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Historical In-Joke
Year 33 — The Malkavians claim that their greatest practical joke happens during this year, when they perform a bit of graverobbing in Jerusalem.

Happens when a show references a historical event, and provides additional information about the event, relating it to the show. This either changes the meaning of the event, or shows what really caused it, as opposed to what everyone thinks really happened.

Donald P. Bellisario, the producer/creator of Quantum Leap, called these "kisses with history".

Given the painful lack of research that most writers perform before writing, it should come as no surprise that many Historical In-Jokes are painfully inaccurate anachronisms. Or they may be taken for being fiction by the audience.

The most common variation is that the characters are responsible for some famous bit of damage: Venus de Milo's arms, the Sphinx's nose, etc. Usually these are shown to occur when the artifacts are new, even if the real damage occurred much later.

Naturally will involve a Historical-Domain Character or two.

When this occurs in an Alternate History setting it's a case of Allohistorical Allusion.

Compare It Will Never Catch On and This Is Going To Be Huge. A character who does a lot of these becomes Been There, Shaped History. If the protagonists blunder into a famous event instead of interfering deliberately, this can also be evidence that In the Past, Everyone Will Be Famous. Naturally, this is a form of In-Joke.

Subtropes include:

Compare with Hitler's Time Travel Exemption Act, which frequently inverts this.


Examples:

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    Anime and Manga 
  • In the InuYasha movie, we find out that the storm that thwarted the 1281 Mongol invasion of Japan was caused by a battle between InuYasha's father and a Chinese demon lord.
  • In Rurouni Kenshin, the murder of Japanese minister of the interior Okubo Toshimichi in 1878 is retconned to have been executed by fictional character Seta Sojiro, rather than a group of sympathizers of Takamori Saigo. They just show up and take credit for it.
  • All of Le Chevalier D Eon is an elaborately staged historical in-joke told in the context of an 18th Century spy adventure. It covers the rise of Catherine the Great and Robespierre, among others....
  • An omake in Zettai Karen Children reveals that it was BABEL's Tsundere director who proposed a day where "girls give presents".
  • In Higurashi no Naku Koro ni, the original visual novel version has soldiers from Hinamizawa being responsible for the Marco Polo Bridge Incident. It was the first outbreak of the Hate Plague Hinamizawa Syndrome.
  • Half the point of Axis Powers Hetalia.
  • In Fullmetal Alchemist, mentions of violent insurrections in Amestris across the centuries include the Wellesley Incident of 1811. No hint of what it is, but depending on how alternate the show's world is, Arthur Wellesley may have been involved.
  • Dance in the Vampire Bund explains the disappearance of 19th century American author Ambrose Bierce by having him appear as a vampire.
  • The Lupin III feature film The Castle of Cagliostro briefly features a scene explaining how the title nation's currency counterfeiting was responsible for the 1929 Stockmarket Crash and World War II.
  • As a historic fantasy, Anatolia Story has a lot. Most of it is explanations of who certain people were, or how certain things happened. For example, the death of Prince Zannanza was caused by his scheming stepmother and that Nefertiti's bust had one eye unfinished because the onyx used was from an earring she gave the artist, and she didn't have the other earring for him to use.
  • In Flint The Time Detective many historic people and events happened because of the Time Shifters who's powers were responsible or had influenced them in history.
  • Rose of Versailles is filled with these, both as obvious as Oscar leading the mass desertion and mutiny of a grenadier company of the French Guards to Pierre-Augustin Hulin (the historical character on which Oscar is loosely based) being one of her soldiers and, after the Guards' mutiny, her de-facto second in command.
  • This is less a joke and more a plot point, but in Jojos Bizarre Adventure Part one, Phantom Blood, Jack The Ripper was a vampire created by Dio Brando to take out Jonathan, who, with the help of his mentor, destroyed him using the Ripple. Fridge Brilliance kicks in where we find out why Jack the Ripper was never caught or even identified: He was destroyed by Jonathan's ripple attack before anyone even began to suspect him, and even if they did, they'd never find the remaining pile of ashes.

    Comics 
  • Done a lot in the French comic Astérix. To name just a few examples:
    • In Asterix Meets Cleopatra, Obelix is revealed to be responsible for the Sphinx's missing nose.
    • In Asterix in Britain, Asterix introduces tea to the British and Obelix suggests introducing rugby to the folks back in Gaul (rugby is quite popular in several European countries, including both France and Great Britain). One of the Britons mentions that they've started digging a tunnel between Gaul and Britain, "but it looks like taking a jolly long time, what!"
      • This pun was even funnier when the comic came out, because the tunnel had been planned for decades at that point but construction always was delayed in the last moment.
    • In Asterix in Spain, when Asterix and Obelix ask if Unhygienix the fishmonger will rent his fishing boat to them, he mentions in passing that he'll take his payment in menhirs (stone monoliths), as he's looking to develop some land he owns in Britain (which a footnote explains is on Salisbury Plain, i.e. the location of Stonehenge). The original French version of this same book used Carnac instead of Stonehenge, a French town in the southern coast of Brittany, home to another big megalithic site.
      • Later in the book, Asterix accidentally invents bullfighting when he gets captured by the Romans and, instead of being thrown to the lions, is forced to fight a wild aurochs (a sort of now-extinct bull). Which might not sound very terrible, unless you know aurochs were twice the size of modern bovines. Kind of like having to fight a tank made of meat.
    • A Running Gag in Asterix And The Chieftain's Shield is whenever someone mentions Alesia (the last stand of the Gauls) to a Gaul, said Gaul will respond (usually enraged) that "I don't know where Alesia is! No one knows where Alesia is!" This is a reference to archeologists' then current doubts about the city's location.
      • Could also be a reference to the way people don't like to remember defeats and other shameful episodes, often to the point of denial (in fact after yet another enraged rant, a footnote claims said denial is the cause of the aforementioned doubts about Alesia's location). It is probably not irrelevant that the story is set in the part of France that includes the little spa town of Vichy.
      • Also in that album, they visit the town that is now Clermont-Ferrand to see a former Roman Legionary who owns a wagon-wheel manufacturing firm (Clermont-Ferrand is home to the Michelin tyre company). In the city they see a big statue of Caesar standing at the exact spot where today stands a big statue of Vercingetorix, so French readers know who turned out to be the moral victor in the end!
    • In Asterix in Corsica, the Corsican leader tells Caesar that Corsicans will never accept being part of an Empire unless it was ruled by one of their own.
    • In The Big Fight, Asterix and Obelix visit the druid Psychoanalytix, who specialises in diseases of the mind. The nurse is telling them about the patients as they go along, with the last one standing in the classic Napoleon pose.. The nurse says "No one knows who this man thinks he is."
    • Caesar is oblivious to Brutus' treacherous nature through the series. One memorable scene has a furious Brutus draw his sword and Caesar telling him to sheath it before he hurts someone. In another scene, Caesar, enjoying the adulation of the crowds, orders Brutus to join in the applause with the words: "Et tu, Brute."
    • In the animated film Asterix Versus Caesar, Obelix is distracted by Panacea and accidentally bumps into a pillar at the Rome Colosseum, causing a segment of it to collapse.
    • Caesar's characterisation is based on the books about himself he wrote when he was alive, especially his Commentaries on the Gallic War. For instance, he is always a Third-Person Person when bragging about his accomplishments, as he wrote the books in the third person. Some of his more Bunny-Ears Lawyer traits in the comics are strongly implied by his own text.
  • Don Rosa's The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck features quite a few historical in-jokes. Apparently, during his rise to fame and fortune, Scrooge has met such personalities as Wyatt Earp, Theodore Roosevelt, and P.T. Barnum. And, as Rosa explains in the collected edition, all of the scenarios are somewhat plausible, as the people in question were, more or less, where Rosa has them. (All except Geronimo, that is. Rosa just Hand Waved that it would be just like Geronimo to sneak out of a reservation for awhile without anyone noticing.) He prides himself on his research.
  • The Sandman has several, though "jokes" may not be the correct description. For a prominent example, William Shakespeare's talent comes as a results of a proto-Deal with the Devil with Morpheus (he gets his talent, but Morpheus essentially becomes his patron in return).
    • There's also a very meta-example. Wesley Dodds (the original Sandman in comics) was inspired by Morpheus through his dreams.
    • The Arabian Nights as Morpheus' deal with Harun al-Rashid, anyone?
  • Hellblazer does this with John Constantine's ancestors, usually Johanna Constantine. One ancestor disrupted the dream that became "Kublai Khan" because Angels are describing how awesome Heaven is, which isn't kosher.
  • This trope is also featured in the Predator comics, after it was already implied in the movies that these Sufficiently Advanced Aliens had been visiting Earth for a veeeery long time.
  • The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen has quite a few of these, although most connect events in several other works of fiction — several of those are analogues for real-world events, like WW2 and Jack the Ripper murders. One of the funniest examples might be Orlando having posed for Leonardo Da Vinci — while changing her sex.
  • Transformers: Hearts of Steel has Tobias Muldoon, a young engineer, demonstrate his new invention, a 'sub-marine', to an audience that includes Jules Verne. In-story, this happens a couple of years before Verne wrote 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea.
  • The Ultimates had a whole storyline about a race of aliens called the Chitauri who, as Nick Fury revealed, were the real Nazis trying to take over the world to subvert the people of Earth to their will if not for the actions of Captain America. They end up coming back to try again in the present day by infiltrating SHIELD, led by the very same Herr Kleiser who tormented the Allies in the past, which eventually leads to the resurrected Cap yelling the now famous quote, "Surrender?! You think this "A" on my head stands for FRANCE?"
  • Marvel has revealed, among other things, that the San Francisco earthquake was caused by a time traveling X-Club; Hitler's rise to power was backed by a cabal of sorcerers in an attempt to summon Dormammu, who had previously caused the Great Fire of London in battle with the Ancient One; the Hindenburg crashed in an attempt to prevent the unleashing of demonic entities onto Earth; Hitler was killed by the Human Torch when he tried to blow up Berlin; and Deep Throat was really the alien who crashed at Roswell.
    • This can cause problems as some events are explained in obscure stories leading to multiple explanations - the Salem Witch trials, for example, have been explained to have been due to the influence of Dracula, the influence of an ancient sorcerer who wanted to feed on the victims, a manipulative time traveler and many genuine witches (both good and evil).
  • A Dark Horse comic involved the Hindenburg, Doc Savage, and Prof. Reinstein (the inventor) of Captain America's super-soldier formula.
  • The Heroes graphic novels had Mindy Sprague accidentally causing the 1978 blizzard over the Northeastern United States in an attempt to avert a meltdown at Three Mile Island.
    • Also, apparently Benjamin Franklin survived his kite experiment because he had electrical superpowers.
    • And the Egyptians apparently used superpowers to build the Pyramids.
  • Alan Moore's first D.R. & Quinch comic strip for 2000 AD is almost entirely based on this trope.
  • Want to know how Amelia Earhart disappeared? According to Empowered, Imperial Pimpotron Alpha abducted her for a cosmic emperor's harem.
  • Dilbert has the character of The Big Topper, a man who butts in on conversations and pretends like he did bigger and better things. Usually, his boastings include him introducing things to famous people. Dilbert calls him out on it once. The response?
    Gandhi said that too, and I said "I'm not eating until you take that back!"
  • In one Batman Elseworlds title set in the Old West, Batman is an agent of Abraham Lincoln who repeatedly asks Lincoln if he can come back to Washington, as he has reservations regarding the President's security precautions...
  • Angel, the Buffy ally. A black and white tie-in comic had the WW1-era Angel deciding that vampire reports from Europe needed looking into. He stabbed a lot of vampires, saving some Germans from being eaten/turned. One of them, of course, had his entire worldview altered. Corporal Hitler went back to the front lines a changed man. Oops.
  • One Wallace & Gromit comic had the duo traveling through time to find Wallace's missing slipper. At one point, Wallace attempts to prevent primitive roller-skates from causing too much havoc by providing a far more angular design to his caveman counterpart, Ug-Wallace, who proceeds to get the design completely wrong and invent Stonehenge.
  • Lucky Luke has been involved in pretty much every major event in the history of the West.
  • Archie Comics' run of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles revealed that Hitler killed himself because of the time-travelling Turtles spooking the hell out of him.

