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An in-joke is something which is only funny to those people who have a certain piece of knowledge or information. From a sociological point of view, in-jokes are used by groups to identify those who are Not-Us — anyone who not a member of the group is not likely to get the joke. In-jokes are a stock source of humor in niche comics or shows; like jokes about computer programming that can only be understood by technicians, jokes about a film that only make sense if you listened to the director's commentary, jokes about a country's political system or culture that only citizens of that place could ever laugh at. If you are in on the joke, these can be hilarious; if you aren't, then they get irritating fast.

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Some creators cannot resist putting references or jokes that only they understand into their works. Usually, these are based on events and people from their childhoods, their families, and their working environments. Sometimes these In Jokes are explained later (usually on a DVD commentary, or in an interview), but sometimes they are never explained, leading to a lot of fan speculation regarding their meaning.

Unlike a regular In-Joke, sometimes the only person who knows what a particular reference means (at least originally) is the creator who added it. Many a Development Gag also fits this. The extreme of this trope is when the creator himself has forgotten the meaning of the joke.

Compare Trolling Creator, whose fans might understand the joke while only the creator is amused by it.


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Examples:

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    Fanfiction 
  • In the Twice Upon an Age series, it's noted that Hawke has a mabari warhound named Rikki. The author always gives this name to the mabari companion when playing Dragon Age: Origins or Dragon Age II - it's the name of her parents' dog.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • The film 2010 features a cover of Time magazine with the American president and Soviet premier. The former is Arthur C. Clarke, and the latter is Stanley Kubrick.
  • The phrase "Poopy Trim", from Kevin Smith's films in The View Askewniverse.
  • "See You Next Wednesday," a fictional movie advertised in many films by John Landis, was originally an unproduced screenplay Landis wrote when he was 17. The name comes from a line of dialogue in 2001: A Space Odyssey.
  • George Lucas has somehow managed to work "THX 1138" (if only the numbers or letters) into everything he's ever done.
  • Sam Raimi puts the same car - a 1973 Olds Delta Royale, referred to as "the Classic," which he inherited from his father - in almost all of his films.
  • In Super Troopers, the name of one of the Local Cops is Rando, which was something the writers called people they didn't know "randoms" during college. Not a huge in-joke (as calling people randoms has been around for the last 10 years or so), but one nonetheless.
  • The working titles for Steven Spielberg's movies Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial were "Watch the Skies" and "A Boy's Life" respectively. Both were referenced as a one of these in Gremlins (which Spielberg produced), as two movies reportedly showing in the town theater when Billy walks past it.
  • In Wayne's World, Wayne's Psycho Ex-Girlfriend tries to patch up their relationship by giving him a gun rack, something for which he has no use since, as he points out, he doesn't even own a single gun. This was based on what a (not-so-psycho) ex-girlfriend of Mike Myers tried on him.
  • The Villain: Needham includes a couple of Smokey and the Bandit references.
  • Gorilla Interrupted:
    • The scene where Rich Evans falls down a hillside through brambles is a reference to a nearly identical scene in another amateur film directed by cast member Jay Bauman.
    • The scene where an alien dumps a whole can of Crystal Pepsi on its face for no explicable reason is an apparent dig at one of the actors, Garrett Gilchrist, who insisted on adding a number of scenes to the script that the director Mike Stoklasa found pointless. One of these added scenes, which was shot but cut out of the finished film, involved Gilchrist's character having soda dumped on his head.
  • Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey: The character Station was an in-joke between the two screenwriters that came about during writing. After deleting a scene taking place in a police station, they noticed that they'd accidentally left the word "station" in the draft. Giddy on lack of sleep, the writers started saying "station" back and forth in funny voices and cracking up. They immortalized the joke by adding an alien to the story who only says his name, "Station."

