A middle-aged father of two named Ted sits his kids down one day to tell them the story of how he met their mother. In flashbacks, we go back to the time when Ted was a young architect who was a romantic at heart, trying to find love in Manhattan. In the process, Ted picks up a tight group of friends that include Marshall (Jason Segel), Lily (Alyson Hannigan), Robin (Cobie Smulders), and Barney (Neil Patrick Harris). Together, the group has a series of zany romantic escapades, which future-Ted looks back on with a mix of nostalgia and occasional sadness.
"How I Met Your Mother" was created by Craig Thomas and Carter Bays for CBS. The series ran for 9 seasons, from 2005 to 2014. During the course of its run, the series was nominated for 30 Emmy Awards, winning ten of them. While initially seen as one of many clones of the popular juggernaut "Friends," "Mother" differentiated itself from the pack by frequently going for serious or dramatic moments, interspersed with the usual comedy.
When bringing its A-game, "How I Met Your Mother" could be one of the funniest shows on television. It was also very creative with its storytelling style, making use of musicals, surrealist imagery, and multi-point-of-view narratives to wring humor from its plot lines. Looking back on all those classic moments, here are 14 that stand out as the funniest.
The "talk like a baby" challenge
Sex came so easy to Barney Stinson (Neil Patrick Harris) that he often tried to mix things up by creating his own challenges for picking up women. Like hooking up with a 22-year-old while wearing old man make-up. Or seducing a bridesmaid over the phone. Or the most convoluted of them all, getting a girl’s number in a garbage bag, without using the letter "e."
No matter the complexity of the challenge, Barney always found a way to complete it. But in the episode "Baby Talk" (Season 6, Episode 6), it seemed like Barney had finally found a challenge even he could not complete when he decided to try to pick up women while talking like a toddler.
At first, Barney’s efforts lead nowhere. His attempts to deliver pickup lines like "Your body’s a perfect [holds up 10 fingers] … this many," and "Do you want to wrestle with our special bathing suit places?" were a complete turn off for women. Finally, Barney regretfully accepted that he could not complete the challenge — then, free to stop acting like a toddler and acting like the brat he usually is, he picks up a girl turned on by emotionally-stunted men.
How Lily stole Christmas
Lily (Alyson Hannigan) is generally considered the sweetest character on "How I Met Your Mother." But that does not mean she hasn’t done her fair share of bad things. So much so that there is an entire episode entitled "How Lily Stole Christmas" (Season 2, Episode 11).
In the episode, Lily and Ted (Josh Radnor) are having a cold war over the fact that Lily broke up with Marshall. Lily feels Ted is being unfairly mean towards her, while Ted feels Lily needs to apologize to her friends who were also hurt due to her breakup. Lily accidentally overhears Ted calling her a very bad word (substituted with "Grinch" in Ted’s narration to his children) while telling Marshall to get over her. In retaliation, Lily hoards Christmas decorations in her apartment.
In the end, Lily drives over to Ted’s home to make up with him, where Ted is spending Christmas with his ultra-religious cousins and their children. In the course of patching things up, Lily admits she had been acting like a "Grinch." Unfortunately, the children overhear her, and start chanting "Grinch! Grinch! Grinch" loudly in unison while Lily and Ted beat a hasty retreat.
Delivering the ultimate slap
The "slap bet" has been one of the cornerstones of the "How I Met Your Mother" mythology. It all started when Marshall won a bet that allowed him to deliver 5 slaps to Barney. Later the number went up to 8. Each of the slaps were epic in their own way. But the one that took the cake was the penultimate slap that Marshall delivers in "Slapsgiving 3: Slappointment in Slapmarra" (Season 9, Episode 14).
In order to make the slap truly count, Marshall travels all over the world in an attempt to learn the dreaded "Slap of A Million Exploding Suns" technique. He is told that he needs to learn under three masters to understand the three virtues of "slapistry": speed, strength, and accuracy. So Marshall goes to Shanghai to study under the cruel tutelage of "Red Bird" (Robin), the punishing scholarship of "White Flower" (Lily), and then to Cleveland to learn from "The Some-Might-Call-It-Nitpicky-But-It’s-Really-Just-Thorough Schooling of The Calligrapher" (Ted).
The whole thing plays out like a hilarious parody of Kung Fu movies. In the end, Marshall is finally ready to deliver the mother of all slaps to Barney. Although he had been keeping a brave face until then, Barney finally panics and runs away to hide in the woods, with Marshall following closely behind.
Ted and Marshall’s passive-aggressive war
Ted and Marshall are generally considered the closest friends in "How I Met Your Mother." The two are also considered very nice guys, particularly Marshall. Which was why it was particularly hilarious watching the two go to war in the most passive-aggressive manner in "The Poker Game" (Season 9, Episode 5) over thank-you notes.
The incident starts years earlier. Ted apparently failed to give Marshall and Lily a wedding gift at their nuptials six years ago. At first, Marshall refused to believe that Ted, their best friend in the whole world, would forget to buy them a present. Ever since then, Marshall had been trying to make Ted aware of his mistake by dropping such subtle hints as telling Ted, "you were not wedding absent. No, sir. You were wedding present."