    Fanfiction 
  • An unusual example in The Writing On The Wall: the alleged Ancient Tomb that Daring Do is exploring is actually a proposal for a real building which hasn't been constructed yet. The Reveal of the true nature of the building changes the story from an Adventurer Archaeologist adventure to a horror story. Includes a modified and retranslated version of the warning proposed to grace the inside of the building:
    This is not a place of honor. No great deed is commemorated here. Nothing of value is here.
  • In Rhythmic Pretty Cure, Tsumugi's mother Kazuko (birth name Cassandra Logan) is stated to have competed as a rhythmic gymnast at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.
  • In Northumbrian's Harry Potter fanfic Research and Development, which is set in 2000, George and Ron invent a magical cell phone, inspired by Hermione's new Muggle cell phone. Their first prototype turns out to be quite similar to Hermione's phone, but Ginny thinks it's impractical, so Ron and George try to improve it. Their fifth prototype looks like a pocket mirror and is "about two-and-a-half inches wide, four-and-a-half long and no more than one-third of an inch thick". The mirror is "set into this solid block of wood". The corners are "smoothly rounded". You operate the phone by touching the mirror. Hermione complains that it doesn't look like cell phone because it lacks buttons and it is "too thin, too long and too wide". Ginny says that "perhaps in ten years Muggle phones will look like this".

    Films 
  • Back to the Future and Back to the Future III show the "real" origin of rock-and-roll music, skateboarding, and Frisbee discs.
  • Watchmen involves the introduction of masked avengers into a "normal" earth, and quite a lot of these result — amongst them, JFK's assassination is shown to be performed by The Comedian (unlike in the original comic, where it was only implied). Nite Owl punches out a mugger in front of a young Bruce Wayne and his parents. Silhouette and her lesbian lover enact the VJ Day Parade embrace photo. Nite Owl II meets Andy Warhol who has made a painting of him. Ozymandias is greeted by Mick Jagger and David Bowie outside Studio54. More obscurely, the movie also shows Neil Armstrong saying, "Good luck, Mr. Gorsky!".
  • Dick explains the identity of the mysterious "Deep Throat" (the movie was made years before it was revealed in Real Life to be someone else), and the 18-minute gap in Richard Nixon's private tapes.
  • The Godfather Part III RetCons the death of Pope John Paul I and the murder of the Vatican's chief banker into part of a Mafia vs. Vatican conspiracy. Assuming they weren't in the first place.
  • Recurring joke in Forrest Gump (as Forrest inadvertently invents jogging and the smiley face, teaches Elvis to dance, etc.) The DVD includes a deleted scene of Forrest playing fetch with those nice police doggies playing with Mr. King and his sign-carrying friends.
  • In The Hudsucker Proxy, Tim Robbins supposedly invents the Hula Hoop and Frisbee. Presumably, the elevator boy eventually made good with his bendy-straw idea.
  • Men In Black: The franchise runs on them.
    • The depletion of the ozone layer was caused by aliens siphoning it off to sell on the galactic black market. The well-propagated vicious rumors that fluorocarbons dissolve the ozone layer are just Plausible Deniability.
    • The great New York City blackout of 1977 was the result of a practical joke by an alien ambassador known as "the Great Attractor" when he released a Hyper-Destructive Bouncing Ball. He thought it was funny as hell.
    • MIB also shows that many of the famous celebrities and historical figures are/were aliens. Late in the movie, Agent K outright states that Elvis Presley's mysterious death was really him just returning to his own world. There's also a screen showing numerous celebrities that are really aliens, like Sylvester Stallone, Danny De Vito, Michael Jackson, Oprah and Dennis Rodman (although that wasn't much of a disguise). Two are Self-Deprecation: producer Steven Spielberg and director Barry Sonnenfeld. In 3 Andy Warhol is an undercover MIB agent who's so low on ideas on his art that he's painting soup cans and bananas as part of his cover.
  • Shakespeare in Love is another movie that lives and breathes this trope. It's subverted when Christopher Marlowe is killed in suspicious circumstances as he was real life, and the implication is that he was murdered because Shakespeare used his name as a pseudonym to Wessex. Then Shakespeare learns in relief that Marlowe's death was a coincidence, and had nothing to do with the plot.
  • Shanghai Noon and Shanghai Knights both had this. The end of the first movie revealed that Roy O'Bannon's real name was Wyatt Earp (a famous Western lawman from the 19th century). The second film was loaded with the things, from Roy's defense of losing Chon's money investing in dead-end airship research ("Chon, you're lucky I didn't invest in that ridiculous 'auto-mobile' idea.") to the appearance of a (very) young Charlie Chaplin. The Scotland Yard detective accompanying O'Bannon and Chon turns out to be Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. We also learn why Jack the Ripper stopped killing.
  • From Walk the Line: When Johnny Cash wakes up on the tour bus, he walks past a passed out Luther Perkins (his guitarist) with a lit cigarette in his mouth and he casually put it out. Luther Perkins died months after the "At Folsom Prison" recording/performance when he fell asleep in his Tennessee home with a lit cigarette in his mouth, and died from injuries sustained in the resulting fire.
  • Young Einstein starring Yahoo Serious is basically a 91-minute long collection of historical in-jokes, although the end result is not quite an elaborated version of history as we know it. Albert Einstein is from Tasmania, invents foamy beer by splitting the beer atom and ends up romantically with Marie Curie... oh, and he also comes up with Rock & Roll.
  • In Oscar, mob boss Angelo Provolone asks his accountant Little Anthony why he doesn't remember something, to which Anthony replies, "You were in Chicago. It was St. Valentines Day?"
  • A scene from Walk Hard implies that Dewey invented Punk music.
  • X-Men:
    • In X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Wolverine and Sabretooth fight Weapon XI atop the cooling tower at Three Mile Island, destroying it in the process.
    • In X-Men: First Class, we see that the Cuban Missile Crisis was apparently set up by the Hellfire Club, who bullied the Russians and Americans into that position.
    • X-Men: Days of Future Past:
      • Nixon is shown deactivating a tape recorder prior to his discussion with Trask, both referencing the recording system that would eventually lead to his downfall and providing an explanation for those recordings missing 18 minutes.
      • Magneto is held prisoner deep inside the Pentagon due to his involvement in JFK's assassination ("who else could cause a bullet to curve in mid-air?") When he's busted out he claims that he was actually trying to save JFK since the latter was also a mutant.
  • Some Like It Hot starts with the protagonists witnessing the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, and being forced to run/hide from the mobsters.
  • Rose, in Titanic, is fascinated by the paintings of Picasso and purchases several while in Europe, despite her fiance Cal's assertion that they'll never be worth anything.
  • In The Rocketeer, the Hollywoodland sign was shortened to Hollywood after the primary antagonist Neville Sinclair crashes into the 'LAND' portion of the famous sign.
  • The trailer for Transformers: Dark of the Moon implies that the real purpose of the Apollo 11 moon landings was to investigate Decepticon wreckage on the Moon.
    • Also the Chernobyl disaster was a result of the Soviets attempt of reverse engineering Cybertronian tech.
  • The Mask: In a deleted scene, Leif Erikson sailed to America not out of any desire to find new lands, but just to get rid of the mask. When pressed by his colleagues to name the new world, he said, "Leave that to the Italians. This land is now cursed."
  • No direct changes, but in Time Bandits, the Mona Lisa is unintentionally transferred from Napoleon to Robin Hood (and possibly to before it was painted).
  • There are a few in A Knight's Tale, mostly centered around the fact that Geoffry Chaucer is a member of the group. At one point, Chaucer falls into the debt of and is humiliated by two men, who are identified as a pardoner and a summoner. He tells them "I will eviscerate you in fiction. Every pimple, every character flaw. I was naked for a day; you will be naked for eternity." The Pardoner and the Summoner are the most disgusting characters in The Canterbury Tales. At the end of the movie, Chaucer comments that he wants to write everything down, implying that the plot served as inspiration for The Canterbury Tales. Finally, Word of God is that the movie was deliberately set up to take place during a period of time when Chaucer really did go missing in real life, suggesting that the events in the film were adventures he might have had during that time.
  • In Elf, an actual Macy's store was digitally altered to become a Gimbels. In Real Life, Macy's and Gimbels were longtime rivals, with Macy's ultimately buying them out in 1986.
  • Zoolander is informed by a former hand model how national affairs have been controlled for ages by the fashion industry, showing the Lincoln and Kennedy assassinations being carried out by male-model hit men.
  • Alien vs. Predator the Predators are the ones who taught the earliest human civilizations to build pyramids and temples, and in turn the humans would offer human sacrifices to give birth to new xenomorphs for the Predators to hunt. When the hunt goes wrong the Predators blow themselves up and everything in a hundred mile radius to prevent the xenomorphs from spreading, which explains how older civilizations disappeared.
  • Michael Jordan's return to basketball? Because he helped rescue the Looney Tunes.
  • Godzilla (2014): The various nuclear tests conducted in the Pacific Proving Grounds during The Fifties. It's revealed that rather than testing atomic weaponry for potential use against other nations, the real objective was to try and kill Godzilla with increasingly more powerful bombs.

