How Did Slipping on a Banana Peel become a Comedy Staple?

How Did Slipping on a Banana Peel become a Comedy Staple?

Have you personally every slipped on a banana peel? Or, honestly, any fruit peelings for that matter? Even if it hasn’t happened to you, you most likely have seen it happen on TV or in the movies. Everyone knows that once a banana peel is on the floor, the classic slapstick gag is coming shortly after. But how did slipping on a banana peel become a comedy staple in the first place? Are bananas actually that slippery? Let’s find out!

How Did Slipping on a Banana Peel become a Comedy Staple?

Before looking at how slipping on a banana became a classic comedy gag, let’s first better understand why we think it’s funny to begin with.

Things like falling over and other daily misfortunes have been considered funny as far back as 2,500 BC. You can thank schadenfreude for that. In short, schadenfreude is what describes you when you think someone else getting hurt or humiliated is funny. Or at the very least, you don’t feel bad for them.

One of the first recorded instances of banana peels being used as a comedic device dates back to Billy Watson, a turn-of-the-century vaudeville performer. He was a comedian known for literally sliding onto the stage from the wings–so if bananas really were slippery, he’d be the one to do it. 

Charlie Chaplin’s 1915 By the Sea would be the first time this gag appeared on the big screen, soon to be adopted by slapstick juggernauts like Buster Keaton by 1921.

Banana Peels: Origins

The honest truth is that we can’t be entirely certain on where the whole banana peel thing originated. We do know that Americans would not get widespread access to our long, yellow fruit until 1866, when they began being imported en masse. While it’s probably safe to assume the joke of slipping on a peel dates prior to 1866, bananas would not really enter mainstream American consciousness until after then.

We do know that Americans in the 19th century were filthy animals, and were very prone to littering. It was common to find rotting, organic matter in the streets of large urban centers, and by the end of the century banana peels were seen as a legitimate public hazard. Bananas were the new, popular street food after all. And people were leaving their peels everywhere.

But there’s more to the story than just “Americans litter a lot,” though. If you’re up to date on your modes of travel, people used horses a lot during this time as well–and horses poop. Quite frequently. It wasn’t uncommon for banana peels to rot and mix with horse excrement, and then for people to slip on this. 

When applying this all to comedy, there is no doubt banana peels, which are bright yellow, translated way better on stage than a brown mass of banana and poop.

Did People Slip on Things Before Bananas?

Actually, yes. Before the age of the banana peel, there were orange peel or peach skin jokes.

Okay, But Can You Slip on a Banana?

Well, the gag has to be limited in some realm of truth. Yes, in fact you can slip on a banana peel. 

Some researchers even did the math. They found that the coefficient of friction of a banana peel on linoleum was 0.07.  That’s comparable to greased up iron, for reference. In 2014, the banana research even won the Ig Nobel Prize for it. It’s basically the “you researched something really dumb but it made people laugh” prize. Science wins!

Want more banana related humor? You might find these Banana Jokes appealing.