    Literature 
  • When authors Tim Powers and James P. Blaylock were in college together, they invented a fake poet named "William Ashbless" to satirize the quality of their college's literary magazine. He ended up appearing as a character in both of their novels, entirely independently. Nearly all of Powers' novels mention Ashbless at least once, often in the form of an invented epigraph. In the novel The Anubis Gates we learn that "William Ashbless" is the alias of a time-travelling English professor, meaning he's also a fake character In-Universe, even in his own origin story.
  • The son of Kate Cary, one of the authors writing under the Erin Hunter name, once joked that Warriors should be called Worriers since that's all they seem to do. Kate included a reference to this in one of the books, having a character say "We're warriors, not worriers."
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    Live-Action TV 
  • Angel: The "Cavemen vs. Astronauts" Debate in the fifth season episode "A Hole In The World" is funny enough as it is, but it was based on a real argument Joss Whedon started in the writers' room that got way out of hand. He just wrote it on the chalkboard and came in later to find that the argument had effectively killed any work getting done.
  • Blackadder Goes Forth: In "General Hospital", Blackadder reveals that he figured out Nurse Mary was a German spy when he referenced the three great universities (Oxford, Cambridge, and Hull) and she failed to notice the odd one out. General Melchett responds "Quite — Oxford's a complete dump!", with Blackadder giving a nonplussed reaction. Stephen Fry (Melchett) attended Cambridge, which has had a centuries-long rivalry with Oxford, Rowan Atkinson (Blackadder)'s alma matter.
  • Desperate Housewives:
    • 5th season finale episode "If It's Only In Your Head". Lynette is told she's pregnant and says, "Are you sure it's not cancer?" This was based on creator Marc Cherry's personal experience: when his mother was told by doctors in the early '80s that she was either pregnant or had cancer, she said, "God, I hope it's cancer."
    • Bree's immediate response to learning that her son is gay is the same as Cherry's mother: "I'd love you even if you were a murderer."
  • Doctor Who:
    • "The Fires of Pompeii": Latin students everywhere stand a chance of recognizing Caecilius, Quintus and Metella — they're from the widely-used Cambridge Latin Course textbook series.
    • "Time Heist": One of the treasure items in Karabraxos' private vault, visible in the background of several important shots, is a child's cardboard model of a rocket ship. In the making-of documentary, director Douglas McKinnon explains that it belongs to him, was a gift from his daughter, and is one of his own most treasured possessions.
  • In Lexx, Xev's home planet B3K took its name from the production company's Halifax postal code.
  • From Lost, the song "You All Everybody" and its only known lyrics ("you all everybody, acting like these stupid people wearing expensive clothes") came from an inside joke among the writers. One of them had seen someone use the phrase on a talk show many years earlier.
    • "Geronimo Jackson" is a band that is mentioned several times throughout the series. Showrunners Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse swear the band was a legitimate one from the 70s that no one remembers, but the pair are known for making outrageous claims and jokes. However, they are unusually adamant that Geronimo Jackson was a real band. Several independent "investigations" (searches of music databases, copyright libraries, etc) have turned up no evidence Geronimo Jackson ever existed.
  • The Mighty Boosh was named after something once said by a childhood friend of Noel Fielding (Vince): upon seeing the large curly hairstyle sported by Michael Fielding (Naboo) at the time, the foreign-accented childhood friend exclaimed: "You've got a mighty bush!"
  • Roughly half the characters in Monty Python's Flying Circus were named Arthur, Ken, or Eric.
  • Mystery Science Theater 3000: In one episode, when the Film of the Week shows people looting a house, Tom Servo quips "Hey, she's got Mike's guitar!". At the time the episode was filmed, the real Michael J. Nelson had just been through a bad breakup where his ex-girlfriend took his guitar with her when she moved out.
  • In a A Series of Unfortunate Events, Count Olaf, played by Neil Patrick Harris, mentions having tried to get his own television show in the city for nine years. This may have been a reference to when Harris played Barney in How I Met Your Mother, a show set in New York City for nine years.
  • In the original proposal for Star Trek: The Original Series that Roddenberry submitted to MGM in 1964, the Enterprise was to be commanded by Robert M. April. The name also turned up in two episodes of Have Gun – Will Travel that Roddenberry wrote in The '50s.
  • Tim & Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!: The word "chippy", which gets used a lot, comes from some weird foreign porn Tim and Eric once saw.
  • The X-Files loved this one:
    • Chris Carter's best friend as a child was called Fox and his mother's maiden name is Mulder.
    • Various other characters are also named after people the writers knew.
    • Almost every time a date or number is mentioned it has some kind of significance (most commonly 1013/October 13th, Chris Carter's birthday, or 1121/November 21, his wife's). They even subverted it once by using the same number about five times in a single season - the number was completely meaningless but by this point, fans had been trained to look obsessively for the significance.