    Literature 
  • This is half the attraction of Flashman, which views the Victorian Age from its seedy underbelly.
  • Many in Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. Just a few:
    • After meeting (and disliking) the eponymous Jonathan Strange for the first time, Lord Byron went and wrote Manfred to create a wizard he liked better.
    • After Strange and Byron become friends and Strange goes a bit off the dramatically inclined deep end, Byron starts taking notes.
    • Strange's use of black magic during the Napoleonic Wars is suggested to have inspired the artist Goya's production of hellish paintings of war and witchcraft.
  • Older Than Radio: Victor Hugo loved these. Les Misérables and Ninety-Three have so many that it is necessary to take several encyclopedias out of the library and maybe a history and mythology degree in order to know what he is talking about sometimes.
  • Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams ties together the origins of life on earth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge's epic poem Kubla Khan, the extinction of the dodo and dozens of other epochal or trivial events into an excellent approximation of a coherent plot. It also explains how a couch can get impossibly stuck in a stairwell!
  • The Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan:
    • The American Civil War (1861-1865) was at least partially a war between Roman half-bloods and Greek half-bloods. (You should see Hazel's reaction when she finds out the Romans were in the Confederate side).
    • The last child of Hephaestus that could create fire before Leo was Thomas Faynor, who may or may not have started the Great Fire of London in 1666.
    • Frank's ancestor was blamed for the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, though it turns out he didn't do it.
    • Jack London was a son of Mercury whose Wolf House burned down because it was built on sacred ground.
    • Amazon.com Inc. was apparently founded or taken over by actual Amazon warriors and used to ship goods to Amazons worldwide.
    • Johnny Weissmuller, US National Championship and Olympian (the sport version) swimmer, was apparently a merman trained by the ichthyocentaurs).
  • In Isaac Asimov's short story "The Message" (1955), a time traveler goes back to observe World War II, ancient history to him. Desperate to leave some kind of mark that signified his presence and yet wouldn't change the outcome of any major events, he carves a message on a wooden fence somewhere on a North African beach. The traveler is named Dr. George Kilroy, and the message he leaves is the first-ever KILROY WAS HERE graffito.
  • In Avram Davidson's Full Chicken Richness, a time travelling cook kills off the dodo to use in his soup. (In Real Life, according to the sailors who discovered them, dodos tasted terrible.)
  • Lampshaded in Alexandre Dumas's The Three Musketeers (1844). John Felton is so seduced by a captive Milady De Winter that not only does he set her free but also goes as far as assassinate her captor, George Villiers, the First Duke of Buckingham. Felton did, indeed, assassinate the Duke, but more likely for political reasons, probably due to discontent regarding the state of the English navy.
  • Umberto Eco's Baudolino, being a historical novel about an influential liar, is full of these. Among other things, it gives an alternate explanation for the death of Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, and reveals the "true" origin of the works of the Archpoet and the letter of Prester John, as well as the correspondence attributed to Abelard and Heloise.
    • As well as the inspiration for Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parzival and Robert de Boron's Merlin and Joseph d'Arimathe, the founding of Alessandria and its salvation from Barbarossa's wrath and the assassination of Emperor Alexios II Komnenos of Byzantium.
  • This is the entire premise of Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series, extended to all fictional events from written literature as well.
    • In The Eyre Affair, for example, it is established early on that Nextiverse!Jane Eyre ends differently from how it does in real life. Toward the end of the book, however, Thursday goes into the novel in order to put things back to normal... but, in her effort to catch Jane Eyre's attention without becoming mentioned in the first-person narrative, she ends up becoming the mysterious disembodied voice that is an integral part of real world Jane Eyre.
  • In Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere, Croup and Vandemar were responsible for burning Troy and spreading the Black Death. It is also hinted that they were the men who crucified Jesus.
  • Animorphs:
    • Erek is more than five thousand years old, was Franklin D. Roosevelt's butler, and apparently coined the phrase "New Deal" during a card game. Going back even further, he personally helped build the pyramids (No, he did not design them, he helped carry bricks) and then cut and styled Cleopatra's hair several centuries later.
    • Broccoli tastes bad to humans because it was brought to Earth by alien colonizers during the time of the dinosaurs. These aliens were then wiped out by the impact that killed off the dinosaurs, which was brought down by refugees of another race that had lost a war to the first mentioned race. A handful of survivors from one of those alien races apparently evolved into ants.
    • Elfangor (an alien in human form) was once friends with two guys named Bill and Steve, to whom he explained computers. They were unable to grasp the more complex concepts, so he had to simplify matters and explain it to Bill with the term "Windows."
    • Also, Mr. King was the one who suggested heat to Pasteur as a means to kill bacteria. Also, remember that painting of Washington crossing the Delaware? The kids go back in time and find out the river and the night were freezing. So not only did the kids see first-hand that Washington never posed like that, they directly state that if he posed like that in the middle of the night on the front of a boat crossing an ice-cold river, his soldiers would have thought he was a loon.
  • In Behold the Man by Michael Moorcock, a man goes back in time in an attempt to meet Jesus. However, he finds that Jesus' life is a total myth. He then takes it upon himself to become Jesus, preaching the teachings he learned in the future, until he is finally crucified by the Romans.
  • Grim Tuesday, the second book of Garth Nix's Keys to the Kingdom series, reveals that The Great Depression was caused by Grim Tuesday's greedy meddling. This also counts as Parental Bonus as it's not outright stated and most of the 9-12 year old kids that the books are marketed towards probably wouldn't know enough to make the connection.
  • The Areas of My Expertise, by John Hodgman, is filled to the brim with them. Its sequel, More Information Than You Require, has one on every page.
  • The novel series about Erast Fandorin revels in Historical In Jokes. What caused the rapid scientific advancement of late 19th century? Why did the Siege of Pleven take place? Who murdered General Skobelev? Who was Jack the Ripper really? Who was behind the Khodynka Tragedy?..
  • The two-part Star Trek novel The Eugenics Wars: The Rise and Fall of Khan Noonien Singh is an attempt to reconcile real world history with the fact that, in the Star Trek time line, the Eugenics Wars occurred in the 1990s.
  • Jonathan Stroud's The Bartimaeus Trilogy is filled with this, mostly in footnotes, where the titular demon often refers to his previous masters, most of them being real famous (along with a few more obscure) historical figures.
  • In the sixth book of The Dark Tower, the protagonists are trying to get rid of Black Thirteen, a cosmic artifact that continually brings bad luck and catastrophe to whomever holds it. As part of a plot necessity, they travel to New York City in 1999, and get a brilliant idea to stash the trouble-making object in a storage locker under the World Trade Center towers. As they leave the scene, Jake looks up at the towers, and wonders idly whether the object might be destroyed if say, the towers just happened to crumble on top of it somehow. It's further intimated that due to its evil nature, the presence of Black Thirteen may have caused the WTC attacks.
  • The sequel of I, Claudius, Claudius the God, features the Emperor Claudius' lifelong friend, King Herod Agrippa of Judea, the grandson of Herod the Great. Herod Agrippa sends Claudius a letter warning him about a cult that believed that the now-deceased Joshua ben Joseph was the Messiah and asking for permission to do something about their current leader, Simon-called-Peter. Claudius barely cares. Interestingly, the book has Herod Agrippa meeting the same fate that both Josephus and the New Testament's Book of Acts gives him, being eaten alive from the inside by worms after proclaiming himself a god, which feels a bit out of place in the realism the rest of the novel promotes.
  • Dracula: The Un-DeadJack the Ripper is actually Countess Elizabeth Bathory.
  • YA novel Kruistocht In Spijkerbroek (Crusade In Jeans) by Thea Beckman has a number of these. Most notably, the time-travelling hero meets a medieval guy named Leonardo da Pisa, who becomes his best friend during the story. He teaches Leonardo modern math. The guy turns out to be Fibonacci.
  • In the first Percy Jackson and the Olympians novel - The Lightning Thief - when Grover is explaining to Percy about demi-gods, he mentions some famous demigods who successfully ventured to the Underworld and returned.
    Grover:' ...Orpheus, Hercules, Houdini...
    • There are more Historical In Jokes like this in the series, since one of the plot points is that the Big Three (Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades) are not supposed to have any more half-mortal children, because the powers of their children keep leading to history being screwed up. World War II is mentioned as a battle between the children of Zeus and Poseidon, against the children of Hades.
    • And two volcano eruptions in The Battle of the Labyrinth and The Last Olympian make one thing clear: Mount St. Helens' infamous May 1980 eruption that killed 57 people was in fact the result of Typhon awakening.
  • The Squire's Tales has Geoffrey of Monmouth as a scholar at King Arthur's court.
  • Brazilian novel O Vampiro que Descobriu O Brasil has a Portuguese vampire coming after the body snatching one that bit him, leading both to Brazil. Among the many facts caused by them, the protagonist invents sunglasses, and the decapitation of a vampire mare leads to the Headless Mule myth.
  • Several times in The Dresden Files. Most notably, the White Court of vampires had Dracula written as an all-purpose how-to guide for killing the rival Black Court, a godlike necromancer named Kemmler was responsible for World War I, and Ebenezar McCoy caused Krakatoa and The Tunguska Event. There's plenty of others, though— for instance, Bob's offhand mention of the last time a loup-garou got loose.
  • In Mercedes Lackey's Elemental Masters series, two mages discuss some magical Noodle Incident which will probably make Loch Ness infamous. On the darker side, in another novel an evil Earth Master engineers and sends out the flu strain of 1918 in order to prolong the War. Then there was backlash after that earthquake when the Fire Master was killed in California... Throw a stone, you'll catch one such reference in the books.
  • J. R. R. Tolkien
    • Tolkien couldn't resist slipping at least one of these into The Lord of the Rings, which claims that the nursery rhyme "The Cat and the Fiddle" is derived from an old hobbits' pub song written by Bilbo.
    • Earlier, in The Hobbit, the narrator claims that Bilbo's great grand-uncle, Bandobras "Bullroarer" Took, knocked the head off of the goblin leader Golfimbul with a club in the Battle of Greenfields; the head sailed one hundred yards through the air before landing in a rabbit hole, winning the battle and inventing the game of golf at the same time.
    • Then there is Numenor, an island civilization far in advance of any other part of Middle-Earth, whose people fall out of divine grace, worship evil, and provoke the gods so much that their island kingdom is eventually thrown down and sunk beneath the waves. In very small letters, once, in a footnote, Tolkien slips in the detail that it was also known as Atalante.
  • In Dinotopia, escapees from the island formed the Egyptian civilization, and it's suggested that Poseidos was the source of both the Atlantis myth and the sea-god's name.
  • The finale of Bride of the Rat God is the cause of the 1924 Lick Pier fire.
  • The entire 1632 series is full of these.
    • One of the more brutally ironic ones comes in 1635: The Dreeson Incident. Don Francisco Nasi (a Jew) names the ruthless purge of all organized anti-Semitic and witch-hunting activity in the USE "Operation Kristallnacht".
    • The Kremlin Games deals with an up-timer hired by the Russian royal family to help modernize the nation. Among other things he insists on designating the newly designed rifles the AK series. By the end of the book the most high tech model available is a modified version of the fourth production series designated the AK 4.7
  • Hornblower and the Hotspur has the Hotspur drop anchor in the neutral Spanish port of Cadiz, near an American frigate, the USS Constitution. The narration mentions in passing that the ship's captain, Commodore Preble, is the latest in a long series of American officers tasked with fighting a war against Tripoli. Historically, Preble is famous for successfully drawing the First Barbary War to a conclusion after besieging and shelling the city.
    • Flying Colours also has Hornblower see another American ship and speculate that the Americans are going to be drawn into the Napoleonic conflict sooner or later. He's just not sure if they'll fight France or have another go at England.
  • Several at the end of the Tide Lords series. For example Cayal was Jesus, Crystal skulls were made to hide the key, and the asteroid belt is the leftover remains of Amyrantha.

