Affectionate Parody / Shout-Out: They were parodied in Discworld as with the dwarfish group "We're Certainly Dwarfs". They were also partially responsible for Foul Ole Ron's Catchphrase "Millennium hand and shrimp" in the same setting, by way of Terry Pratchett dumping a Chinese restaurant menu and the lyrics sheet for Particle Man into a travesty generator. Pratchett was a fan of the band.
Black Sheep Hit: Thoroughly averted. The band's biggest mainstream hits ("Birdhouse in Your Soul" and "Istanbul" (from Flood), "Boss of Me") remain fan favorites.
The band itself, for John Linnell. In the years prior, he was part of a Rhode Island group called The Mundanes, a New Wave group in the Blondie/Motels/Waitresses mold. They built a local following, tried and failed to get a major record deal, and then broke up in 1983.
Creator Backlash: They're noted for digging deep into their catalog in live shows, but they haven't played "I've Got a Match" since 1989, a few months after its parent album Lincoln was released. They've even skipped it in more recent shows devoted to playing songs from Lincoln. According to John Flansburgh, they just got burned out on playing the song and aren't eager to revisit it.
Fan Nickname: Fans tend to capitalize "They" when the pronoun is used in reference to the band.
"Flans" or "Flansy" for John Flansburgh, which the band seem to have embraced: Flansburgh has referred to himself as such in interviews, and Mike Doughty'sWord Salad Lyrics to "Mr. Xcitement" include a reference to "Flansy in a soda can".
Hollywood New England: Both Johns are originally from outside of Boston, so they both will slip into the accent on occasion in songs. Linnell most blatantly does it in "A Self Called Nowhere" and "Wicked Little Critta."
Missing Episode: One of the first music videos that the band made was a video for the song "Rabid Child" that was never released to the public, except for a clip in Gigantic: A Tale of Two Johns years later.
The band has done two different songs with the name "She Was A Hotel Detective" that have nothing to do with each other except the title and being TMBG songs. The version on the first album is "(She Was A) Hotel Detective" and the version on the Back To Skull EP is "She Was a Hotel Detective" (note the lack of parentheses). They also did a third song with a callback title, "She Was a Hotel Detective in the Future."
They also have the occasional song that has the same title as a song by another artist. Sometimes this has been deliberate ("Welcome to the Jungle", "Sapphire Bullets of Pure Love"—previously used by Mahavishnu Orchestra). Other times it's been accidental. They weren't aware that The Beach Boys had already done a song called "Santa's Beard" when they wrote and recorded theirs.
No-Hit Wonder: Never hit the Billboard Hot 100 in the US, though they scored hits in the UK and Australia. They also didn't have a Top 40 album until Join Us in 2011, 25 years after their debut album.
Official Fan-Submitted Content: There are times the band would have a contest on music videos created by fans. Both "Can't Keep Johnny Down" and "I Left My Body" had several entries.
They don't believe the album version of "She's Actual Size" stands up so well anymore, especially compared to the live versions they've performed since then.
The music video for "Rabid Child," which was never shown publicly (outside of a brief clip) and the Johns won't even discuss. No one is exactly sure why, as it seemingly consists of little more than Flans lip-synching the song while standing in his apartment.
Real Life Writes the Plot: An attempt to politely avert it. As they were coming up on the end of filming the documentary Gigantic: A Tale of Two Johns one of the last scenes was a release party for their new album, Mink Car, which was held at 11:30pm on September 10th, 2001 in New York City. On the DVD Commentary they say they had a rough time figuring out what to do - 9/11 wasn't important to the story, so to mention it would be "cashing in" on it, but to not mention it when it affected the lives of those presentnote one attendee actually stayed near the World Trade Center and was evacuated from their hotel room the next morning. They were uninjured, but they lost all their belongings from the room would also be rude. A compromise was made to simply have a Title Card listing the date, letting astute viewers make the connection, but leaving 9/11 intentionally Out of Focus.
Science Marches On: Scientists used to think that the sun was a mass of incandescent gas (as in "Why Does the Sun Shine?"), but now scientists believe that it's better described as a miasma of incandescent plasma. So just to be safe, TMBG wrote another song, called "Why Does the Sun Really Shine?"
