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The Genie Knows Jack Nicholson

"Are you a genie who does references only my parents get?"

Often, you'll want to get some Parental Bonus or cool and hip comedy into your work to broaden your appeal to the Periphery Demographic.

One common method of doing this in Science Fiction and fantasy is by having a non-human character or a magical creature of some sort appear to be in tune with the cultural zeitgeist of the time period when the work was made, but not the one the work is actually set in, adding an extra touch of spice to the Anachronism Stew. Thus, space aliens will watch Casablanca, gremlins will cosplay as Rambo, and, yes, the Genie will impersonate Jack Nicholson. Logically, there does come a moment when you must ask, "This alien/gremlin/genie can do all of these insane things, but they can't violate causality?"

Though this particular gag did not originate in The Nineties, it became very popular for a long time following the smashing success of Disney's Aladdin.

A bit of trivia: This trope was almost called "The Genie Knows John Wayne". In the original script, Genie was supposed to do a John Wayne impression (note the line about being a "straight shooter"). But Robin Williams did a better Jack Nicholson impression.

Very much comes under the Rule of Funny and Willing Suspension of Disbelief.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • Puck in Berserk, who occasionally dresses as Yoda.
    • He's also apparently a fan of sumo wrestling.
    • Corkus himself at one point did several Hulk Hogan gestures.
  • For a bunch of villains who've never previously been to Earth, the original English dub of Dragon Ball Z suggests they know an awful lot about its customs, cuisine and pop culture. Regardless of any dubbing, there's also the fact that the Ginyu Force settles every dispute with Rock-Paper-Scissors, even though they're all totally different species from presumably different planets who've also never been to Earth before. The non-actiony parts of the entire Dragon Ball saga are largely dictated by Rule of Funny, however.

    Films — Animated 
  • Disney Animated Canon:
    • The Sword in the Stone did it first, with Merlin lamenting the fact that he lives before indoor plumbing and going to 20th century Bermuda when the mood suits him. He even comes back in a Hawaiian tourist shirt. The gag is true to the original The Once and Future King, in which Merlin makes a number of anachronistic references to 20th century events due to living through history in reverse.
    • The Genie from Disney's Aladdin is this to the max, as well as the Trope Namer. His accurate impressions of movie stars (such as, notably, Jack Nicholson) provided ample Parental Bonuses, and like Merlin in The Sword in the Stone, he exhibits ample working knowledge of twentieth-century zeitgeist and technology. In the sequels and television series that followed, he frequently alluded to several other Disney franchises and impersonated their characters, including Pumbaa from The Lion King and Pinocchio.

      Worth noting is that Aladdin lampshades the Genie's tendency to do this in the cartoon series. "What's the genie doing?" "Dreaming about references to some form of entertainment that hasn't been invented yet." It's occasionally mentioned that Genie sometimes time-travels in his spare time, which explains how he knows about pop culture icons from the future. There is one episode of the show that explictly shows him in another time, with Napoleon. There's also a fairly popular fan theory that the movie actually takes place in the distant future, which also explains it handily.
    • The toy shop visited in The Great Mouse Detective contains a bubble-blowing Dumbo toy, despite being set in the 19th century.
    • During their musical number, the gargoyles in The Hunchback of Notre Dame are seen playing a piano centuries before it was invented, as well as throw in references to Michaelangelo's David (the film is set nearly a quarter-century before the statue's completion) and Amadeus (an Actor Allusion; Tom Hulce, who plays Quasimodo, also played Mozart). And there's a huge shout-out to The Wizard of Oz when Laverne "sics" her birds on the enemy...
    • Mushu in Mulan gets to do most of the anachronistic jokes, including using a modern toothbrush after biting Ling, and lamenting about not having an entourage.
    • In the first The Lion King, Zazu, while being held prisoner, sings "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen", "It's a Small World After All", and "I've Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts" in that order, while at one point Timon and Puumba sing "The Lion Sleeps Tonight". The P.O.V. Sequel, meanwhile, had Timon and Pumbaa making jokes like, "We moved into the theater district," and "Something tells me this ain't the traveling company of Riverdance" (followed by them making the dance from that play as they exit the scene).
  • Devon and Cornwall, the two-headed dragon from Quest for Camelot is this film's answer to Aladdin's Genie. During their big musical number, everything from The Lion King to Godzilla gets a Shout-Out, including Raiders of the Lost Ark and Friday the 13th, and they close up with impressions of Elvis Presley and Sonny and Cher. Bladebeak may also qualify; he makes a pun based on Dirty Harry.
  • Prehistoric possums Crash and Eddie, in Ice Age: Dawn Of The Dinosaurs, demonstrate that they are somehow familiar with "The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)", despite predating both Christmas and the Chipmunks themselves by quite a wide historical margin.
    • And that was only the third movie. In the second movie a certain R. Kelly song line is being sung.
  • Chicken Run is supposed to take place during The Fifties, but during the musical number "Flip, Flop and Fly", Those Two Rats Nick and Fetcher do dance moves borrowed from The Blues Brothers, Saturday Night Fever, and hip-hop.
  • Donkey's singing in Shrek is just the tip of the iceberg.
    • Though this isn't a true example, nor is it exclusive to Donkey, considering most of the characters in the entire Shrek universe seem inexplicably knowledgeable about pop culture.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Gizmo, and the eponymous creatures from Gremlins, are like this. In the first movie, this quality is restricted to their love of the movie Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, but in the sequel (a more humorous take on the first movie's premise), the gremlins are total pop culture junkies mere hours after having been spawned, going so far as to stage elaborate recreations of scenes from Batman, The Wizard of Oz, and The Phantom of the Opera, among others, plus their enormous, balls-to-the-wall musical rendition of 'New York, New York'. It's somewhat more reasonable with Gizmo, since Billy taught him to watch television, and thus his infatuation with Rambo makes some sort of sense.
  • Draco in Dragonheart, when called out on having eaten a human. "I may have chewed in self-defense, but I didn't swallow!"
  • The Great Gazoo does this many times in The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas.