    Live Action TV 
  • Sharpe comments on the effectiveness of his recently used and very lethal Napoleonic rocket technology:
    Sharpe: Well, Mr Giliand, I wouldn't be surprised if one day we reach the moon with one of your rockets.
  • Spike inspired Billy Idol.
    • He also lampshades the trope in his first line, mocking a low-ranking vampire claiming to have been at the crucifixion of Jesus.
    Spike: If every vampire who said he was at the Crucifixion was actually there it would've been like Woodstock. I was actually at Woodstock... that was a weird gig. I fed off a flower person and I spent six hours watching my hand move.
  • Angel had at least one of its own, with Angel saying he crashed Elvis and Priscilla's wedding.
  • Quantum Leap had at least one every episode, including (among other things) Sam teaching a five-year-old Michael Jackson to moonwalk.
    • Other notable figures Sam meets (or Leaps into!) include: Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, Stephen King, and Lee Harvey Oswald.
    • Sam also suggests that a young would-be boxer who worked in a meatpacking factory train by sparring with the frozen beef carcasses hanging around his workplace, mentioning that it was "something I saw in a movie." The grateful young boxer thanks Sam and closes his locker, upon which is his name: "S. Stallone".
  • In the episode "Trials and Tribble-ations", Star Trek: Deep Space Nine actually did this to a bit of Star Trek's own history — in something much more than a simple Continuity Nod, the episode revealed that there was much more going on in the background of the original series episode "The Trouble with Tribbles" than was initially seen by viewers in the 1960s.
    • Also, the scene of Tribbles continuing to fall down on Kirk's head, one every ten seconds or so, long after the storage compartment had been opened and most of the tribbles had fallen out proves to be the DS9 team's tossing Tribbles aside once scanned.
  • Monty Python's Flying Circus got some nice examples. Like in e.g. 'The Funniest Joke In The World': "It was a fantastic success, over 60.000 times as powerful as Britain's great pre-war joke (cue PM Neville Chamberlain waving around a certain piece of paper in public note )!".
  • Same with the Star Trek: Voyager episode "Flashback", where Tuvok flashes back to his service aboard the Excelsior... during the time of Star Trek VI. He's even the one who gave Sulu the tea that we see knocked over at the beginning of the movie. Interestingly, since the original Trek actors had aged a good bit, many scenes that happened exactly as seen in Star Trek VI had to be redone (or else, Sulu ages ten years once original footage kicks in). Watch 'em back to back and you'll notice the tiniest differences, like the way Valtane's hand moves when he puts it on the railing, or Sulu saying "Shields! Shields!" a bit more loudly, or a few camera angles being different. Also, the Excelsior's warp engines only glow in original (i.e., "shot for the show") footage, as a new model's being used — although the nacelles of the movie model were wired to glow, they didn't.
    • An incident occurred during the filming of this episode that is either the greatest historical in-joke, or the luckiest accident, of Star Trek history. During the flashback sequences, we see Dimitri Valtane die, despite his chronologically later appearance at the end of Star Trek VI. The writers jokingly suggested he had a twin brother serving on the same ship, but the general fanon response was that he had been successfully resuscitated off screen. The former is now accepted as correct, however, because in the opening scenes of Star Trek VI, because of a poor editing job, Valtane is seen to be manning two separate consoles on opposite sides of the bridge. Only one of him appears at the end, so the twin theory is actually the best solution.
    • In the two-parter "Future's End" the Digital Revolution only happens because of a crashed timeship.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine did this with the episode "Little Green Men", where the Roswell aliens turn out to be Ferengi.
  • Star Trek: Enterprise pulled a cute one in the episode "Carbon Creek". Star Trek canon states that humanity met the Vulcans in the late 21st century after Cochrane's warp flight. Apparently, a little-known fact is that a Vulcan survey ship crashed in Pennsylvania in the '50s. A Vulcan woman raises money for a boy to go to college by introducing the bank owner to a strangely adhesive fabric, better known as Velcro, invented in the real world by "George" de Mestral. (The name of one of the Vulcans? Mestral.)
  • The two-part episode Time's Arrow in Star Trek: The Next Generation has Data accidentaly sent back to 1893 San Francisco where he meets the author Mark Twain and a young bellhop named Jack London, who has an inexplicable desire to visit Alaska.
  • Red Dwarf did a double in-joke by having an alternate dimension President John F. Kennedy assassinate himself — from behind the grassy knoll.
    • Timeslides has a few for World War 2. Using the titular 'timeslides', Lister travels back to a Hitler-led rally and attempts to persuade the crowd not to believe him because he's 'a complete nutter - and he's only got one testicle.' Lister returns from the past with a suitcase from Claus von Stauffenberg, which triggers a predictable panic if you know who he was.
  • The X-Files, "Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man", shows the CSM writing a fictionalized account of a mysterious government operative (himself) assassinating JFK and MLK. However, it is strongly implied that much of the story is made up to make him seem more important. He also gives a standing order for the Bills to never win a Super Bowl, which explains a lot.note  He also apparently drugged the Russian goalie during the 1980 "Miracle on Ice" when the US men's hockey team beat the far superior Russian squad.
  • Both Star Trek: The Original Series and Babylon 5 revealed the secret truth behind Jack the Ripper.
  • Hilda's and Zelda's exploits in Sabrina the Teenage Witch are liberally sprinkled with historical in-jokes. "And that was how Aunt Hilda started something called the American Revolution."
    "Oh, so that's why [the Parthenon is] in ruins!"
    "Yes! Luckily, History blamed the Turks."
  • The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.. has historical in-jokes in virtually every episode, as Brisco encounters some gizmo which is sure to be the next "coming thing".
  • Naturally, Doctor Who, being a show centered around time travel, had plenty of these. The Doctor himself, for instance, wrote Hamlet down for William Shakespeare after the latter had sprained his wrist writing sonnets, and the Great Fire of London was started by a dying alien.
    • In the new series episode "The Shakespeare Code", the Tenth Doctor accidentally suggested a good many of his most famous lines to the Bard, including "to be or not to be". The Doctor even gives him Dylan Thomas's "Rage, rage against the dying of the light", but tells Shakespeare that "it's been used." Also, Shakespeare wrote the sonnet beginning with "Shall I compare thee...?" to the Doctor's companion, who also happened to be the Dark Lady mentioned in some of his other poems. (Although that particular sonnet is not believed to be about the Dark Lady.)
    • In the episode "Father's Day", the whole of time itself begins screwing up due to interference with someone's death, causing such stuff as a phone ringing which when picked up treats the listener to "Watson, come quickly, I need you...", the first words ever spoken through a phone, by Alexander Graham Bell.
    • Similar to the way the Doctor name drops the famous historical figures he's met, Jack Harkness has a tendency to drop the names of famous historical figures he's dated in Torchwood.
      • The Doctor does the same at least once, in "The End of Time", when Ten informs Ood Sigma (who seems completely unimpressed, and probably has no idea what he's talking about anyway) that he married Queen Elizabeth I and that one of her nicknames is no longer accurate. We get to see the wedding later on, in "The Day of the Doctor".
    • And in the 2008 series it is also revealed that the Doctor and his companion were responsible for the eruption of Vesuvius. Earlier in the same episode, we get both a historical in-joke and a Continuity Nod, as the Tenth Doctor very quickly tells Donna that "Before you ask, that fire had nothing to do with me. Well, a little bit..." referring to the Great Fire of Rome in AD 64, which in a very early episode was shown to have been inadvertently inspired by the First Doctor accidentally setting a map on fire with the light through his spectacles.