Screwed by the Network: After a strong debut on Elektra Records with Flood and Apollo 18, their relationship with the label quickly went downhill. This started when A&R rep Sue Drew left the label in 1993; Drew had signed the band to the label and represented them and other quirky alt-rock bands on the roster like Ween and Phish. Her departure robbed the band of their biggest advocate at Elektra, though label president Bob Krasnow, a respected industry vet, also was sympathetic to them.note Krasnow had a long track record of championing non-mainstream acts, most notably signing Captain Beefheart to his first recording contract Then, on the eve of the release of John Henry, Krasnow abruptly quit, as part of a massive leadership shakeup at Warner Music Group. After that, there was no one left at the label who really understood what They Might Be Giants were about or how to market them. The growing rift between band and label came to a head during their 1995 tour of Japan, when Elektra asked the band to play an impromptu gig at a coffee house on one of their days off, but they declined in order to take some much needed downtime. When they got off their train, they were met by an Elektra representative who was there to take them to the coffee shop: The label had went ahead and booked the show anyway without their permission. The Johns refused to play. Elektra did almost zero promotion for Factory Showroom in 1996, despite it being the band's most mainstream-sounding album to date, so they asked to be released from their contract, which Elektra agreed to.
Serendipity Writes the Plot: While TMBG has always had their signature sound, the short, staccato sound and clearer enunciation of the songs on their debut album were mostly a result of working around the limitations of recording songs on an answering machine for Dial-A-Song (notably that long, sustained notes would cause the tape to rewind).
Shrug of God: The band doesn't often confirm or deny theories about a given song. An example: when asked what their first single "Don't Let's Start" was about, they responded that it was "about not let's starting". In 2015 Linnell admitted he doesn't remember what he was trying to get across at the time.
Their children's albums No!, Here Come The ABCs, Here Come The 123s, Here Comes Science, and Why?. There's an EP that goes with the book Bed Bed Bed, the title track later reworked for No!.
Subverted when the puppets made for Here Comes the ABCs and 123s were used for a video of their cover of "The Long Grift" from Hedwig and the Angry Inch. The puppets have also been used for a very child-unfriendly song in a few live performances. The title? "Puppet's Gonna Fuck You Up".
A couple of the songs also have this going on. The version of "Four Of Two" that you hear on No! is much more child-friendly than the original, and "Robot Parade" plays with the trope with a Heavy Metal version called "Robot Parade (Adult Version)" that has the exact same lyrics.
Working Title: I Like Fun could have been My Murdered Remains, after a lyric from "Mrs. Bluebeard". They then used the title for their next album, which consisted of songs produced during the same period as I Like Fun itself.
The Dial-A-Song exclusive "Tumbleweed" was written for use in Recess: School's Out, but got replaced with "One" by Three Dog Night for the final film.
They Might Be Giants were supposed to write an entire movie's worth of songs for the film version of Coraline, but this plan was scrapped early in development. Before TMBG were removed from the project, they completed one song, "Careful What You Pack", which was released a year later. The final version of the film did retain one musical number, "Other Father's Song", though TMBG didn't write it—it was a scratch track the band liked too much to replace, and John Linnell sings it in the finished film.
Joe Strummer was supposed to sing the bridge of "Cyclops Rock", but he was unavailable for some reason, so the band instead settled on Cerys Matthews, singer for Welsh indie band Catatonia because she just so happened to be in the same studio at the time.
Elvis Costello was initially slated to produce Apollo 18. The Johns disapproved due to thinking they'd earned the chance to produce it themselves and to the tension that would occur from working with a hero of theirs.
Flansburgh's then-girlfriend (who sang on "Boat Of Car") was supposed to appear on "The Guitar (The Lion Sleeps Tonight)," but wasn't available for the recording, so instead they got Laura Cantrell.
Four songs, titled "Dawn Divine", "Stalker In Reverse", "Prepare", and "Lucky You", were recorded for Nanobots, but scrapped before the album's release. Only one ("Prepare") has been released as of now, as a Dial-A-Song exclusive in 2015. Little about the other songs is known, except that Dawn Divine was to feature Mike Doughty.