Bandit: Oh, I don't know, sit around and watch the cars rust?
Our parents and grandparents did not have as much entertainment media available as we do When They Were Our Age. Fine. So they had to do other things instead. OK. But often fiction will use this as a source of humor with the activities engaged in by previous generations verging on the utterly moronic.
From the sarcastic expression "as exciting (interesting, fun, etc.) as watching paint dry".
- Played for laughs in one of the Kevin Butler PS3 ads, this one for the Blu-ray player feature.
Kevin Butler: You know what [your grandma] did for fun when she was young? She pushed a hoop with a stick.
- An old Taco Bell ad featuring Rocky and Bullwinkle has the citizens of Frostbite Falls so bored by traditional fast food (namely, Boris and Natasha's "McBoris Burgers") that they are willing to pay to watch grass grow. Then it turns out they weren't even watching real grass.
Bullwinkle: Hey, this is AstroTurf!
- The Simpsons: One Treehouse of Horror issue has pod-people taking over Springfield, and they manage not only to get Krusty, but the entire production staff of Itchy and Scratchy, so instead of mindless violence, the show consists of Itchy and Scratchy watching a wall dry (and commenting on it).
- Yu-Gi-Oh! The Abridged Series
- They play with this in Yu-Gi-Oh! The Abridged Movie Where it is stated that "Thousands of years ago people were very bored because card games hadn't been invented yet, so in order to pass the time they started killing each other with magical powers."
- In episode 2, Yugi comments that the Card Game channel is "almost as fun as the Watching Paint Dry channel".
- In Disney's The Little Mermaid, Scuttle the seagull tells Ariel that before they discovered music, ancient humans "used to sit around and stare at each other all day. Got very boring."
- In Discworld Granny and Nanny comment on how there is too much "making your own entertainment" these days, they never had time for it when they were young. Nanny certainly did make her own entertainment, though. With the help of many handsome young men.
- In "It's a Good Life," television night in Peaksville involves everyone pulling up chairs and staring avidly at a television set that isn't turned on. (Not that turning it on would help, there being no electricity.) It's a good thing that most folks in Peaksville agree that it's better than any television they've ever seen.
- In a novel by Tom Holt, Valhalla is being locked in a theatre forever - watching an exciting performance of paint drying.
- An episode of Modern Marvels was about paint. One man who tests paints for a paint company is required by his job to watch paint dry. He finds it interesting.
- Saturday Night Live Weekend Update segments in the early 1990's would occasionally feature Dana Carvey as "A Grumpy Old Man" who would make comparisons between modern day and "his day" similarly to the "Weird Al" Yankovic example below, always concluding his remarks with, "...and that's the way it was, and we liked it!"
- Mystery Science Theater 3000: Discussed Trope. "*sigh*... Y'know, guys: this whole time, we could have been watching an apple brown."
- During the X-Play review of Drake of the 99 Dragons, Adam Sessler is so bored by the game that he actually watches paint dry as filler. And seems wildly entertained by it in comparison to the actual game.
- One "drawn from a hat" suggestion on Whose Line Is It Anyway? is something along the lines of "world's most boring TV shows", and so Ryan Stiles does this trope: "..and now that we've got that second coat on, let's just watch it dry!"
- Get Smart - in a parody episode of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Max arrives at the tiny town of Mira Lodo, Mexico.
Max: Mira Lodo - what's that mean?Local: Look at the mud.Max: What do you do around here for excitement?Local: Look at the mud.
- Played with in Doctor Who. Given that he's a time traveler who's used to jumping ahead to the exciting bits of history, the Doctor finds ordinary linear life rather boring. Even watching famous artist Vincent Van Gogh paint is as exciting to the Doctor as watching paint dry.
- "Weird Al" Yankovic
- The song "When I Was Your Age" has lyrics about not having Nintendo games as a kid and having to pour salt on snails as entertainment.
- Another song of his, "I Can't Watch This", invokes this trope literally while decrying the state of modern television: "It's about as much fun as watching paint dry!"
- Jon's rural brother loves watching his clothes spinning inside the washing machine.
- Garfield also finds the idea of Cow Tipping moronic.
- Jon's family is also excited seeing a white mouse. Garfield remarks: "These people need a TV."
- The Far Side
- A pre-television family is sitting on and around a couch, all staring at a blank wall.
- Another one shows cavemen trying to play Rock–Paper–Scissors before scissors and paper were invented. Every round they play ends in a tie.
- In a Zits strip, Walt talks about leaving Woodstock because it was raining and going to paint his grandmother's kitchen (which he seems to have preferred).
- Calvin and Hobbes: In a Story Arc where the television set in Calvin's house is stolen, he tries watching the blank wall where it used to be and finds that it's not fun at all:
Calvin: So here I am, not being entertained.
Hobbes: A pointless existence, huh?
Calvin: I mean, the wall is even plain old white!