    • Donna, being unaware of the exact point of Agatha Christie's career at the point where she meets her, tries to sell the author several of her own ideas, like Miss Marple, or Murder on the Orient Express.
      • That same episode also deals with Agatha Cristie's infamous disappearance. According to Doctor Who, a giant alien wasp started killing people in the same way as in her books, due to being linked to her. So when the alien died, she in turn fell into a deep sleep and then turned up in the hotel that was was historically tied to her disappearance.
    • In series five, The Doctor and Amy go to visit Van Gogh; Amy greets the artist with lots and lots of sunflowers. Very subtle. (The Doctor also reveals in the same episode that apparently Michelangelo had a fear of heights.)
    • The Eleventh Doctor gave Richard Nixon the idea of taping everything in his office...so he'd know if he had his mind wiped by aliens.
      • The same episode also explains why there is a two second gap between the words "That's one small step for Man" and "One Giant Leap for Mankind"
    • The Fourth Doctor explains how he helped Newton discover gravity:
    Romana: Newton? Who was Newton?
    The Doctor: Old Isaac? Friend of mine on Earth. Discovered gravity. Well, I say he discovered gravity, I had to give him a bit of a prod.
    Romana: What did you do?
    The Doctor: Climbed up a tree.
    Romana: And?
    Romana: Ah, and so he discovered gravity.
    The Doctor: No, no, he told me to clear off out of his tree. I explained it to him afterwards at dinner.
    • Seriously, when you start watching a lot of Doctor Who, this trope starts to look like the summary of the show.
  • All of Blackadder.
  • The single-season Sci-Fi series Dark Skies centered around this trope, "revealing" that aliens or the Government Conspiracy to fight them have been involved in almost every major event over the course of the mid-60s, from the Kennedy assassination on down.
  • The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles sees Indy meeting virtually every major historical figure of the early 20th century before his 21st birthday.
  • I, Claudius has Nero proclaim, "What a pretty thing a fire is..." Uh-oh.
  • Mr. Jimmy James on NewsRadio has claimed to be the Watergate informant Deep Throat on more than one occasion. It's also strongly implied that he is D.B. Cooper note  (explaining how he came to be rich).
  • Vorenus and Pullo from Rome have been called the Forrest Gumps of Ancient Rome. During the course of the show they witness, cause or partake in pretty much every single important event during the end of the Roman republic. Caesar finally lampshades this in a later episode.
    • One good example is the second episode, where the attack on Marc Antony by Pompey's men when he's heading for the senate is actually an attack on Pullo by a random thug Pullo gambled and argued with (and killed his friend). This attack on Antony is believed to be Pompeius's thugs trying to prevent Antony from wielding his lawful power of veto, and becoming the key incident that led to Caesar crossing the Rubicon. The episode is even titled "How Titus Pullo Brought Down The Republic".
    • Pullo is the real father of Caesarion, the historical son of Caesar and Cleopatra.
    • Vorenus believing himself responsible for Caesar's death, as he was to accompany Caesar the day of his assassination, but was stopped by a woman who told him that his daughter's child was actually his wife's child by another man, causing him to leave and confront Niobe, while Caesar goes and gets killed on his own.
    • Pullo uncovering the stash of gold and silver from the treasury looted by the Optimates, stealing it all for himself before handing it back over to Caesar when he's caught. Historically, it's said that none of Pompey's supporters, nor Pompey himself, managed to empty out the treasury, allowing Caesar to claim it for his war effort, seriously hampering the optimates' finances for the civil war, causing them to heavily tax the provinces of the east, drawing heavy resentment from them.
  • Mystery Science Theater 3000 had a story arc where Pearl, Observer, and Bobo travel back to ancient Rome. As they leave for their own time, Bobo steals a wheel of cheese, knocking down a candle in the hay-filled room and starting a fire that can be heard throughout the end credits. It's implied that this is the great fire that burned down the city.
  • Sanctuary does this with explaining several historical figures as being abnormals. Several of them are important characters.
  • Ashes to Ashes had a scene in season 3 which made Gene Hunt responsible for the vandalism to the Blue Peter garden in the 80's.
  • Murdoch Mysteries
    • A season 3 episode has H. G. Wells in Toronto to speak at a meeting of the "Eugenics Society", a group dedicated to the improvement of humanity by scientific means. The event and the discovery that a local scientist is experimenting on animals give Wells an idea for a story about human experimentation, "...perhaps on a remote island."
    • A different episode had Arthur Conan Doyle visiting the police station, where he finds Inspector Brackenreid is a great fan of his work. All through the episode, Brackenreid keeps telling him about an idea for a new Sherlock Holmes book he had, and had thought of calling it "The Hound Of The Baskervilles". Doyle walks away at the end of the episode repeating the title to himself.
      • Doyle returns in a later episode, when they call him in to try and break through the delusion of a man who believes himself to be Sherlock. Doyle tries pointing out that Holmes died at Reichenbach Falls, and is taken aback when "Holmes" has a perfectly coherent explanation for both how he survived and where he's been since - the same one Doyle uses in "The Adventure of the Empty House". The episode also features a real criminal, who "Holmes" believes to be one of Moriarty's henchmen, called Sebastian Moran. Doyle mentions he likes the name.
  • A character from Charmed called "The Angel Of Destiny" was the reason Britney Spears got famous.
  • In Merlin, the court historian is none other than Geoffrey of Monmouth, the man who wrote the King Arthur legends. Of course, that's a bit of Artistic License (at best) and Critical Research Failure (at worst); the historical Geoffrey of Monmouth lived about 500 years after when King Arthur would have been alive (were he real-no one knows for sure).
    • Given that the Kingdom of Camelot does not appear to even be on an island, that caveat is somewhat beside the point. No one is pretending these people are English or anywhere in actual history. Speaking as someone who got the reference, though, it was still funny.
  • Warehouse 13 loves these. Expect to hear at least two per episode.
    • Usually in a one-line throw away gag, or even just items sitting innocently on shelves in the background.
  • In Lost Girl, the Sudanese genocide is thought to be partially attributable to the Djieiene, a mystical spider whose bite causes Hate Plagues.
  • From the Glee episode "The Rhodes Not Taken":
    Emma: A couple of years ago I started an online flirtation with an old high school flame, Andy. Things got weird and I called it off. And two months later (Dramatic Pause) Versace was dead. (Dramatic Pause) Dead.
  • The Roaring Twenties set Boardwalk Empire has a few. The pilot features Arnold Rothstein cheating at poker, when eight years later he would be killed thanks to welching on a lost poker hand.
    • One of Nucky's friends brags about finding a great new Italian investor in Boston. A few episodes later he's broke, and we learn that the investor's name was Charles Ponzi.
    • Annoyed because of Masseria's demands to put a tax on their profits, Lucky Luciano tells Meyer Lansky that their business is "our thing, not his!"
  • In a Saturday Night Live sketch in which Kevin Spacey played the "inventor" of sarcasm and no one understood he meant the opposite of what he said:
    Lord Sarc: If it's not too much trouble, do you think we could make this roof leak a little more?
    Vassal: Why, yes. Yes, we could.
    Lord Sarc: That's wonderful! Here's an idea: maybe in the next house I have, maybe you can all go out and you can just throw together a collection of random stone blocks in the middle of nowhere and I'll live there! You think you can handle that?!
    Vassal: At once, my Lord.
    Narrator: And so Stonehenge was built.
  • Happens in Wizards of Waverly Place. While in 1957, Harper manages to invent both the poodle skirt and the sock hop. Max invents the high-five, but twenty years too early, so it ends up being called a "max" instead, which Alex considers a Close Enough Timeline.