    Literature 
  • The Once and Future King has Merlin make all kinds of references to 20th century events and culture in "The Sword in the Stone," to the point that this section is more of a satire and commentary on T. H. White's time than it is a retelling of Athurian myth.
  • Throughout Myhr's Adventure in Hell, Myhr and his wizard companion make constant pop culture references. It's Justified by having the pair as universe-hopping travelers; when Myhr tries to get Terrin to tone down the jokes so that they don't risk driving off a prospective client, Terrin insists that they'll expect the wizard to seem a little surreal and difficult to understand, anyway.
  • The butterfly in The Last Unicorn. All of its conversation consists of random quotes, some of them suspiciously modern-sounding for the world it lives in.
  • The Myth Adventures series is full of Schizo Tech, with lizard-drawn carriages in the streets and computers in the banks. This still doesn't explain the constant pop culture references, as the human home dimension is stuck in the Middle Ages and is definitively not Earth.
  • Occurs frequently in Discworld, explained by the characters being hit by cross-dimensional inspiration particles, morphic resonance between universes, and of course the Theory of Narrative Causality. A common Lampshade Hanging is for another character to question the line, only for the first character to suddenly realise they don't get the reference either, and have no idea why they said it.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Doctor from Doctor Who is a time traveler, so he often references time periods that occur after the time period he's currently visiting.
  • Crow, Tom Servo, Gypsy and even Cambot from Mystery Science Theater 3000 drop pop culture references left and right when riffing or doing sketches, despite never having been to Earth and having limited communications to the planet. Joel might have programmed them with these references, but whatever. It's just a show, as the theme song reminds us.
    • Though Joel will occasionally call them on it... a good example being sometimes Tom talks about his time in school, only for Joel to remind him that he was built on the Satellite of Love. Mike, as less of an authority figure, tends to get bullied if he tries to protest to their inexplicable references.
  • Despite being born and raised in the bowels of a ship three million years into deep space, Cat from Red Dwarf seems to have a solid grasp of 20th-century pop culture.
    • Justified; two episodes have shown Lister and The Cat watching old cartoons like The Flintstones.

    Videogames 
  • Belial (a half-angel, half-demon) from Painkiller Overdose.
  • The characters of Touhou, ranging from humans to demons, tend to all freely make references to recent Japanese pop culture, despite being sealed off from the modern world.
  • Monkey Island: Guybrush Threepwood frequently drops references to other LucasArts games, plus a catchphrase borrowed from Get Smart.
  • Another Scumm VM game, Simon the Sorcerer contains a fair share of references also. Somewhat justified what with Simon being transported from a modern world into a magical fantasy realm, but the fantasy realm itself seems pretty heavy on the references and not just to fairy tales and fantasy books, mind you.
  • Black & White: The world you rule over seems ancient and fantasy-like, but The Consciences reference everything from South Park to thrash metal.

    Webcomics 
  • Richard from Looking for Group is a partial example, what with webcomics generally not needing any Parental Bonus, but otherwise fits: in the Medieval Fantasy setting, the warlock is quite prone to anachronistic (Anageographic? Anaparallelrealitic?) references to pop culture.
  • Angel from Castlevania RPG. Constantly makes references to culture and events that may not EVER exist in that universe.
  • Merlin does this a lot in the baseline arc of Arthur, King of Time and Space, since his characterisation owes a lot to T. H. White's Merlin. For example, when Lancelot and Galehaute are in combat with a zombie parrot, and realise that it's trying to find a shallow point in the river where it can cross to the pine forest on the other side, Merlin suddenly pops up, having apparently tracked them down just to say "So the dead parrot is fording for the pines!"

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 

The Genie in the MachineSpeculative Fiction TropesThe Hidden Hour
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alternative title(s): Magical Anachronistic Humor
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