The whole thing plays out for years, with Ted apparently not getting the hint. Finally, it is revealed that Ted did in fact get Marshall and Lily a present, but another guest swapped out their name on the gift card. The whole bit is a great example of the kind of elaborate, long-term jokes that "How I Met Your Mother" pulled off so well.
Robin screaming at Patrice
Robin (Cobie Smulders) is usually depicted as the "cool" girl of the gang, who has a thriving career, masculine interests, and tries to stay away from the usual girly drama. But there is one person who makes Robin lose her cool — and that is her ever-smiling, ever-helpful colleague Patrice (Ellen D. Williams).
A running gag on "How I Met Your Mother" is that Robin considers Patrice her arch-enemy, for no other reason than because Patrice is always smiling and optimistic, which gets on Robin’s nerves. Usually, Robin would say something in Patrice’s vicinity, to which the latter would try to add her own opinion, causing robin to yell some variation of "NO ONE ASKED YOU PATRICE!"
The gang is so well-aware of Robin’s bias that Barney choose Patrice to have an affair with in order to make Robin jealous. Years after the series ended, Patrice is shown to have done well in life after she becomes a radio talk show host — and Robin calls in and promptly screams "I wasn’t done, Patrice!" when Patrice interrupts her. Hey, that was still a better ending than what a lot of the other characters got.
Ted trying to spell "Professor"
Ted is the kind of guy who takes his job seriously. One of the most relatable moments from his professional career occurred in "Definitions" (Season 5, Episode 1). On his first day as a college professor, Ted faced an unexpectedly tough challenge when he tried to write "Professor Mosby" on the blackboard.
Ted starts out confidently enough with the P-R-O-F of the whole thing. But then he paused, wondering if the word he was writing needed a single "F’ or 2. A simple marshalling of this thoughts would have been enough to arrive at the correct answer, but that is when Ted glances back to meet the unblinking gaze of his entire classroom, and his brain freezes.
The next few moments are hilariously awkward, as Ted panics and writes out another "F" before starting to doubt himself again. A furtive glance back at the class shows Ted that one student is shaking her head. Grateful for the lifeline, he turns the "F" into an "E" and is finally able to complete the nerve-wracking journey towards completing "Professor Mosby."
Barney tearfully yelling at an old lady
Barney is typically the essence of composure under duress, unless he’s trying to do a "bit." But one time, Barney actually did lose his cool and ended up screaming at an elderly lady. The breakdown occurred in "Good Crazy" (Season 7, Episode 22) when Barney was engaged to be married to Quinn (Becki Newton), an exotic dancer.
Although Barney was truly in love with Quinn, he was a little sensitive about how the rest of society viewed her profession. This was clear in his reaction to hearing Quinn have a conversation with Grandma Lois (K Callan), Lily’s maternal grandmother. In passing, Barney hears Lois remark to Quinn, "Fifty laps a day? Oh, my goodness, young lady, that is a lot."
Incensed, Barney gets directly in the old lady’s face and starts crying/yelling, "Maybe society considers what she does to be ‘disgusting.’ Or ‘slutty.’ Or verging on ‘prostitution.’ Or ‘actual prostitution.’ But you know what? I accept her. And if you can’t do the same … well, then shame on you."
He then learns that they were talking about swimming laps — which Barney sheepishly admits is great cardio.
Pointing out each other’s flaws
The thing that separated the main cast of "How I Met Your Mother" from other sitcom characters of the time was that they were not exactly "super nice" people all the time. Each suffered from quite a few glaring character flaws, which they were mostly unaware of until forced to take a long, hard look at themselves. Something like that occurred in "Spoiler Alert" (Season 3, Episode 8).
Ted is in a brand new relationship, at the part where he still considers everything about the girl he is dating to be perfect. His friends accidently let slip that Ted’s new girlfriend talks way too much. The gang tries to assure Ted that a minor character flaw like that does not have to be a big deal. But over time, a number of illusions are shattered when Ted, Lily, Marshall, and Barney start pointing out each other’s character flaws.
Lots of dirty laundry is aired. Like Lily chewing loudly, Marshall singing about everything, Ted overcorrecting people, and Robin misusing the word "literally", as well as Barney’s many failings as a friend. At first, everyone feels quite self-conscious. But after a time, the bad blood brought about by the revelations is cleared, and the gang slips back into their old habits.
The many interventions
As mentioned previously, the main characters on "How I Met Your Mother" suffered from a great many personality flaws/quirks. So much so that it became a running joke to have the gang host an "intervention" for a member of the group. This gag was explored to hilarious effect in "Intervention" (Season 4, Episode 4).
The whole thing started when an outside friend of the gang became an alcoholic, and they held an intervention to help him get through his addiction (which Barney ruined by brining alcohol to the gathering). Over time, Ted, Marshall, Lily, Robin, and Barney started holding interventions at the drop of a hat.