  • A quote attributed to the historical Louis XIV is, "I am the State." In fact, he said the opposite: "I depart, but the State shall always remain." In the Young Blades episode "The Girl from Upper Gaborski," Louis utters a similar quote — "I am the mighty state of France!" — while flexing shirtless in the mirror and fantasizing about how to impress women. Putting the quote in the mouth of a 15-year-old Spoiled Brat / Cloud Cuckoolander — someone who's just discovered women and the fact that he has royal power — explains how the same person could say both quotes.
  • Pan Am is prone to a few of these, as it is set in the 1960's. Examples include:
    • "It's Castro's country. He'll never keep it."
    • "That Bob Dylan will be famous, mark my words."
  • Perhaps a bit early to count as "historical", but the 2013 Comic Relief The Vicar of Dibley skit is set during the 2012 vote by the Church of England laity as to whether to allow woman bishops. Dibley parish is inexplicably represented by Jim Trott, who's "No ... no ... no ... no ... no ... no ... yes!" is interpreted as meaning most of the parish council is against it. Which is why the motion was lost by six votes.
  • Sophia Petrillo, an immigrant from Sicily and a woman in her 80s by the time of the show, in The Golden Girls made a lot of these. It's usually unclear if she's lying or joking, her memories have really been twisted by old age, or both. Among other things, she's claimed to have had affairs with Pablo Picasso (she ended it when she was offended by his portrait of her) and Sigmund Freud (Sophia recalls that he loved to drive through tunnels), to have been friends and business partners with Mama Celeste until they fought over a man, to have been a contestant on a game show called Torture that was hosted by Mussolini, and to have been present at the Valentine's Day Massacre with her husband and father when their car broke down in Chicago (although she does concede that it might have just been a Valentine's Day Massacre.)
    • Since the entire main cast is over 50, the others all engage in this to a lesser extent. For example, Andy Rooney wanted to have an affair with Blanche but she turned him down, and Rose's high school history teacher may or may not have been Adolf Hitler after he faked his death and was hiding under an alias. The main evidence for this is that Rose's high school gym teacher openly identified as Eva Braun.
  • It's something of a Running Gag in Xena: Warrior Princess for Xena and Gabrielle to inadvertently stumble across historical or mythological events or people. Among other things, Xena is revealed to have led the pirates that kidnapped Julius Caesar, Gabrielle attended a bard competition with a young Homer (no, not that one), Xena's experience with healing inspired Hypocrites's famous Hippocratic oath, and they both fought at Troy. Never mind that said events occurred and people lived many centuries apart. It's all part of the fun.
  • Grimm: According to Gaugin's accounts, the reason why Vincent van Gogh went mad and cut off his ear was because of a muse (the mythical kind).
  • In the Stargate SG-1 episode "1969", the team accidentally goes back to the titular year and are apprehended under suspicions of being Soviet spies. Jack is taken to be interrogated, and proceeds to take advantage of the situation by answering in almost nothing but future pop-culture references. Naturally, the interrogator doesn't realize that he's being messed with.
  • Forever Knight had a Jack the Ripper episode, with the secret being that he was a strange, beastly vampire that Lacroix couldn't fully drain. He also was responsible for the crimes of a few other serial killers later on. There was also a flashback encounter between Lacroix and a young German soldier/artist who turned out to be Hitler, as well as Rasputin being a vampire sired by Lacroix.
  • Highlander has a couple of these, most notably Methos and his three buddies inspiring the legend of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Then there's the immortal who was Cleopatra's handmaiden, and Duncan taking part in Operation Valkyrie and the Battle of Culloden...
    • One of the novels references Elvis dying because he was an immortal and was getting too famous, only he kept popping up in different places, explaining the Elvis sightings.
  • Tracker had Cole reference Cirronians building ancient monuments like Stonehenge and the Pyramids.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The Old World of Darkness had a number of these; for example, the Malkavian clan claim to have done a bit of grave-robbery in Judea in the first century AD. If you're wondering, think The Joker as a vampire, and then make them thousands strong (though, as might be imagined, rarely united). Another, borderline example is Dark Ages: Werewolf, which linked the fairy tale of Red Riding Hood to a young werewolf's First Change — Red is the werewolf, and in the throes of her First Change, kills her grandmother and is found (and implied to be killed, or at least grievously wounded) by a lumberjack who finds her grieving.
    • In fact, in the old World of Darkness, the one thing the supernaturals never had an active hand in was the Third Reich and the Holocaust. This itself proved to be a pretty funny, if unintentional, historical joke in the context of the game. The intent was to avoid cheapening the full inhumanity of the Holocaust and Nazi Germany by ascribing it to supernatural influence; the effect was to make readers scratch their heads wondering how, in a game overflowing with Beethoven Was an Alien Spy, none of the countless supernatural groups had anything to do with the largest war and most notorious genocide in history.
      • Then again, none of the supernatural factions had a great deal of interest in the Third Reich. Even the most callous vampires aren't messed up enough to waste that much food (and even the freaks following the Path of Night want mortals to fear them, not some twat with a silly mustache), for the Werewolves it's just another sign that the Wyrm is winning, the fairies are the ray of hope that wants nothing to do with this mess, the war seriously fucks with the Shadowlands and leaves the Wraiths in a sad state, and the last thing the Technocracy wants is to display the wonders of technology as soulless forces of destruction. The Traditions are the only ones who might benefit, and they're on the run. Well, and maybe the Antediluvians, but their machinations are so subtle and far reaching that the war is a footnote to them at best. The real question becomes why none of these groups stopped Hitler before things got out of hand.
      • The sourcebooks only say that the supernatural elements were not responsible for the war, it never says they didn't participate in it. Most of the major factions were subjected to division in the ranks of a greater or lesser extent as their members chose one side or the other.
      • Something of a running gag was that about half the Vampire clans and several other supernatural beings claimed Rasputin as a member.
  • Due to heavy cross-marketing between the Shadowrun and Earthdawn games, a number of early Shadowrun products indulged in this trope with immortal-elf references. If the spinoff novels are to be credited, Queen Elizabeth I was a usurping immortal elf in disguise, as was Leonardo da Vinci and (implied) the Apostle Thomas.
  • In one of the Sourcebooks for Mage: The Awakening, it states that the Halifax explosion was actually caused by a battle between Pentacle mages and Church Militant members of the Seers of the Throne. Mages are said to refer to the explosion as the "Battle of the Maritime".
  • Promethean: The Created claims that The Tunguska Event was the result of an attempt to summon a arch-qashmallim. The Knights of St. George failed to stop it in time.
    • Also, a qashmallim inspired Samuel Taylor Coleridge to write Kubla Khan. A Promethean, in turn, was the "Person from Porlock" who interrupted him and caused him to forget the ending.
  • Unsurprisingly, given its premise as a Time Travel game, Continuum has its fair share of these- of particular note is the usual answer when asking members of the Thespian Fraternity how many times they've had to impersonate Adolf Hitler is a cold "Further Information is not available here".
  • New World of Darkness sourcebook Chicago has quite a few of these. As just one example, Chicago's vampires are implied to be responsible for the murder of Illinois Senator Charles H. Percy's daughter (the local Prince favored Percy's opponent, and was offended when he wouldn't step down).

