Skip To Content

    17 Jokes And Lines From ‘90s Nickelodeon Cartoons I Didn’t Get Until I Rewatched Them As An Adult

    Yes, there's a joke about Clarence Thomas in Rugrats.

    If you grew up in the '90s and watched Nickelodeon — particularly Nicktoons — you probably know there was some bizarre stuff going on in the writers' rooms.

    It's wild how many kid-unfriendly jokes made it into these shows, most of which no kid would even understand.

    Here are 17 of them:


    1. Grandpa Boris calling up Dr. Kevorkian

    boris calling dr kevorkian on rugrats

    Unable to bear another second of Stu's home movies in the Season 3 episode "Home Movies," Grandpa Boris makes a phone call to someone he addresses as Dr. Kevorkian — as in the doctor who famously supported euthanizing humans.

    2. Grandpa Lou's dirty movies

    grandpa lou telling tommy and chuckie he rented them some reptar movies as well as lonely space vixens for himself

    When tasked with babysitting in the Season 2 episode "Grandpa's Date," Grandpa Lou decides to hit up the video store, returning with some kid-friendly fare for Tommy and Chuckie, as well as what's clearly an adult movie for "after [they] go to bed."

    3. The dead USPS worker

    tommy almost falling into a pit of rejected letters and a delivery person's skeleton on rugrats

    This moment from Season 1 episode "Special Delivery" didn't register at all to my sweet summer child mind, but the first time I rewatched the show as an adult, I was horrified. Tommy clearly is, too, when he realizes he's moments away from joining a DEAD USPS WORKER in a pile of rejected mail.

    4. Robert Mapplethorpe vs. Normal Rockwell

    charlotte saying Kind of conservative, so, take down the Mapplethorpe and put up that hideous Norman Rockwell painting. Right, it's in the janitor's closet. on rugrats

    I'd heard of Norman Rockwell when I was a kid, but had no idea who the Mapplethorpe Charlotte mentioned in the Season 3 episode "Mommy's Little Assets" was until I was well into my 20s. For anyone else unfamiliar, he was a photographer whose work included an examination of NYC BDSM culture among gay men in the late '60s to early '70s.

    5. The Clarence Thomas hearings

    charlotte saying  "That's nice, sweetie." [to Jonathan] "What? Not you, Jonathan, you know I wouldn't call one of my employees 'Sweetie', at least not since the Clarence Thomas hearings." on rugrats

    Later in the same episode, Charlotte mentions Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who Anita Hill accused of sexual harassment in the early '90s.

    6. Howard's Playboy magazine

    a playboy magazine flying out of howard's drawer on rugrats

    As Lil goes through her dad's drawer in the Season 3 episode "Twins' Pique," we see what's clearly a Playboy — centerfold and all — flying through the air.

    Rocko's Modern Life

    7. Playslug Magazine

    a slug reading playslug magazine on rocko's modern life

    Rugrats wasn't the only Nicktoon to make a Playboy joke. In this Season 1 episode of Rocko's Modern Life, "Carnival Knowledge," the slug working the merry-go-round at the carnival is reading a "Playslug" with a bikini-clad slug on the cover.

    8. Rocko's new job

    rocko being a phone sex operator on rocko's modern life

    This moment from the Season 1 episode "Canned," which not-so-subtly implied Rocko was working as a phone sex operator, was another wild one that I certainly didn't pick up for years.

    9. Spunky's mop

    spunky in post-coital bliss with his mop on rocko's modern life

    Season 1 really was just full of these moments. Here we see Spunky in what appears to be post-coital bliss with a mop. The Mop and Shine is a nice touch.

    10. The censor bar at the beach

    an old guy with a censor badge on his suit putting a black bar on rocko's naked butt on rocko's modern life

    This one from the Season 1 episode "Sand in Your Navel" really flew over my head, mostly because I didn't know what the word "censor" meant when I was 6 — plus, Rocko didn't normally wear pants so it didn't occur to me he had anything to hide.


    11. Judy's handkerchief advice

    In the Season 4 episode "Doug & Patti Sittin' in a Tree," Judy is giving Doug advice on how to dress for his first date with Patti, and she tells him to wear a handkerchief, but not "on the left." According to the "handkerchief code," wearing one in your left pocket is meant to signify that you're a bottom.

    12. Doug ❤️s Head

    doug and patti with a bumper sticker that seems to say I heart head

    In the Season 3 Episode "Doug and Patti P.I.," there's a blink-and-you'll miss it moment where Doug appears to be holding a small slip of paper that says "I ❤️ HEAD."

    As it turns out, Doug is actually holding one of Mr. Dink's bumper stickers that says "I ❤️ HEADCHEESE," but considering the shot had to be animated frame-by-frame, it would have been easy for the animators not to include the one in question.

    a bumper sticker that says i heart headcheese

    Hey Arnold!

    13. Miriam and her smoothies

    miriam saying i need a smoothie on hey arnold

    Boy, did Miriam love her smoothies. This was a running joke throughout all five seasons of Hey Arnold! that really isn't funny once you're old enough to realize that she wasn't just using fruit, ice, and hot sauce.

    14. Phil's war story

    phil starting to tell a story about having sex with a farmer's daughter during the war and gerald's dad interrupting him to tell him to skip to the next part of the story on hey arnold

    In the Season 4 episode "Veterans Day," while Grandpa Phil and Mr. Johanssen take Arnold and Gerald on a roadtrip, Phil begins to talk about a sexy encounter he had with a farmer's daughter during World War II. Mr. Johanssen stops him before he gets to anything good, but it's easy to see where it was going.

    15. Helga's trembling girlhood

    helga writing arnold you make my girlhood tremble on hey arnold

    It still amazes me that they got away with this line. In the Season 4 episode “Helga's Parrot,” Helga writes a poem that includes the line “Arnold, you make my girlhood tremble,” which has me convinced Helga grew up to write saucy romance novels.

    Aaahh!!! Real Monsters

    16. The Gromble's sex ed lesson

    the gromble saying “And then with the hands like this they touch fingertips and form a blob.” on aaahh real monsters

    If you've ever wondered how monster babies are made, it's covered in Season 1 of Aaahh!!! Real Monsters, in “Attack of the Blobs.” The episode opens with the Gromble giving what's clearly supposed to be a sex ed lesson on reproduction.

    17. And Ickis forming a blob with himself

    ickis saying So you put your elbow on your knee like this. Your thumb on your nose and wave your hands like- and another monster saying how dare you on aaahh real monsters

    Immediately after the lesson, Ickis decides to try out some of what he learned, much to the dismay of a passing monster who appears horrified by what seems to be the monster version of indecent exposure.

    What other jokes from '90s Nicktoons flew over your head when you were a kid? Sound off in the comments!