- In Jim Henson's Dinosaurs, there is a TV channel about grass growing. Doubly strange, given that the family is noted to be carnivores. If they were herbivores it would be analogous to all the cooking/food channels we have on cable.
- In Decline of Video Gaming, the gamers relate something about the villains' games being less fun than "watching paint dry," complete with cheering ("C'moonnnn, blue!"); watching grass grow (one watcher cheats with fertilizer); watching ice melt (with the help of flamethrowers), and the greatest insult of all — watching Tom burn.
- When The Nostalgia Critic reviews Warriors of Virtue, he says that he'd rather watch paint dry while watching grass grow and watch a TV show about Mr. T, Hulk Hogan, and Bruce Campbell filing their taxes.
- The The Rap Critic crossover review of Big Momma's House 3 has Rap Critic quickly decide watching paint dry is preferable to the film. Film Brain envies him.
"I'm not sure if this is even paint."
- As a 2017 April Fool's joke, SuperMarioLogan The Movie! is revealed to be Jeffy painting a fence and then watching the paint dry for an hour.
- The Simpsons likes this.
- When Bart falls down the well there is, to quote Jasper:
Jasper: A Good, Old-Fashioned Hole Digging, my gods it's been a while.
- One of the most exciting pastimes in Grandpa's retirement home is sitting at the window of the rec room watching a tree. Keep in mind that this is one of many gags about how bleak and depressing retirement homes are and how there is basically nothing to look forward to.
- When Bart falls down the well there is, to quote Jasper:
- An episode from the Viva Piñata cartoon is about visiting a character's old uncle at a retirement home. One of the gags used is that paint drying is actually an exciting pastime for the residents (along with the Grass channel, which featured grass growing in real time).
- In an episode of Dexter's Laboratory, Dexter is sent to live with an Amish family whose main recreation is churning. DeeDee, his dippy older sister, quite prefers the recreational value of using a butter churn to other, more boring pursuits (like Space Camp).
- Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi features Paint Drying as a spectator sport, albeit one that is extremely boring. Kaz seems to enjoy it though. In "Chow Down" he is still amazed how the underdog "Orange" won the title, while in "Disco Capers" the following season, he berates Ami and Yumi for doing nothing other than literally watching paint dry and in a slight subversion recounts the fun of a Seventies disco with a convenient time machine.
- Literal example: both Quack Pack and Garfield and Friends have the main characters channel surfing, and one of the TV shows is about watching paint dry.
- Billy, of The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy, drives the Goddess of Chaos crazy by watching paint dry. In his underwear. He shushes her when she talks, as he can't hear the paint drying.
- On Garfield and Friends, Garfield compares visiting Jon's cousin to watching paint dry. Sure enough, Jon's cousin makes Jon watch boring slides mostly of his wife waving while on vacation.
- In the U.K. Dennis the Menace cartoon, Dennis' granny jokes that before TV was invented, they all sat around waiting for TV to be invented. Her actual youth activities however (reading, hunting dodos and listening to the wireless) are little better, as far as the main character is concerned.
- Phineas and Ferb
- Candace described reading as something people did before they invented fun.
- After the boys get zapped with a Dull and Boring-inator by accident, their usual antics are replaced by playing with a lint roller and watching grass grow. The thought of paint watching actually excites them.
Phineas: What color paint? Can it be beige?
- In the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic episode "Too Many Pinkie Pies", this — a literal watching-paint-dry test — is how the other Mane Five determine who the real Pinkie is. The fakes can't stand not having fun for so long, but the real, more complex Pinkie Pie (who suggested the idea) can withstand anything if it means she won't be made to leave her friends. And besides, while the real Pinkie Pie would have been afraid of the unknown consequences of failing, the fakes had nothing to lose that way.
- In The Looney Tunes Show episode "Father Figures", when Porky Pig joins the Father Figure Program and becomes a father figure to Henery Hawk, some of the activities he takes him on is watching paint dry and grass grow. Henery was not amused. Henery even lampshades how Porky's idea of fun is acting out the expression of watching paint dry.
- Storm Hawks: In "Royal Twist", Piper (involuntarily) swaps places with Princess Peregrine in a Prince and Pauper plot. She discovers that the Princess's duties consist of a never ending stream of mindless activities designed to keep her busy and out of affairs of state. One of these activities is judging a paint drying competition.
- The Fairly OddParents!: In "Viral Vidiots", Cosmo posts a video of him watching paint dry (although he gets frustrated and starts yelling at it to dry faster and pounding on the wall). He thinks the video has 1 million hits because people like watching paint dry. Actually, they like seeing the wall collapse on Cosmo.
- There is a considerable amount of research on the effects of the environment on various inks and paints, and people who work for companies which produce paint and ink whose job is quite literally to watch ink fade from pages or paint peel off of wood. Of course, as many of these things are designed to last for hundreds of years, there are machines designed to emulate a year's worth of exposure in a single day.