A Brief History of Gwyneth Paltrow, Pop-Culture Punch Line

Photo: Maya Robinson

In the middle of last night’s Selfie premiere, John Cho’s Henry told the social-media-obsessed Eliza Dooley (Karen Gillan) that it was very possible “to be beautiful on the outside, but ‘butt’ on the inside.” Eliza’s reply: “Like Gwyneth Paltrow.” It was one of the more tolerable jokes on the Selfie premiere — and also the latest instance of one of the most enduring pop-culture punch lines of our time.

Paltrow is Hollywood’s premier Wasp, the kind of limousine liberal conservatives love to mock, and liberals also love to mock, in order to prove they’re not like those other liberals. Plus, like “Franklin and Bash” (the inspiration for our earlier exploration of this topic), her name just works syntactically. Gwyneth, slightly fluffy and precious; Paltrow, pushing people along into the punch line. It all adds up to a name that’s been a steady source of laughs for writers since the late ‘90s. Relive the highlights, below.

Can’t Hardly Wait (1998)
Paltrow’s Goopy image took time to develop. At the time she burst onto the screen in the late ‘90s, she stood out from the pack of ‘90s ingenues for two reasons: her confusingly convincing British accent, and her public romance with Brad Pitt. Not a whole lot to work with, and Can’t Hardly Wait’s shots were so tame, they were basically just references. As Jennifer Love Hewitt complains about her boyfriend dumping her, her girlfriends console her: “Who does he think he is, Brad Pitt? You’re like Gwyneth, but with bigger boobs.”

Boston Public, “Chapter One” (2000)
Oscar in hand, Paltrow had started to obtain the aura of practiced perfection that would prove ripe for skewering. In David E. Kelley’s Boston Public pilot, a snarky teen waves off attempts to get her more involved by calling a trio of blonde popular girls “the Gwyneth Club.” No last name was needed.

Futurama, “I Dated a Robot” (2001)
The thing about perfection is, once people see you working at it, the gloves come off. Like Anne Hathaway, early-2000s Gwyneth always seemed to be trying a bit too hard, and the resulting jokes enjoyed putting a malicious spin on all her striving. This early Futurama episode sees Fry visiting a store where customers can buy the consciousness of a celebrity to download into a sex robot. He’s offered Gwyneth Paltrow, but turns it down: “I read in Newsweek that she drinks human blood.”

White Chicks (2004)
Of course, sometimes you just want to make fun of a blonde white lady, and with Paltrow, you’re almost always punching up. When Shawn Wayans’s black detective goes undercover as one of the titular white chicks, he knows exactly which names to drop: “I asked Dr. Dorfman to make me look like Gwyneth Paltrow.” It doesn’t quite work.

Gilmore Girls, “That’s What You Get, Folks, for Makin’ Whoopee” (2006)
Before Goop launched in the fall of 2008, the easiest method of making fun of Paltrow’s privileged tweeness was mocking the name of her daughter Apple. This final-season Gilmore Girls episode saw Rory and a pregnant Lane trading some of the show’s trademark motormouth dialogue while mocking celebrity children: “I wonder if Blanket ever met Tom and Katie’s baby, Pillow?” “They could invite Gwyneth’s Apple over for a little snack.” Not the sharpest, but you could say that about a lot of late-Gilmore things.

Hot in Cleveland, “The Undead” (2010)
By the end of the decade, hating on Gwyneth Paltrow was so popular that even Hot in Cleveland was making meta jokes about it. To get her in the mood, Jane Leeves’s paparazzo boyfriend (Craig Ferguson) indulges in some delightful dirty talk about an ugly photo he once took of Paltrow. “Just how unflattering was Gwyneth’s bathing suit?” she coos. “Hideous,” he moans. “Flattened her breasts, and gave her back fat.” 

The Late, Late Show With Craig Ferguson
This list wouldn’t be complete without mention of the dozens of times Paltrow has been mocked by late-night comics, but a full accounting of that would take forever. Instead, we’ll just throw a spotlight on Craig Ferguson, who has had a special place in his heart for Gwyneth jokes for years, possibly dating back to his time starring with her in a never-aired pilot back in 1989. A selection of his best material: 

  • “In the first ten minutes of Contagion, Gwyneth Paltrow dies. But I think that’s just a way to get people to see it.”
  • “I’ve always loved the name Bram Stoker. Nobody named their kid Bram anymore. Nobody names their kid Dracula anymore, either. Your move, Gwyneth Paltrow.”
  • Star magazine had a poll, they named Gwyneth Paltrow the most hated celebrity in America. That is not fair! Come on, I’m sure other countries hate her, too.”
  • I don’t think Uranus would be great to visit. It shines brightly, but it’s ice-cold, pale white, and very distant. Like Gwyneth Paltrow.”

A Brief History of Gwyneth Paltrow, Punch Line