Adult animated sitcom Family Guy doesn’t make any celebrity off-limits when it comes to their jokes. The cut-away gags are hit-and-miss, but some of them entered popular culture in a big way. Family Guy included Western movie star John Wayne in one of its running gags. As a result, fans can’t stop repeating the joke every year around the Thanksgiving holiday.
Wayne became famous for saying the word “pilgrim” in his iconic cadence, even though he only used it in two of his feature films. However, the delivery of the dialogue and the frequency of its use in one film, in particular, are what made it stick. At the time, the word “pilgrim” was an insult for someone moving from East to West who didn’t know what they were getting themselves into.
The movie star first used the word in John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance in 1962. He would once again use it in Andrew V. McLaglen’s McLintock! in 1963. However, Wayne used it to a heavy degree in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, repeatedly calling Jimmy Stewart’s character a “pilgrim.”
Family Guy picked up on how Wayne said the word “pilgrim” with his deep, booming voice. As a result, they decided to include it as one of their running jokes. Family Guy Season 8 Episode 3 titled “Spies Reminiscent of Us” followed Chevy Chase and Dan Aykroyd moving to Quahog.
Peter Griffin discovers that someone rented the empty house in his neighborhood, where he finds solace using the bathroom for some peace and quiet. He’s initially upset because of the disruption, but he changes his tune when he finds out that Chase and Aykroyd are the people who rented the house. Peter invites them over for dinner, where they offend him after telling him that he isn’t funny.
Family Guy Season 8 Episode 3 finds Peter doing his best impression of Wayne on the first Thanksgiving to try and make them laugh. “I’m John Wayne at the first Thanksgiving, pilgrims! Happy Thanksgiving, pilgrims!,” Peter says, imitating the movie star’s speech pattern. His son, Stewie, bursts into laughter, asking, “Where has this guy been?” Nevertheless, Chase and Aykroyd remain silent.
Meanwhile, Peter joins his friends, Quagmire and Joe, in creating an improv group. However, Peter is unable to think on his feet, relying on his Wayne impression. The Family Guy episode sees Peter repeat the bit, which gets laughs from the crowd, so he does impressions of John Wayne Bobbitt and John Wayne Gacy with the same cadence and reference to the word “pilgrim.”
The running joke with Wayne on Family Guy made quite the impression. Despite the fact that the episode aired in 2009, fans still share the gag every Thanksgiving. Many of them enjoy replicating the line with their best impression of Wayne’s voice.
One Twitter user did the Family Guy Wayne impression in front of their family, who actually thought it was a great impression of the actor.
Another fan took to social media to express that they think about the joke every Thanksgiving. It continues to live on, becoming a part of the holiday for many audiences.