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Summary

  • Peanuts
    iconic football gag, in which Lucy pulls the football away from Charlie Brown time and again just as he runs up to kick it, began as a complete misunderstanding, as she pulled it away out of fear of it getting dirty, rather than out of a desire to see Charlie Brown fail.
  • Peanuts’ football gag actually originated before Lucy was introduced, with the character Violet in her place – it wouldn’t be for several years after the character’s introduction that she first pulled the football away from Charlie Brown on purpose.
  • The birth of the football gag, as
    Peanuts
    fans know and love today, coincided with the development of Lucy’s character into the acerbic, tough character contemporary fans are familiar with.
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The iconic “Lucy and the Football” gag that has frustrated Charlie Brown for decades actually began as a complete misunderstanding. There have been many notable running gags throughout Peanuts‘ historic 50-year run. However, none has been more iconic than the classic football gag, which has been referenced endlessly by other popular comics, including Bill Amend’s FoxTrot.

While the joke has become as timeless as the Peanuts characters created by Charles Schulz, Lucy never truly intended to trick Charlie Brown the first time it happened. The first football gag in Peanuts’ history featuring Lucy premiered on November 16th, 1952 and had a fairly similar set-up to what the joke would become.

Lucy Holds the Ball Tight

However, Lucy was exceedingly different at this point in time. She’s pretty naive and pulls the ball away because she was afraid Charlie Brown’s shoes would make her football dirty. When she tries again, she holds it so tight that Charlie Brown actually trips over it, rather than kicking it.

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When the first football gag featuring Lucy was created, she wasn’t as mean as she would become in later strips, so the joke came from her misunderstanding the situation, and accidentally causing Charlie Brown to fail.

Peanuts' first football gag, featuring Violet instead of Lucy

Another surprising thing about the origins of
Peanuts
football gag is that it actually preceded Lucy. A year prior to her introduction, Charlie Brown attempted to kick a football for the very first time, though in that case, it was held by Violet. Just like Lucy, she dodged out of the way to avoid getting kicked, in a huge misunderstanding that served as the foundation for what would become an iconic punchline.

Despite Lucy completely misunderstanding the situation in this early strip, and unintentionally making Charlie Brown miss, it is amazing that this is where one of comics’ most famous jokes got its start. While the “accident” formulation of the gag would only last a couple of years, it is clear that this was the original intent. Eventually realizing the humorous potential in making Lucy actively yank the ball away from Charlie Brown, Schulz went in a different direction, and it changed Peanuts history forever.

The ultimate reason behind why one of Peanuts‘ best gags was so different in the beginning is because Lucy hadn’t quite become the character she’s known for today. Just like most of the Peanuts gang’s first appearances, Lucy was incredibly different, since she was painted as a regular yet naive little girl. When the first football gag featuring Lucy was created, she wasn’t as mean as she would become in later strips, so the joke came from her misunderstanding the situation, and accidentally causing Charlie Brown to fail.

When the gag was brought back in 1956, Lucy had become the more recognizable, outspoken character
Peanuts
fans are familiar with to this day, and a regular antagonist to Charlie Brown. This shift marked the first time she pulled the ball away intentionally, marking this as the moment when the football gag was truly born.

In the first true football gag from Peanuts, Lucy pulls the ball away from Charlie Brown intentionally for the first time

When the gag was brought back in 1956, Lucy had become the more recognizable, outspoken character Peanuts fans are familiar with to this day, and a regular antagonist to Charlie Brown. This shift marked the first time she pulled the ball away intentionally, marking this as the moment when the football gag was truly born after a few earlier attempts years prior. It would be interesting to see just how much the football gag would have changed had Lucy’s character not undergone a major shift since her first few Peanuts appearances, and began more actively setting Charlie Brown up to fail.

Peanuts Franchise Poster
Peanuts

Created by Charles M. Schulz, Peanuts is a multimedia franchise that began as a comic strip in the 1950s and eventually expanded to include films and a television series. Peanuts follows the daily adventures of the Peanuts gang, with Charlie Brown and his dog Snoopy at the center of them. Aside from the film released in 2015, the franchise also has several Holiday specials that air regularly on U.S. Television during their appropriate seasons.



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