10 Far Side Comic Jokes We Only Understood As Adults (2024)

This article contains references to circ*mstances that may be disturbing to some readers, such as suicide and colonialism.

The Far Side, created by Gary Larson, was a single panel comic strip famous for its surreal, idiosyncratic humor, most of which stemmed from putting animals in distinctly human predicaments. The jokes in the strip were confounding, cryptic and often quite dark, observing the world through an absurd lens.

In spite of this, The Far Side became extremely popular with children. Even if they didn't exactly get the punchline, The Far Side spoke to children's innate fascination with the strange and goofy. But with time, young fans grew to understand the more adult jokes and learned to appreciate the comic on a deeper level.

10 The Far Side Finds the Lighter Side in the Darkest Subjects

Publication Date: February 10, 1992

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When The Far Side was at its darkest, it was also at its silliest. In this comic, a murder victim was found in the most ridiculous circ*mstances imaginable: tied up, upside down, head submerged in a fishbowl, a frog stuffed in his mouth, wearing a suit of armor, a pair of flippers and draped with Christmas lights. This was the calling card of an apparent serial killer in the world of The Far Side.

Here Gary Larson lampooned the exaggerated nature of police fiction, creating a pastiche of a hard-boiled detective, (cigar and fedora included). The embellished M.O. of the killer is mocking the hyperbolic serial killers from the likes of Law and Order. This comic was likely many young readers' introduction to the tropes of crime fiction, allowing them to appreciate the absurdity inherent in the genre for the first time without subjecting them to any visceral carnage.

9 The Far Side Memorializes Cannibalism

Publication Date: February 9, 1990

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In this especially Morbid comic, Larson took a jab at the infamous Donner party, a group of 19th century pioneers whose migration to California ended in tragedy when they became stranded during the winter and were forced to resort to cannibalism. By turning the event into a brazen tourist trap, Gary Larson was commenting on how tragedy becomes commodified.

The Far Side introduced younger readers to several bleak historical events, but always through a farcical lense. Gary Larson managed to never get bogged down with the horrible realities of these historical tragedies by highlighting the inherent absurdity of the subject. Although young readers most likely misinterpreted the real life reference, hopefully this comic made them curious enough to research the topic on their own.

8 Humans are on the Menu in The Far Side

Publication Date: September 3, 1980

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While cows and aliens are frequent subjects of Gary Larson's The Far Side comic strip, he has also used dogs to shine a light on fun human behaviors.

The Far Side liked to play with the typical hierarchy of the animal kingdom, often putting humans a couple of rungs down the proverbial ladder, by placing them in situations most commonly associated with wild animals, such as being hunted and cooked. Just like he found humor in making animals civilized and giving them human dilemmas, Gary Larson was just as interested in the reverse.

In this comic, a family of bears enthusiastically attempted to eat a terrified man stuck in a tree. Gary Larson asked a familiar question: white or dark meat? Positing it into the conventionally feral circ*mstance of an animal eating its prey. The Far Side worked best when flipping societal norms on their head, injecting humor into what otherwise would be a terrifying experience.

7 Animals in The Far Side Suffer Just as Much as Humans

Publication Date: 1983

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A lot of The Far Side’s humor arose from the incongruity of placing animals in human situations, which gave some levity to the most distressing situations. In this comic, Gary Larson invoked the subject of suicide by using the anatomy of a snake to resemble a noose. The absurdity of the image and the distinctly human reaction of the other snake allowed the joke to function and not get bogged down in its sad reality.

This comic was meant for an adult audience due to the concept of suicide hopefully being something young readers cannot comprehend. Only with the advent of maturity does the comic's subtext become clear. Thankfully (unlike most comic strips at the time), Gary Larson respected the maturity of his audience.

Publication Date: November 27, 1992

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One of the most common themes in The Far Side is man’s incompetence. Gary Larson loved to poke fun at society's inability to function as a result of mass confusion. In this multilayered comic, a group of blind protesters attempted to picket a factory. Unfortunately, as a result of their condition, they have accidentally surrounded a center for illiteracy, accomplishing absolutely nothing.