    Music 
  • The band Jimmy Eat World was named after an in-joke from their childhood: "The band's name came from a crayon drawing made after an incident between Linton's younger brothers, Jim and Ed, who fought frequently. Jim usually won, but Ed got his revenge by drawing a picture of Jim shoving the Earth into his mouth; the picture bore the caption "Jimmy eat world".
  • Nickelback was named for a phrase Chad Kroeger kept hearing when he visited a friend at Starbucks: "Here's your nickel back." It was $1.95 day, and customers kept paying with two-dollar coins.
  • Folk singer-songwriter John Stewart included quotes from someone named Oliver Makin in the liner notes of two of his albums (Sunstorm, Wingless Angels). Makin was supposedly "a poet and short story writer from Kansas who died in 1909", but Stewart fans haven't been able to locate any of Makin's works. The fact that the quotes conveniently just happen to include Title Drops for the albums in question pretty much confirms that Makin=Stewart.
  • Beginning with 1990's Under The Red Sky, Bob Dylan has credited himself as "Jack Frost" whenever he's produced one of his own albums.
  • Elton John was fond of his 1980s Camp Gay pseudonym, "Lord Choc Ice", and it appears in many manifestations. An instrumental B side was called "Lord Choc Ice Goes Mental", he credits his co-writing credit for the Cher co-written Leather Jackets song "Don't Trust That Woman" to "Cher/Lady Choc Ice" (he was upset that Cher wanted first billing, and tried to upstage her for revenge), he credits "Lady Choc Ice" as an "inspiration" in Leather Jackets's liner notes, and "Lord Choc Ice" is billed as "director" on the closing clapperboard in his "I'm Still Standing" video. He was known to substitute "foreign guy" in the line "Susie went and left me for some foreign guy" in "Crocodile Rock" with "...Choc Ice guy" in his 1982 concerts.
  • Steely Dan members Donald Fagen and Walter Becker are longtime best friends with many in-jokes. When interviewed together, they will frequently joke cryptically about events of their past, but not explain them to the interviewer. Similarly, their lyrics are filled with them. The song Kid Charlemagne, for instance, is lyrically a hodgepodge of events from their past, arranged to create a story.
  • Superchunk were originally called Chunk, because of how their drummer Chuck Garrison's name was misspelled in the phone book - the "Super-" prefix was added when they learned of a jazz group that was also called Chunk. Garrison was credited as Chunk on several singles and their first album, at least giving a small hint to the listener. Nowadays their name just comes off as a Word Salad Title, particularly because the original inspiration for it hasn't even been in the band for the last two decades.
  • The Lemonheads' Come On Feel The Lemonheads ends with an instrumental called "The Jello Fund": Lead singer Evan Dando evidently appeared in a Jello commercial as a child and his parents put the money away to fund his education.
  • System of a Down's "I-E-A-I-A-I-O" includes the lines "Meeting John at Dale's Jr. / winked an eye and point a finger". As a child, drummer John Dolmayan had a chance meeting with David Hasselhoff in front of a liquor store called Dale's Jr.; When John exclaimed "Knight Rider!", Hasselhoff said "Hey, kid", winked and pointed his finger at him. John told the story to Serj Tankian, who wrote it into the lyrics. It sort of ties into the next line, which is a reference to the premise of Knight Rider ("a former cop, undercover / just got shot, now recovered").
  • Adolescents' demo collection Naughty Women In Black Sweaters has a double meaning that only works if one knows a lot about the 1980s Fullerton, California music scene the band came out of: According to lead vocalist Tony, The Naughty Women was the name of a "transvestite punk band" from Fullerton, while "the black sweaters" was a nickname for a group of women who had a reputation of being groupies. So, the album title is either referencing the Sweater Girl trope or something more risque.
  • Camper Van Beethoven's "Long Plastic Hallway" includes the lines "Playing on a flying saucer/ Box O'Laffs was supporting Talking Heads". Box O' Laffs were a group David Lowery was in before Camper Van Beethoven; their guitarist had the rest of the band convinced they'd landed a gig opening up for Talking Heads, but after much ado it turned out that he had been high and in a delusional state at the time, and the venue for the supposed event was to be a UFO flying above L.A.
    • David Lowery and Mark Linkous once had a conversation about things that an artist could do on an album that would cause listeners to think they'd gone insane- Lowery suggested mentioning monkeys in every song on an album. Subsequently, Forever by Cracker had four separate songs that mentioned monkeys in the lyrics. Forever itself even had the Working Title of Guarded By Monkeys, until the label asked for a more marketable title.
  • The title of Leonard Cohen's "Jazz Police" originated as a studio in-joke dating from about 10 years before the song was recorded: When recording the album Recent Songs, Cohen found he frequently had to stop his backing band from adding "jazz riffs" to his songs.

    Radio 
  • Our Miss Brooks: The radio episode "The Twin Orphans" features twin boys named Mike and Danny. Al Lewis, the show's writer, had twin boys named Mike and Danny.
    • There were shout outs on other occasions as well, although never so prominently (i.e. "Babysitting for Three" and "New School TV Set")

    Theatre 
  • In Candide, the Old Lady mentions that her father (or mother, in some versions) came from Rovno Gubernya, an obscure Russian town not mentioned in Voltaire's book. It's where Leonard Bernstein's father was born.
  • In Merrily We Roll Along, Joe Josephson rejects a Franklin Shepard score on the grounds that "there's not a tune you can hum," adding, "I'll let you know when Stravinsky has a hit." The Igor Stravinsky comparison was made by George Abbott when he turned down the offer to produce West Side Story.

