernay. Stay tuned for Netflix's next big acquisition: that SpongeBob meme with the alternating capital letters.

Mork & Mindy Started As A Joke About How Silly The Alien Craze Was

We never deserved Robin Williams, and we'd never have had him if not for the 1978-1982 ABC sitcom Mork & Mindy. The series which first introduced Williams' high-energy antics to the public told the story of Mork, an alien from the planet Ork, who lived with a human girl, Mindy, to study Earth culture and all of its terribleness.

But Mork was initially a throwaway joke character on Happy Days, the show where Henry Winkler played the dangerous bikesexual criminal Fonzie. Around Season 5, with the U.S. in the midst of an alien mania, Happy Days put together an episode in which the Fonz meets Mork, who wants to learn about human dating. Despite sounding just ... the worst on paper, the episode was a huge hit, which eventually led to Mork getting his own spinoff.

Mork was created by Happy Days director Jerry Paris, who had worked as a director on The Dick Van Dyke Show, the dirtiest-sounding wholesome sitcom in history. For that show, he directed the insanely popular tongue-in-cheek episode "It May Look Like a Walnut," about an alien visiting Earth and trying to steal a comedy writer's thumbs (and sense of humor).

Paul Brownstein Productions

Alien scavenger hunts are weirdly specific like that.

To summarize, if Dick Van Dyke never had a joke episode about an alien, Jerry Paris would never retell it on Happy Days, which would mean no Mork & Mindy, no Robin Williams' career, hell on Earth, cats marrying dogs, blood raining down from the sky, and all ice cream flavors being licorice. Scary thought.

Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter Traces Back To A Throwaway Gag On Party Down

Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, by Seth Grahame-Smith, is a book about the adventures of America's 16th president as he slaughters hordes of the undead. Surprisingly, it was met with mostly positive reviews, and was turned into a 2012 movie that actually made some money at the box office. All in all, not bad for a premise pulled from Mad Libs.

But believe it or not, the short-lived Starz series Party Down came up with this extraordinarily specific idea first. That show was about a group of wannabe writers and actors making a living in LA working as caterers. In the episode "Taylor Stiltskin Sweet Sixteen," some of them discuss a made-up movie titled Edgar Allan Poe: Vampire Hunter. It was meant to be a ridiculous joke, something that sounds way too stupid to ever exist ... exactly like the book that came out in 2010. Coincidence? Maybe. But in Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, Lincoln and Poe meet up and work together, so maybe not.

Also, the episode aired in 2009, a full year before the book came out. Naturally, there are plenty of rumors that the author got his inspiration from that one Party Down joke, but for whatever reason, no one from the show came rushing forward to take credit for the idea. Weird.

Want to create your own movie? Steal more jokes from Party Down!

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