A lesser artist would have created a mean-spirited joke, simply bullying those who are visually impaired. Gary Larson instead used his signature wit and insight in order to illustrate the futility of humanity's attempts to make a statement or effect change. The Far Side’s depiction of societal conflict invokes reflection on the complexities of communication and the limitations of the readers' perception. This strip is arguably Gary Larson's most complex work, leaving even some adult readers confused.

5 No One is Safe in The Far Side

Publication Date: January 9, 1990

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Some of the best The Far Side strips used dramatic irony, when the reader knows something that the characters don’t, applying the anticipation of the set-up in order for the audience to infer the punchline. In this comic, Gary Larson placed a dingo farm directly next to a nursery. The dogs were all lined up staring through the fence directly at the babies. With the caption “trouble brewing,” the outcome of the situation is obvious to anyone but the naive.

Though the strip was incredibly dark, the violence was completely implied, forcing the reader to imagine the outcome in their head. A young reader could innocently misconstrue the joke, discerning the outcome only after experiencing the inevitability of tragedy firsthand. The magic of The Far Side is that it's only as dark as the readers' imagination allows, self-censoring itself based on the readers own level of maturity.

4 Humans Are Not The Only Species That Drink on The Far Side

Publication Date: September 5, 1985

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Most adults can relate to the experience of a terrible hangover, but in typical Far Side fashion, Gary Larson transformed this common situation into a fantastical conundrum. In his world, humans were not the only species who party. In this comic, a nest of scorpions made a home in an unfortunate hungover man’s shoe. They had been celebrating alongside the man, drinking all night long. The comic depicted the moment right before the party animals violently connected.

This strip will most likely go over a young reader's head, woefully unaware of the horrors of hangovers, but any adult who's awoken to a blistering headache after a long night out will appreciate the comic. By creating an exaggerated example of the pains of a hangover, Gary Larson reminded adult readers of the downsides of being a grown up.

3 Humans Find Strange Bedfellows in The Far Side

Publication Date: May 12, 1992

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When The Far Side dabbled in soap opera-type drama, it was always riveting in its bizarre way. In this comic, a man discovered his wife Margaret was cheating on him with, what else, but a bear. Margaret, dressed in a bear suit, had shot her husband after he discovered her love nest. Her bear lover uncomfortably looked on.

Though younger readers can appreciate the ridiculous imagery of this comic, concepts like adultery will most likely escape them. For an adult reader, this comic reflects an absurd interpretation of a very common grown-up predicament. Once a young reader experiences heartbreak firsthand, they can return to this comic with a new appreciation, and maybe even laugh at themselves a little bit.

2 The Far Side References the Impact of Colonialism

Publication Date: June 8, 1992

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Gary Larson often used The Far Side to comment on a wide swathe of societal issues. These topics will most likely go over the head of an uneducated younger reader, but become stunningly astute as they become aware of the horrors of their countries' past. An older reader returning to The Far Side gains a whole new appreciation of the comic once they become educated enough to understand its biting satire.

In the comic, a group of wolves who suffered from deforestation resorted to drug use (snorting quack) in order to cope with their situation. This simple pun is obvious to any adult reader, but the addition of “overwhelmed by human pressures” adds an interesting layer to the comic. The Far Side was insinuating the very real history of colonist cultures' devastating introduction of drugs and alcohol to indigenous peoples.

1 The Far Side Tests the Limits of Raunchiness

Publication Date: March 12, 1987

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Not all the adult jokes in The Far Side were that serious. A sizable portion were particularly juvenile, poking fun at its adolescent readers' immaturity. In this comic, a pair of raucous bulls inflated a plastic life-size female cow, excited to make their impure bovine thoughts a reality. This scene should be a familiar one to any reader who’s interacted with adolescent boys.

This comic was directed at a more adult (or at least postpubescent) audience, who can recognize the function of a sex doll. This comic was about as risqué as The Far Side could get, toeing the line of what was an acceptable topic for a newspaper comic strip. Thankfully, Gary Larson's signature strategy of implying the most explicit aspects of his premises stopped the comic from completely crossing the line and scarring impressionable young readers.

10 Far Side Comic Jokes We Only Understood As Adults (2024)

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