    Theme Parks 
  • Plenty of such jokes in The Time Machine ride at the Futuroscope. The Raving Rabbids happen to be responsible for the Lascaux paintings, the Venus of Milo losing her arms, the invention of the Olympic games, Beethoven's composition of the Fifth Symphony, etc.

    Video Games 
  • Many of the major characters that Altair is sent to assassinate in Assassin's Creed I were real historical figures who died during 1191, the year in which the game is set.
    • The sequel takes this up to 11, with database entries on all the assassination targets that tie them all in to the Templars or their allies, while (mostly) staying faithful to their real-life history which the justification that history was written by Templars.
    • Brotherhood has Machiavelli at one point say that he intends to write a book about Ezio. Given that Cesare's on the other side, it seems obvious who The Prince was really based on.
    • Revelations had more Historical In-Jokes compared to the first few games.
      • Set in the Ottoman Empire, particularly in Constantinople. Constantinople/Istanbul Jokes fly around.
      Ezio: "Istanbul? No doubt one of the many names for this city?"
      Yusuf: "Yes! It's quickly becoming the local favourite!"
    • On mention of The New World's name (Continent of Amerigo), Ezio smiles and remarks "poor Colombo..."
    • Piri Reis, a legendary Ottoman Admiral, was not an admiral by the time of the game, but the Assassins of Constantinople do jokingly call him "Reis" (Ottoman for "Admiral").
    • Prince-Governor Suleiman keeps on talking to Ezio about tolerance between the Ottoman Empire's subject peoples and a standard and written state law, things he will work on and accomplish as Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent.
    • Upon Sofia mentioning that she posed for a certain Albrecht Durer, Ezio asks if he's an artist of some renown.
    • The tie-in comics also reveal that the Assassins and Nikola Tesla were responsible for the Tunguska event in 1908 when they attempted to obtain The Staff of Eden while blowing up the facility where the Templars were keeping it, but they weren't able to remove it in time so it wound up getting blown up as well, with only one member of the Assassin team surviving.
  • In Metal Gear Solid 3, the Cuban missile crisis was actually resolved by handing over a Soviet scientist who'd defected to the West, and the Turkish nukes were outdated and going to be removed anyway.
    • Later, Snake makes a joke that the prototypical Russian helicopter which is smaller than the Hip should be called a Hind. His support team agree to use Hind as the code for the kind of helicopter from now on. Also a Continuity Nod, since a Hind helicopter was a boss fight in Metal Gear Solid.
      • In fact, MGS3 is rife with instances of this, including Snake being the first to perform a HALO jump (which was actually first performed in 1964), as well as Snake finding an XM16E1 and making suggestions for how it would be a better rifle, echoing complaints from soldiers in Vietnam who made the same suggestions that were ultimately incorporated into the rifle's design.
  • There are several examples in the Command & Conquer: Red Alert Series.
    • Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2:
      • It plays the Cuban missile crisis too, in an alternate history: to achieve the best results, the Chronosphere had to be built in a specific place in the Earth's magnetosphere or the Allies can't use it to invade Moscow from across the globe. Problem is, said place is in the Florida Keys, well inside the range of the Soviet nukes in Cuba. Since the US and the USSR are already at war and Romanov won't negotiate as Khrushchev did in real life, the Allies say "screw negotiations" and instead chronoshift some troops into Cuba to blow the missiles sky-high before they could be launched. Cue the Villainous Breakdown from Romanov.
      • And the invasion of Pearl Harbor too, this time with Soviets as aggressors and the US anticipating the attack via U-2 spy planes. The USS Arizona Memorial is even present, even though the Japanese attack that sunk the Arizona never took place in this timeline. It can be played from both sides, interestingly; though the Soviet version has a South Korean fleet moving in to assist the defenders.
      • In the briefing for one of the Soviet missions the player is shown a picture of Stalin, with Yuri edited in on his right. This picture really exists and is famous for being doctored, the real life version showing Stalin sat next to Lenin, who bears a fairly strong resemblance to Yuri. This version of the picture, created at the behest of Stalin, is a forgery to try and give him more credibility as one of Lenin's closest collaborators. Since the creators of Red Alert 2 also edited Yuri into the picture, neither of the two persons shown on the photograph actually appeared in it.
      • The iconic acknowledgment "We will bury them!" from the Soviet tanks paraphrases a famous (and misinterpreted) quote by Nikita Khrushchev.note 
      • In the final Soviet video, the Soviets have taken over the entire world. One of the locations shown celebrating the foundation of the Global Soviet Union is of Soviet tanks driving down the streets of Paris in a victory parade. The newscaster comments that "it has been decades since we've seen anything quite like this", referring to the German occupation of Paris in World War II, which in the altered timeline never even took place.
      • Then came Yuri's Revenge, taking this trope to the logical extreme by making an in-joke on it's own history: one Soviet mission had the player re-doing - via time travel - one of the vanilla game's Allied missions... from the other side. Bonus points because said mission enabled the Allies to win the war with the aforementioned re-take of the Cuban missile crisis... which this re-take mission, appropriately named "Operation Deja Vu", retcons into the Chronosphere prototype being destroyed and the Allies surrendering.
    • Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3:
      • It also has a defense of Pearl Harbor, this time Allies versus the Empire of the Rising Sun. With the latter defending.
      • As a call back, the penultimate Allied mission is a take on the Cuban missile crisis, with another historical in joke: the blimps carrying the missiles launch out of hangars disguised as sports stadiums. In real life, one of the things that tipped the US off to the Soviet presence was the building of soccer fields (Russians play soccer; Cubans, at that point, preferred baseball).
  • Bram Stoker's novel Dracula is canon in Castlevania chronology. John Morris and Johnathan Morris, protagonists from Castlevania: Bloodlines and Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin respectively, are descendants of Quincey Morris.
    • So, not terribly canon- Quincey Morris dies without children in Dracula.
    • On the subject of Portrait of Ruin, which has Drac's ol' castle come to life due to an abundance of souls following World War II, the villain of the game is a vampire painter known as Brauner. He is in fact, a real life jewish surrealist painter, explaining his motives quite clearly.
  • Evil Genius has you perform several Acts of Infamy based on real-life Cold War events, most notably staging the Cuban missile crisis.
  • Fallout 2 has a special encounter in which the player can return to Vault 13 in the past. The player cannot leave until they break the water chip, thus setting up the basis of Fallout. It's not canon, though.
  • Touhou mostly just messes with mythology, but some actual history does get involved. Among other things, Apollo 13's failure was apparently caused by Eirin, and Futo burned down Japan's first Buddhist temple.
  • The Shadow Hearts series. Many of the catastrophes that occurred around World War I was all because of Lovecraftian hellspawn.
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: All Star Battle: Funny Valentine insults Josuke's hair by saying that he will not allow his people to have that style. Elvis would prove Funny wrong, though.
  • In Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, Indy wonders why the Minoan civilization had this obsession with bull-headed figures (like the tale of the Minotaur living in a labyrinth underneath Knossos); the game heavily implies that the Real Life Minoans tried to imitate the aesthetic style of Atlantis and also the Atlanteans built a god-creating machine, which its first failed tests created mutants with horns, providing the origin for the myth of the Minotaur.
  • The Modern Warfare series has one in the third game, where Berlin falls to the Russians. Again.
    • Call of Duty: World at War has one to its own series - in the first game, the final level has you playing a Soviet soldier in the battle at Berlin, ending with you watching another soldier wave the Soviet flag over the Reichstag. The final level of World at War has the same setting, except now you plant the flag over the Reichstag.
  • Wolfenstein: The New Order has one in a rather ironic parallel of the Bolshevik Revolution. The Nazis won the war on the Eastern Front when the Russian people revolted against the Soviet government following large numbers of casualties and military defeats.
  • Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is set in 1992. The primary antagonists of the game are police officers, Frank Tenpenny and Eddie Pulaski. Late in the game, their many, many crimes catch up with them and Tenpennynote  is arrested, put to trial... and acquitted. The city of Los Santos riots in response. Sound familiar?

