Like many small towns, Pawnee, Indiana is a unique place. The writers of Parks and Recreation, including The Office creators Mike Schur and Greg Daniels, created a world that is unlike any other and yet relatable to anyone who lives outside of a big city or works with disgruntled coworkers. Thanks to their writing and the comedic work of the talented Parks and Rec cast, this is a series you can watch and rewatch without getting bored.
Daniels and Schur are amazing when it comes to creating in-jokes that only make sense to loyal viewers who have been with the characters from the start. Luckily for long-time viewers and serial bingers alike, there are new Parks and Rec jokes to catch onto every time you watch. Here’s our list of the best running jokes in Parks and Recreation.
Ben Loves Calzones
Those who know Ben Wyatt (played by Adam Scott) know his love of calzones, which are definitely more than just pizza pockets.
Ben tries to make his own calzones for a quickly forgotten business venture called “Calzone Zone” and even considers them as an option for his wedding menu.
But nobody else gets Ben’s love of the calzone, seen for example when Ben tries to suggest to Leslie (Amy Poehler) that they serve calzones at a party for the Pawnee Police Department:
Come on, Ben. The only calzone shop nearby is in Idiotville.
Ben Doesn’t Get Lil’ Sebastian
Everyone in Pawnee has a fascination with a certain special horse: ‘Lil Sebastian. The miniature horse is the star of every event in town, and even has an honorary degree from Notre Dame. Everyone is captivated by the majestic creature except for Ben, who just doesn’t get it.
Ben has to resort to faking his love for the tiny horse to appease the other members of the parks department, who just can’t get enough of that little whinny.
Donna’s Cousin Is Ginuwine
We learn a lot about Donna’s interesting life outside of work throughout the series, like her love of Seattle, her thriving real estate business, and her zest for treating herself to whatever she wants.
Donna (played by Good Girls actor Retta) also has quite the interesting family—and one of her family members is none other than '90s R&B singer Ginuwine.
Famous for his song “Pony,” which he performs in honor of Li’l Sebastian at the Unity Concert, Ginuwine is just one of the gems that make up the glittering mystery that is Donna’s life.
Ron and The Tammy(s)
As of the start of the show, Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) has been married twice, first to a mean schoolteacher named Tammy, and second to an unhinged librarian named Tammy. Did I mention Ron’s mom is also named Tammy?
Neither of the Tammys are a good influence on Ron, seen time and time again when either of the ladies tries to reenter his life. Ron’s aversion to the Tammys is so strong that when he marries his third wife, a tough cookie and mom of two named Diane, she jokes before signing the marriage license that her middle name is actually Tammy.
Jerry/Gary/Larry Gergich’s Wife Is Hot
Another Pawnee resident with a rich home life is Jerry/Gary/Larry Gingrich/Gergich/Gengurch, a clumsy and awkward man who can’t ever catch a break at work. He’s the butt of every joke, prank, and Jerry Dinner done by the other members of the department, but when he goes home he returns to a paradise of breakfast-themed songs, family hugs, and the hottest wife in all of Pawnee.
Jerry’s wife Gayle (played by former Sports Illustrated Swimsuit model Christie Brinkley) loves Gary for who he is. No, I mean Jerry. Wait, Larry? Either way, it’s nice to know that after a long day of ridicule at the office, he can return home to a bubble bath and a glass of red wine with his lovely wife.
Leslie Is Obsessed With Joe Biden
Remember when Jen Barkley tells Leslie she can do better than Joe Biden? Leslie (Amy Poehler) reverts into a giggly little girl thinking about her middle-school crush when she replies that she really doesn’t think she can.
When Leslie eventually meets Joe Biden in D.C., the interaction definitely isn’t perfect. She gets a little too handsy with the former Vice President, ending the meeting by telling him he’s handsome and saying she’ll see him tomorrow.
Wow. Who could have known that one day Leslie Knope’s crush would become the President of the United States?
Weird Town Hall Meetings
One of Leslie’s favorite ways to engage her community is by holding open forum town hall meetings. The problem is that some of the residents of Pawnee are only interested in a few key issues—and they’re the only ones who show up to the meetings.
From a distressed dad trying to put Twilight in the town’s time capsule to nude-park enthusiasts and overzealous modesty police, there’s never a shortage of disgruntled neighbors to air their grievances at these town halls.
Ben Is The Ice Clown
Prior to his days as an auditor, Ben was actually the youngest mayor in history for his hometown of Partridge, Minnesota. He was an ambitious and smart kid, and he wanted to take his town to the next level.
Unfortunately his plans to build a huge winter sports complex called “Ice Town” failed, and Ben bankrupted the entire city before getting impeached.
Ben isn’t exactly a welcome visitor in his hometown these days, and he’s known as the “Ice Clown” to all the angry citizens of Partridge.
Leslie Always Runs Into Councilman Howser
Leslie takes her job very seriously. But you have to have a little bit of fun at work every once in a while! But whenever Leslie goofs off, she always bumps into Councilman Howser right in the middle of the hijinx.
As far as the members of Pawnee’s city council go, Councilman Howser is definitely the most respectable (although that’s not hard to accomplish when the other councilmen are either confused, perverted, or Jeremy Jamm. He’s definitely not a man to goof off in front of, which is why it’s so funny every time Leslie gets caught.
Leslie’s Dating History
Nobody has a perfect dating history, but Leslie’s is arguably worse than most.
