How Slipping On A Banana Peel Became A Staple Of Comedy

Before it became a staple of comedy the banana peel was actually just a menace to society. That’s all thanks to Mr Carl B Frank who in 1866 began importing the Gros Michel bananas from Panama to America. The fruit quickly became popular, especially in the bustle of New York City where this self-contained handheld fruit was a game changer for healthy street food. But unfortunately, public sanitation wasn’t what it is today and though many people started eating bananas on the go, there wasn’t always a place to throw away the peel. This led to discarded banana peels piling up in the streets and becoming foul and slimy as they rotted. 

It’s believed that although there weren’t daily occurrences of people slipping on these skins, it was frequent enough that in  1880, Harper’s Weekly admonished anyone who tossed their banana peels on a public walkway, as this ‘would likely result in broken limbs’ and 1909, the St. Louis city council even outlawed “throwing or casting” a banana peel out in public. And so the otherwise innocuous banana peel came to symbolise bad manners and poor hygiene. 

When banana peels made it to the stage, however, some scholars suggest that it was a euphemism for more unsavoury waste. Horses were the main mode of transportation in those days and piles of manure would often accumulate in the city, and unless you watched where you were going, you could often find yourself slipping and falling into a pile. But onstage, the banana peel problem made them the perfect substitute for actors to fall on to mirror an unfortunate spill in a slapstick, comedic way. 

The first person on record to have used this banana peel bit was “Sliding” Billy Watson who was known for his sliding entrances from the wings. Watson was one of the most well-known vaudeville actors of the day and after seeing a man attempting to keep his balance on the street after slipping on a banana peel, he incorporated this into his act. 

And that was the beginning of a long career in comedy for the banana with greats like Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton even bringing the gag to the big screen. Today, slipping on a banana peel remains one of the most enduring and beloved comedic tropes. It's been featured in everything from cartoons to sitcoms to blockbuster movies. So the next time you find yourself face down on the pavement after stepping on a stray banana peel, just remember: you're part of a long and storied tradition of physical comedy. And hey, at least you're making people laugh!