From trying to convince Marshall that his Dr. Seussian hat is an affront to humanity, to telling Lily that her fake British accent from watching too many "James Bond" films isn’t fooling anyone, to pointing out how dangerously stupid Barney’s pyrotechnic magic tricks are, the gang holds many interventions over the years. In the end, we see them gathering together for yet another intervention, this time to make Barney stop with his "elderly man trying to pick up women" schtick.
The movie based on Ted
Before Ted met the titular "Mother" of the series, a major relationship he had was with Stella (Sarah Chalke). Although Ted was willing to go the whole way with Stella, she left him at the altar to get back together with her ex, karate-instructor Tony (Jason Jones). Adding insult to injury, we find out in "The Wedding Bride" (Season 5, Episode 23) that Tony made a movie about the whole affair.
In the movie, Ted is portrayed by Chris Kattan as a powerful and corrupt architect living in New York named Jed Mosely. Jed is emotionally abusive towards the fictional Stella, tries to destroy her career, and worst of all, uses the catchphrase, ""No can do-sville, babydoll." On the other hand, Tony is depicted as the hero of the story, who teaches under-privileged kids karate for free and dotes on his ex Stella.
Naturally, the movie ends with Stella leaving the villainous Jed for Tony at the altar, while one of Tony’s karate kids hits Jed in the nuts and exclaims, "Take that Ted Mosby!" Marshall thought the whole movie was hilarious until he learns about one of its characters named "Narshall," who is big and dumb and steals food.
The Council of Barneys
As the breakout character of the series, some of the funniest bits of "How I Met Your Mother" revolved around letting Neil Patrick Harris loose to act his heart out as Barney. One such sequence has Barney meeting with an entire council of lookalikes in "Bedtime Stories" (Season 9, Episode 11).
The Council consists of the biggest "Players" of the city, who have all agreed to divvy up the various territories of the city into different zones, with each player ruling over his own zone. Barney is accused of messing with the rightful order of the Council by hitting on a girl outside his zone. As punishment, Barney must offer Robin and Lily to two of the offended Players.
Barney agrees to the ruling, and offers a toast of champagne to celebrate the happy resolution to the quarrel. It is then revealed that Barney had poisoned the drink, and as a result the other members of the Council pass away, leaving Barney alone as the "Player King of New York City."
Barney gets played
Barney has a disturbingly long list of sexual conquests. But in all those years of being a major player, there was one woman Barney met who succeeded in driving him to the edge like no other. That woman was Marshall’s law teacher Professor Lewis (Jane Seymour), who Barney met in "Aldrin Justice" (Season 2, Episode 6).
Upon finding out that Marshall’s professor is an attractive older woman, Barney challenges himself to seduce her. At first, he takes the whole exercise for granted. But after their first lovemaking session, Barney is mortified to discover that Lewis has graded his performance a mere "C-" because, in the professor’s own words, "You didn’t budget your time well, you glossed over some of the most important points, and your oral presentation was sloppy and inconclusive."
His pride stung, Barney begs for another chance to prove his worth. His last efforts in that direction land Barney in the hospital with a dislocated hip. But he does manage to bump up his grade to a "B+." Although Barney wants to keep going until he gets an "A," Marshall advises him not to, saying Barney should simply be proud that he fought a cougar and lived to tell the tale.
In "Stuff" (Season 2, Episode 16), Lily invites her friends to watch her play, which turns out to be long and dull. Barney is the only one to offer his blunt opinion about how bad the play was, to which Lily responds by telling him that as her friend, it was his duty to support her endeavors even if he did not actually like her work.
To prove the pointlessness of this kind of thinking, Barney invents his own one-man show titled "Suck it, Lily" and invites the others to its opening night. Lily is determined to support Barney, no matter how bad the show gets. Over the first half of the show, Barney does everything he can to annoy the audience, from saying the word "moist" over and over again (which Lily hates) to squirting the people in the front row with a water pistol.
At last, Lily reaches her breaking point and is forced to admit that supporting your friend’s awful works should not be a necessary rule. By the time Barney completes his second half of the play, Marshall is so fed up that he uses his second slap on Barney from their bet.
Before she became a struggling news reporter, Robin was a successful Canadian child actor and popstar named "Robin Sparkles." This bubbly alter ego of the usually staid, controlled Robin has provided much comedy for the show, ever since her first appearance in "Slap Bet" (Season 2, Episode 9).
It is revealed in the episode that Robin has developed a phobia of malls, ever since she was involved in making the surprisingly catchy bubblegum pop single "Let’s Go To The Mall," which was a huge hit in Canada. It is later revealed in "Glitter" (Season 6, Episode 9) that Robin was also the star of a Canadian children’s education program called "Space Teens."
The funniest part is watching Barney and the others losing it over the show’s highly suggestive dialogue like: "How much wood will I need to keep both of these beavers well-fed all weekend long?", all while Robin continues to insist the show is innocent and wholesome. The character of "Robin Sparkles" proved so popular that Cobie Smulders broke her out again in 2020 to add some much needed levity.