Making programming that is appealing to multiple audiences is a difficult task, but it is one that Warner Brothers has attempted for decades. That is because when it is done correctly, it engages adults with content that would otherwise be considered out of its demographic target. Keeping adults and children entertained with the same program requires excellent writing, or at the very least, the knowledge of your audience’s sense of humor.
In order to bridge this gap between these audiences, show writers must keep their adult references above the level of understanding of the children also tuning in. Sometimes, they are subtle references designed to hit their mark and at other times they can be blatantly sexual or lewd. It is a technique that the animators and writers at Warner Brothers have been creating since the 1930’s.
Tastes may have changed significantly since the early days of when Porky Pig and Daffy Duck dominated the airwaves. However, Warner Brothers cartoons continue to entertain generations of viewers. You may not see Elmer Fudd chasing Bugs Bunny with a shotgun, but they paved the way for Space Jam and The Animaniacs. Without the classics, Pinky and the Brain may never have attempted to take over the world. What you may have missed however, as a child or adult, are some of the jokes and gags that were hilariously inappropriate for children. Here are twelve of those.
12. Animaniacs – Beethoven’s Occupation
One of the aspects of Animaniacs that bridged their audience gaps was their routine use of historical characters interacting with the Watertower three. One of those interactions with Ludwig van Beethoven resulted in a humorous exchange regarding his occupation. There was a certain amount of difficulty understanding Beethoven’s German accent as he pronounced “pianist”. A blown kiss later and the joke went sailing over our heads as children, but caused every adult in the room to chuckle.
11. Tiny Tune Adventures – One Beer
Tiny Tune Adventures was a new method for fans from the 1990’s to interact with alternative versions of their favorite characters. It was a cartoon that attempted to push the boundaries and certainly pushed a little too far at times with multiple cartoons being pulled or banned. One such episode called ‘One Beer’ involved children Plucky, Buster, and Hamton sharing a single beer and getting sloshed. The episode even referenced their edginess by claiming it was alright because “we’re showing the evils of alcohol”. The episode ended with them stealing a car and drunkenly driving it off of a cliff.
10. Animaniacs – Madonna
The Animaniacs clearly targeted some of their pop cultural references to older audiences and got away with hiding these references because children were simply not old enough to remember. One of those references involved Madonna showing up and taking two henchmen away for a game of “Truth or Dare”. The Material Girl then waltzes off wearing one of her trademark cone bras and the children watching were none the wiser.
9. Justice League – Hawk Girl Owns the Flash
Warner Brothers animation produces the Justice League cartoons which features your favorite DC superheroes taking on villains from that universe. Part of the appeal is the banter between superheroes, but sometimes that banter can cut deep. Hawkgirl did just that when the Flash was bragging about being the Fastest Man Alive, but Hawkgirl couldn’t let that just hang in the air. She knocks it out of the park with a simple suggestion about that being the source of his dating problems that went sailing over the young audience.
8. The Animaniacs – Pinky and Dolly Parton
You might remember that Pinky and the Brain had their start on Animaniacs, where their world domination exploits began. In one cartoon, the Brain becomes a country music star, Bubba Bo Bob Brain. During his exploits at the Grand Ole Opry, he meets Dolly Parton on a talk show, who claims to be his biggest fan. The Brain compliments her and remarks about the benefits of puberty on her figure. Later on in the episode, he insults Pinky with the zinger, “It must be inordinately taxing to be such a boob”.
7. Looney Tunes – Yosemite Sam Prison Joke
Looney Tunes may not seem like the appropriate forum to make a prison r*** joke, but that didn’t stop Warner Brothers from doing exactly that in the 1995 episode titled “Carrot Blanca’. The pun on the movie Casablanca sees Bugs Bunny imprison an admittedly guilty Yosemite Sam, and sends him to a cell to become acquainted with his much larger cellmate. As Sam’s eyes grow wide with his sudden realization, the rest of the adult audience cringed at a not-so-subtle joke about sexual assault in prison.
6. Tiny Tunes – Fifi La Fume Jiggling Gigolo
Fifi La Fume is basically a childish, opposite gendered version of the infamous Looney Tune skunk, Pepe Le Pew. Much like her inspirational character, she has a penchant for wooing potential suitors, that is until they recognize their unmistakable skunk scent. When Fifi attempts to seduce her child counterpart Furrball, he gets a whiff and decides to run off. Only for Fifi to respond by calling him a “jiggling gigolo” as she proceeds to make ongoing unwanted advances for the remainder of the episode. In this day and age, Pepe Le Pew may be an offensive character as he refuses to take no for an answer. Most of what he does could be construed as sexual harassment.
5. Animaniacs – Hello Nurse Running Gag
Just about every time you heard Yakko and Wakko shout “Hello Nurse!” they were making thinly veiled sexual innuendo for their adult audience. Most of the time there was an actual nurse on the screen, but what isn’t known to much of their audience was the origin of this phase. “Hello Nurse” was a popular vaudeville catcall and also happens to be the character name of the voluptuous assistant to Dr. Scratchnsniff.
4. Animaniacs – Conjugate
The “Good Night Everybody” gag on Animaniacs was frequently found signaling an adult reference for the older audience, and during Season 1 they really found their stride. Yakko, Wakko, and Dot were in the middle of a language lesson when the topic of verb conjugation came up. Yakko makes a meal of failing to understand the word meaning claiming his innocence with, “I’ve never even kissed a girl.” He completes the landing on the gag when the teacher continues and volunteers an example.
3. Tiny Tunes – Name Game Omits Plucky
Plucky Duck was the victim of constant innuendo with rhyming references to his name and one of the most notable examples came during the Tune TV episode. The episode featured the cast of characters singing versions of popular songs and Elmyra’s contribution in the classic children’s song “The Name Game”. Plucky was conspicuously absent from both the TV show and album release versions, despite standing in the background and “singing” along for the duration.
2. Space Jam – Patrick’s Problem
Skip to around the 30 second point of this vid to see what we’re talking about. Space Jam was a movie that defined the Looney Tunes for fans in the 1990s. It took the well known cast of characters and paired them with a handful of NBA legends like Michael Jordan, Muggsy Bogues and Patrick Ewing. Ewing was at the center of an underhanded reference to erectile dysfunction that occurred during a scene in the psychologist’s office. Fortunately for Ewing, Jordan was able to team up with Bill Murray to defeat the Monsters and return all of Ewing’s abilities to full power.
1. Animaniacs – Fingerprints?
Animaniacs was always a plentiful source of adult references that were littered through the trio’s hijinks. Yakko and Wakko were almost constantly making lewd references and shouting “Hello Nurse”, at every turn. But what was perhaps the most overtly sexual reference came from Dot. When the crew were investigating the scene of a crime, Yakko asks Dot to find fingerprints, only for Dot to return bearing a certain Minnesotan musician famous for wearing purple. Fingerprints? Finger Prince? Good Night Everybody!