    Web Comics 
  • This is more or less the raison d'être of Hark! A Vagrant.
  • Times Like This has generous amounts of this trope.
  • Homestuck: The universe of Earth was created by the trolls, and so they had some influence on some things that eventually happened, like the Zodiac signs and possibly the existence of the Insane Clown Posse. A particularly amusing example comes from a trans-timeline bulletin board conversation involving a future instance of Vriska, aka arachnidsGrip (AG)...
    CCG: LATER, FAG.
    CCG: TOO BAD THE ACRONYM WASN'T "HAG" INSTEAD, IT WOULD HAVE SUITED YOU MUCH BETTER.
    CCG: INSTEAD OF THAT NONSENSE WORD
    CCG: MAYBE ITS ASSOCIATION WITH YOU WILL COLLOQUIALLY CAUSE IT TO TAKE ON A NEGATIVE CONNOTATION, WHAT DO YOU THINK?
    • Earlier on in the strip, it was also hinted that certain words like "bathtub" are derived from troll highblood vocabulary for the troll equivalents of those items.
  • Irregular Webcomic! provides a different explanation for the start of World War I.
  • Questionable Content suggests that World War One was started due to a badly worded sexual innuendo about someone wanting to "invade her Alsace", and things spiraling out of control from there. Whether they were joking or not seems to be unknown.
  • Consolers is this with video game history and recent events.
  • Dead Duck has a bit since D.D's job involves going into the past to make sure historical figures died. Let's just say there are some things history overlooked.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • Pretty much the entire premise of "Peabody's Improbable History" segment on "The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle."
    • Also from Rocky and Bullwinkle, the legend of the Kerwood Derby, which reportedly made its wearer the smartest person in the world. Newton wore it when he discovered his theory of Gravity, Archimedes wore it in the bath when he discovered his theory of water displacement(or at least remembered where he left the soap) and Einstein wore it when he discovered his Theory of Relativity. Reportedly the Kerwood Derby was worn by Alexander the Great when he conquered the world, by Ghengis Khan when he conquered the world, by Philip of Macedonia when he conquered the world, and by Elvis Presley when he... well, you get the idea.
  • Family Guy is fond of this, in flashbacks which sometimes don't even relate to the show in any way. For example, when Peter was arguing that Stewie might be too young for potty-training, a flashback suggested that the Lindbergh baby was accidentally flushed down a toilet. And that Amelia Earhart was done away with for witnessing it.
    • John Wilkes Booth killed Abraham Lincoln for talking on his cellphone.
    • Peter killed Nicole and Ronald. OJ was just at the wrong place at the wrong time. Another incident showed a drunken Stewie told OJ to kill his wife.
  • American Dad! had the main character shooting Ronald Reagan, because, well: He originally wanted to kill Jane Fonda because he blamed her for the war on Christmas, then he found out that she was influenced by Donald Sutherland, who was in turn influenced by Martin Scorsese. Stan convinces Scorsese to give up drugs, which in turn causes him to lose his edge. As a result, Taxi Driver is never made, so there's no star vehicle for Jodie Foster, and no one for John Hinckley to become obsessed with. As a result of that, Reagan is never shot, which means there was no incident to bolster public support; so Mondale won, and practically "handed over the country to the Commies". Thus, Stan Smith shoots Reagan. Also, in the same episode, Roger "invents" the genre of disco. Whew.
  • Clone High being what it is, it's rife with these. In it, Marie Curie is a giant, misshapen mutant of a girl because of her irradiated DNA. People such as the clones of Ritchie Valens, Buddy Holly, and half of Lynyrd Skynyrd go up in a plane made of junk.
  • Time Squad did this almost every episode, as the entire premise of the show was that they went back in time to make sure that history happens correctly. The main characters are singlehandedly responsible for such things as The Boston Tea Party, the Battle at the Alamo, and the invention of peanut butter.
    • Another episode had Betsy Ross and the rest of Washington's army become hippies only to regain their fighting spirit by coffee. One of the hippies likes the coffee so much that he vows to "spread it throughout this great land". His name as a hippie? Starbuck.
    • After a whole episode dealing with putting Abraham Lincoln's presidency back on track, the time travelers return to the future just as Abraham suggests to his wife that he feels like visiting Ford's Theater...
  • In Futurama: Bender's Big Score, the titular robot travels back to the year 2000, where his virus-induced homicidal rampage accidentally destroys a large number of ballots in Florida. This virus was used by a group of greedy, nudist, and narcissistic alien scammers to make Bender to go back in time and steal treasures, and as a result, he is seen with several artifacts that have gone missing, like the Sphinx's nose and the Holy Grail.
    • His time-traveling also causes several in-show historical in-jokes as well. For example, one episode revolved around Fry finding his pet dog Seymour as a fossil in a museum and his attempts to resurrect it. In the movie, while the scammers are forcing Bender to assassinate Fry in 2012, the year Seymour died at a "healthy old age", one of Bender's futuristic weapons misses him and encases the poor dog in stone. This quickly goes from a joke to a happy when one recalls that Fry decided not to bring Seymour back because he thought he died of old age, but now we find out he died of old age after spending an entire life with Fry's time-clone.
    • Time-travel is also how Zoidberg became the Roswell alien.
    • One of the Brainspawn also killed the dinosaurs.
  • A blink-and-you'll-miss-it reference to an alternate past comes near the end of the Fairly Oddparents special "The Secret Origin of Denzel Crocker". Right after '70s-Jorgen shows up to erase everyone's memories of the fairies being revealed, present-Jorgen shows up to take Timmy back to his own era and says that Timmy is forbidden from returning to March of 1972, but can still travel to any of the other months "so long as you don't interfere with the election of President McGovern". This implies that either The Fairly Oddparents takes place in an alternate continuity where Nixon was never re-elected, Timmy didn't listen and is somehow responsible for Nixon's re-election, or Timmy's interference already made McGovern the president without Jorgen realizing it.
    • There was the one where Timmy released the kids from the Cosmo & Wanda's "Wall of Shame". One of them "took out" Archduke Franz Ferdinand, triggering World War One.
    • In an earlier episode, they inspire a young boy to "Connect all the computers in the world together, and call it the internet," Wanda's response? "That Billy Gates and his CRAZY ideas," Of course, he gets the name wrong...
      Billy Gates: And I'll call it the Internet.
      Cosmo: That's a stupid name, you should call it The Timmy!
      • And at the episode's end we find out that "The Timmy" apparently stuck, because his mother calls out "Internet, come to dinner"
      • Although, thanks to the reset button, that doesn't catch on...
    • It's also been mentioned several times that Cosmo is responsible for having destroyed the city of Pompeii.
  • In the Disney film Hercules, it's indicated that the reason the Venus de Milo has no arms is because Hercules accidentally broke them off.
  • In Aladdin, the crack in the Sphinx's nose happens during the flyby in "A Whole New World".
  • Whereas The Prince of Egypt posits that it's Moses' fault, when he crashes his chariot, setting in motion Disaster Dominoes.
  • A Halloween episode of The Simpsons suggests that Wiggum's ancestor's insult to Orson Welles inspired Citizen Kane.
    • At the end of the Paul Bunyan tall tale segment, Paul saves the town from a meteor. He throws the meteor towards Chicago, starting the Great Chicago Fire.
      • This is, of course, standard for Paul Bunyan stories.
    • Krusty the Clown was the reason why the attempted assassination of Saddam Hussein failed, as Saddam was one of his investors, and he had stopped the woman who was going to hit him with a bazooka.
  • In Aaahh!!! Real Monsters, Ickis' father was the one responsible of causing the crack on the Liberty Bell when the humans he scared dropped it.
    • And when the Beatles performed on The Ed Sullivan Show, the reason why everyone in the audience was screaming was because of a monster scaring them, not because of hysteria over The Beatles' music.
    • A monster inspired Franklin D. Roosevelt to include "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself" in his inaugural address. A monster was also the reason Christopher Columbus discovered America.
    • An old monster the trio had to escort home told stories of himself of scaring George Washington (which motivates him in crossing the Delaware River) and Albert Einstein (which is why his hair is what he's known for).
  • An episode of Justice League revealed that ancient hawkmen were responsible for the rise of Egypt as a civilization.
  • Rocko's Modern Life showed that Heffer's past lives were responsible for why the Leaning Tower of Pisa leans and the Hindenburg disaster.
  • South Park. Chef gave Meat Loaf his nickname and he introduced Elton John to the songwriter which gave him his first hit.
  • In Robin Hood, one scene had Prince John crying and sucking his thumb, lamenting how his mother always liked his brother over him. In real life, Prince John's mother was Eleanor of Aquitaine, who really did favour her oldest son King Richard over John.
  • In Ice Age, the characters pass by Old Faithful and Stonehenge. As they pass Stonehenge, Manny comments, "Modern architecture... it'll never last."
    • In Ice Age: Continental Drift, Scrat falls into the earth's core and causes Pangea to break into separate continents, as well as the creation of the Sphinx, Easter Island statues, and Mount Rushmore. Breaking of the continents caused certain mammals to evolve into giraffes as they stretched their necks out to reach the other side of the chasm, and the Western Interior Seaway was drained to make a desert when Scrat pulled the acorn plug in the civilization of Scratlantis.
    • In a previously released short, Sid causes a chain reaction upon picking a flower and creates the Grand Canyon.
  • Arthur: Arthur tries to justify his breaking of a window to his sister DW that kids have done important things in history. He tells of how King Tut broke his dad's new sphinx with a baseball, the roman 'Arthurius' playing with his discus and cutting off the arms of the Venus de Milo, and an American kid hitting the Liberty bell and cracking it, with braying horses in the background.
  • In Extreme Ghostbusters many events in history happened because of ghosts, a gremlin was responsible for sinking the Titanic, and the disappearances of ships and planes in the Bermuda Triangle were the cause of a giant fog Eldritch Abomination.
  • Archer: Mallory Archer has been involved in Operation Gladio and Operation Ajax and Woodhouse of all people is revealed to have been the one who performed the botched William Tell routine that led to the death of William S. Burroughs' wife as part of a bet for drugs.
  • An in-universe example in the SpongeBob SquarePants episode "SB-129", where Squidward goes back to the age of the trilobites and teaches primitive sponges and starfish how to catch jellyfish.


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HikikomoriOlder Than RadioI Do Not Own
Historical HilarityAlternate History TropesHistorical Rap Sheet
Historical Hero UpgradeHistorical-Domain CharacterHistorical Person Punchline
Help Your Self In The FutureTime Travel TropesHistorical Person Punchline

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