Leslie has been broken up with while waiting for an ambulance, while taking a shower with her soon-to-be ex, via skywriting, and after getting what was supposed to be a free MRI. She’s also been forced to dance to Single Ladies solo at a friend’s wedding. No breakup could be worse, however, than this one:
That pretty much says it all.
Ben Keeps Quitting The Accounting Firm
In the regular world, Ben might be just your average dork with a passion for strategic board games. But in the accounting world, he’s better than the Fonz.
Ben is showered with applause and cheers during his time working for the accounting firm—but they can never get the timing right. Ben quits his accounting job, then is hired again, then quits again several times throughout the series, each time getting the accountants’ hopes up and crushing them only days later.
Maybe one day Ben will return to the accounting firm permanently. For now, all the other accountants can do is wait, and play Cones of Dunshire.
Dr. Saperstein’s Kids Are The Worst
The woooooooorst. Jean-Ralphio Saperstein and Mona Lisa Saperstein (played by Ben Schwartz and Jenny Slate) are the children of Dr. Lu Saperstein, an obstetrician who delivers several babies for the Parks and Rec gang. Growing up with a rich doctor for a dad has made the two spoiled babies who don’t want to work and don’t care who they upset.
Jean-Ralphio also happens to be Tom Haverford’s best friend-turned business partner, so we see the Jean-Ralphio/Mona Lisa tornado wreak havoc on Pawnee a lot throughout the series. You can always catch Mona Lisa and Jean-Ralphio running an insurance scam or buying fake pregnancy tests—but never working.
Pawnee’s Raccoon Problem
The raccoon situation in Pawnee can be summed up in one statement: They have their side of the town, and we have ours.
As the head of the parks department, Leslie often has to deal with Pawnee Animal Control, a run-down department managed by two stoners who don’t seem to even know they’re at work.
The raccoon problem in Pawnee fluctuates, but it was at one point bad enough to send Leslie’s mother to dreaded Eagleton to give birth when the raccoons took over the hospital.
Burt Macklin And Janet Snakehole
Andy Dwyer (Chris Pratt) and April Ludgate (Aubrey Plaza) take roleplaying to a whole new level when they dress up as Burt Macklin and Janet Snakehole, a former FBI agent who fights crime and a wealthy heiress to the Snakehole Lounge.
The lovebirds are at their most weird as Macklin and Snakehole, reminding us each time why their relationship works in the first place. They have fun! Some of the best Parks and Rec episodes are ones where Burt and Janet make an appearance.
Andy And April Bully Kyle
They have a lot of fun bullying Kyle, a city hall employee who frequents Andy’s shoe shine stand. Andy often seems to take pleasure in Kyle’s misfortunes, although it’s possible he just doesn’t listen to him at all. When a more important shoe shine customer appears though, Kyle is always getting the boot.
Kyle is possibly the only person in Pawnee who’s ridiculed more than Jerry, and that’s saying something.
The 4th Floor Of Pawnee City Hall
The fourth floor has everything. Spiders, the morgue, file cabinets, parking enforcement… and Ethel Beavers, one of Pawnee City Hall’s finest civil servants.
The fourth floor is a notoriously scary place, and it’s one that the gang avoids at all costs. When they do have to go up there, there’s no telling what (or who) they might run into.
Ann And April’s Rivalry
Ann (Rashida Jones) is a sweet, mild-mannered nurse who wouldn’t hurt a fly. That’s why it makes no sense for April to hate her so much.
Actually, it makes a little sense, considering Ann is Andy’s ex-girlfriend. April is seriously overprotective of her relationship with Andy when it comes to his ex, especially after the incident where Ann tried to kiss Andy post-breakup.
The two ultimately put aside their differences to work together when Leslie needs them too, but not without a few insults about Ann’s appearance, job, and personality.
Leslie (And Everyone in Pawnee) Loves Sweets
No thanks to the Sweetums Candy Factory, there’s a bit of a sweets problem in Pawnee. The problem isn’t helped by restaurants like Paunch Burger, a local restaurant that serves a special “child sized” soda option. Everyone in town, including Leslie, is pro-sugar and anti-vegetable. Except maybe for Tania from Sue’s Salads.
Sweetums sometimes acts more sinister than just causing cavities. They need the citizens of Pawnee to keep eating candy, so they often intervene to try and stop Leslie’s attempts to make Pawnee a slightly healthier place. In fact, when the company proposes their plan to put sugary drinks in the town’s tap water, they all fully support the idea.
Leslie’s Obsession with Waffles
Leslie and Ron share an understandable love of breakfast food, which they get at all times of the day from JJ’s Diner. While Ron’s taste for bacon and eggs is unmatched, nobody could love a food more than Leslie loves waffles.
She loves waffles so much people have betrayed her with them before, knowing she’s a sucker for a good mountain of whipped cream.
In case we missed any of your favorite Parks and Recreation inside jokes, here are a few that just missed the cut:
- The Horrible Pawnee Murals
- Andy Renames His Band All The Time
- Chris Calls Everyone By Their Full Names
- Leslie REALLY Loves Ann
Gather up your galentines, power up the waffle iron, and get busy catching on to even more Parks and Rec inside jokes. Episodes of Parks and Recreation are available to stream on NBC’s streaming service, Peacock.
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She/her. Lover of female-led comedies, Saturday Night Live, and THAT scene in Fleabag. Will probably get up halfway through the movie to add more butter to the popcorn.