    Toys 
  • The creation of the name of the character Wedgehead from Uglydolls comes from a reference to something creator David Horvath would pull against a lying toy store. Back in the 80s, when the classic Star Wars action figures were out, the only toy store that had them near him was a long bus ride away, forcing a call to them. The store would claim they had the figure he asked for, only to not when he went there. Fed up with having to deal with this multiple times, he concocted the name "Wedgehead" and asked if they had that figure. The store said yes, causing him to be able to catch the store in their own lie with a fake figure name. Come the creation of Uglydolls, the name Wedgehead was reused...and the same toy store did sell his doll.

    Video Games 

    Web Animation 
  • Homestar Runner:
    • The phrase "Kick it out, Behan" was something the creator's Mom said at track meets when he was a kid.
    • The name Homestar Runner comes from an incident in school when a friend of The Brothers Chap note  tried to imitate an old-timey baseball announcer but didn't know much about baseball. In the process, he garbled some terms and called a player a "homestar runner".

    Webcomics 
  • From It's Walky!, Walky's catchphrase "Wiigii" was inspired by a typo of the author's when he was trying to type "Woohoo" and his right hand was off to the left.
  • The "You call this a X?" from Romantically Apocalyptic.
  • Homestuck recycles a lot of characters and themes from Andrew's more obscure work. For instance, Gamzee a monster clown serial killer is partially based off his little known and orphaned graphic novel series, Whistles. The character dynamic of the Kids, and the flavor of Homestuck in general, comes from Wizardy Herbert, an incomplete novel Andrew described as magical kids learning how to focus their powers and taking the piss out of it. The characters on the pages on Rose's wall are the concept art of that story. Likewise, there is a poster in Dave's room of two robot rappers, who later appear as minor characters Squarewave and Sawtooth. Andrew had an idea to write a rap music album based on them, but it also never came to fruition.
    • A few moments in the comic are just incomprehensibly bizarre without knowing that they're in reaction to fans on the forums or social media freaking out about events in the comic. The infamous scene of the Author Avatar trying to kiss Rufio back to life was to tease fans freaking out over one character's murder of another, and the bizarre scene of a character's insane glee at being Caucasian and another character's Big "NO!" (due to having an actual skin tone in "trickster mode" instead of the monochrome white all other human children have) is a Take That! to fan controversy over what race the kids actually are (which has since been edited due to blowing up into its own controversy and case of Your Approval Fills Me with Shame. the page in question now has the character declaring "I feel PEACHY!").

    Western Animation 
  • "A113" is an inside joke amongst a number of animators who graduated from the California Institute for the Arts; for decades, it was the classroom where character animation classes were held. See the other Wiki for a listing of some of the references.
  • The Venture Bros.: Dean calls Orpheus's pendant a "Dracula trophy". The phrase was originally something overheard during childhood by one of the show's creators, and it stuck.
  • "Jalapena" as an exclamation in Disney's Gargoyles. Keith David had known someone who used it that way and improvised during a recording session. It stuck.
  • In Lilo & Stitch: The Series, one of the phrases Stitch says is "Maka maka, sasa!" (meaning "This way, hurry!") Sasa is an affectionate nickname for Sa, the wife of executive producer of the series Jess Winfield, and "makamaka" is Hawaiian for "friend and host". Every year Sa hosts a luau party and signs the invitations with "Makamaka Sasa."
  • Futurama prefers Al Gore as a constant source of humor for several reasons. Back when the show was new, people thought he was humorless, not knowing that his daughter writes for the show, and she had to get it from somewhere.
    • A subtle one from Futurama—Leela is upset and tears one half of a Kleenex to wipe her tears away. On the DVD commentary, they said that everyone assumed it was a joke because of her one eye, but the writers were referencing the fact that executive producer and writer David X. Cohen would always rip tissue paper in half to save money.
  • Captain Robert T. April appears in the Star Trek: The Animated Series episode "The Counter-Clock Incident." In the original proposal for Star Trek: The Original Series that Roddenberry submitted to MGM in 1964, the Enterprise was to be commanded by Robert M. April.
  • A Magilla Gorilla cartoon had Magilla and several men at an Army recruitment center joining the service. They conclude the oath with "So help me Hanna."note 
  • On Harley Quinn (2019) , Lake Bell , who voices Poison Ivy, also voices recurring police officer Cheryl, who has a southern accent. This is a nod to the comics where Ivy originally had a southern accent.


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