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food-based humor

Bob’s Burgers Creator Loren Bouchard Explains the Art of Burger Puns

One of the recurring sight gags on the Fox animation series Bob’s Burgers is the Burger of the Day, a special item seen in most episodes on the chalkboard hanging above the diner’s cash register. These inventively named concoctions, which employ groan-worthy puns such as the I Don’t Bay Leaf in Magic Burger and the It’s Fun to Eat at the rYeMCA Burger, are usually created by Bob, except for when his wiseacre younger daughter, Louise, surreptitiously re-christens them in a less family friendly way, as when, in the show’s pilot episode, she wiped away her father’s New Bacon-ings Burger in favor of the Child Molester Burger (Comes With Candy). To further feed our obsession with food-based puns, Vulture spoke with Loren Bouchard, the creator of Bob’s Burgers, to find out how to build the perfect burger name.

Other than to make viewers laugh, what’s the rationale behind the Burger of the Day gag?
It was all about this idea that Louise would mess with the chalkboard when Bob would leave her alone in the restaurant. That was a funny idea and detail about both their relationship to each other and their relationship to the restaurant. The other thing we liked about it is that you get a sense of Bob that you don’t otherwise get, that (a) this is a guy who cares a lot about his food and makes a new special every day; he’s not just phoning it in — it’s a mom-and-pop burger shop but it’s also a food laboratory where he’s trying to come up with new things — and that (b) he’s trying to be funny. So that’s why we did it and since then it’s been fun to have all these sweaty puns.

Could you explain the process of coming up with your Burger of the Day names?
On any given show, the writer of that episode is responsible for generating a list of about ten Burgers of the Day to me. They can do that by themselves or, if it’s a team, they may do it together, or they can get help. But then they submit their choices to me and I choose. So, for example, we are doing “Tina and the Real Ghost,” our episode for next Halloween, now. Here are the ten I’m choosing from:

• Ghost Pepper Burger
• I Ain’t Afraid of No Roast Burger (comes with roasted bell peppers)
• House on Haunted Dill Burger (comes with dill)
• Texas Chainsaw Massacurd Burger (comes with cheese curds)
• Human Polentapede Burger
• Kale from the Crypt Burger
• Spookghetti Burger (comes with marinara sauce)
• Paranormal Pepperjacktivity Burger (comes with pepperjack cheese)
• Ghost-bun-ters Burger
• Poultrygeist Burger (comes with chicken livers)

And there’s a burger for every day, so let’s say “Tina and the Real Ghost” takes place over three chronological days — I’ll have to pick three, or ask for more, or tweak one. And then that goes back in front of the writers, and then it goes to the art department and goes up on the chalkboard!

What do you look for when you’re choosing between burger names?
Early on, we got a very, very jokey bunch of burgers from people who are, you know, paid to write jokes. And it was understandable, but I thought it was my job to reject any that didn’t seem like real burgers. Like the obviously jokey ones — like “comes with five buns!” — where in order to make the joke work, they have to really twist the possibilities of what the burger would be. Granted, we break that rule sometimes, but my goal is to have it seem like it could be a real burger. You know that blog [by a guy who makes the actual burgers of the day and posts them]? That is my dream come true as it pertains to these burgers — or, I should say, my dream come true would actually to put out a Bob’s Burgers cookbook based on the Burgers of the Day. That is the sort of the lens I use. I just throw out any burger that would not possibly be a real burger. And then secondarily, just the usual vetting, — you know, is the joke mean? Does it make fun of anybody? Is it in the spirit of the show, and is it the kind of joke that Bob would make? Or Louise? You know, the Foot Feta-ish Burger or the Your Face Looks Like a Butt Burger. 

Have any burger names been rejected by Fox’s Standards and Practices department?
No, they are pretty safe. Well, obviously we started out with the least safe, edgy joke we ever made on the show [the child molester burger] and since then we’ve toned it down. They also generally don’t see it until it’s very late in the process.  

What is your favorite burger of the day?
I never pick favorites, because if I say one, then along comes another one and that’s my new favorite. And you know ... it also feels disloyal to all the wonderful Burgers of the Day. But I like a good old-fashioned, simple pun, and I like when they’re on story, too. Last Christmas, we had the Home for the Challahdays Burger. Or, in “The Magicians Show,” the Is This Your Chard? Burger. The ones I tend to like the most are the ones that sort of do break the rules; it’s cheating, but it’s my favorite kind of cheating, where they list what they don’t have in the burger. I have a feeling they all come from one writer. I think he likes the construction and I have to say I have a soft spot for it, too. Like the Say It Ain’t Cilantro Burger (comes with no cilantro because cilantro is terrible). Or the I Am Mad About Saffron (made with no saffron).

Do you ever change any names out of concern that someone won’t get the joke?
I think it’s nice because we live in this age where fans that are half my age know all the movies I know, since, magically, everything’s available all the time. When I was 15, I wouldn’t have gotten a reference to a movie that came out before I was born; now, a 15-year-old knows every movie that came out in the ’80s, so it’s like everything’s fair game, especially in terms of references like The Longest Yard (the Longest Chard Burger). I feel like us old fogeys are eternally young as far as references go.

Does having a running gag make it easier or harder to put together the show?
I think it’s definitely harder. For the Burger of the Day, and the changing storefront and the rat vans [in the opening sequence], not only do you have to think of [each gag] — which is reasonably hard, but doable if you have a staff of funny writers, which we do — but then you have to draw it and put it into the episode. So we’re tasking production and the writing staff when they’re all busy doing other things. We committed to this idea early here, because I think we all grew up watching The Simpsons. Their chalkboard gag had an incredible effect, the idea that there was a unique joke in every open of The Simpsons. It was so nice of them — it sort of felt like this little gift they were giving you. We wanted to do the same. It’s a very generous feeling. And I also like that there are details in animation that you can hunt for, and when you find them, it repays your attention.  The closer you look, the more you see. It’s fun for us as audience members of other shows, and it’s fun for us to put that stuff in our show and to see people talking about it online. They do catch it. They do watch it that closely. It’s really satisfying. 

Are you surprised by the audience response to the Burger of the Day?
When we do panels at Comic-Con or do Bob’s Burgers live, we always throw it open to Q&As, which are my favorite part. Every single time someone has mentioned the Burgers of the Day. As it turns out, people are much more fond of shitty puns than we previously thought.