How I Met Your Mother is beloved to this day for its ongoing gags, like the Lemon Law and Robin Sparkles. However, one of the most iconic inside jokes from the CBS comedy has to be the Slap Bet and Slapsgiving. This gag that spanned the course of eight seasons centered around a bet Barney and Marshall made in Season 2, and it spiraled into a maniacal plan Jason Segel’s character developed to torture Neil Patrick Harris’s character. With each slap, the plan got more detailed and outlandish, which in turn made it more extra and funny. However, the stories behind both the origins of the Slap Bet and its holiday Slapsgiving make the HIMYM joke even funnier.
How The Slap Bet Played Out Across Eight Seasons Of How I Met Your Mother
The Slap Bet began in Season 2 during Episode 9 – which is considered one of the best HIMYM episodes – after Marshall won a bet with Barney about a secret Robin was keeping regarding her short-lived career as Canadian pop star Robin Sparkles. When Neil Patrick Harris’s character loses the bet, Lily, the Slap Bet Commissioner, gives him the choice of ten slaps then and there or five that could be randomly used anytime. Barney chooses the five slaps, beginning the long and arduous journey.
The second slap occurs in Season 2, Episode 16 when the gang is forced to see Barney’s terrible play. After that things get really crazy, and Slapsgiving is introduced. In Season 3, Episode 9 – “Slapsgiving” – Marshall tortured Barney with a slap countdown clock, slap-related decorations and an original song for after the slap. Following the first hit-worthy holiday, slaps four and seven were both dolled out on Thanksgiving.
While Marshall initially has five slaps, the rules changed in Season 7 when Barney accepted three extra slaps so he could take off the ducky tie he’d been wearing for an entire year. Following that, Segel’s character gave out the rest of the slaps in ways that included Boyz II Men and other silly flourishes, like a blanket with a tiger on it, and it ended when Marshall slapped Barney right before he married Robin, effectively ending the bet that lasted 8 years.
If you are looking to watch all seven episodes that contain slaps from the Slap Bet, I’ve got you covered:
“Slap Bet” Season 2, Episode 9
“Stuff” Season 2, Episode 16
“Slapsgiving” Season 3, Episode 9
“Slapsgiving 2: Revenge of the Slap” Season 5, Episode 9
“Disaster Averted” Season 7, Episode 9
“Slapsgiving 3: Slappointment in Slapmarra” Season 9, Episode 14
“The End of the Aisle” Season 9, Episode 22
What Inspired The Slap Bet In How I Met Your Mother?
The inspiration behind the Slap Bet is so simple, that I was honestly shocked. While speaking with EW in 2017 for an oral history about one of How I Met Your Mother’s best inside jokes, creator and showrunner Carter Bays said:
A friend of mine from high school, we would slap each other occasionally. Slapping in high school was our way of having fun. The idea of slap bets definitely came from that era in my life.
Isn't that wild? I guess it makes sense that an idea as bonkers as this one was inspired by real life though, because I'm not sure how they'd come up with it otherwise.
After Marshall administered the first slap in the episode “Slap Bet,” he gets Barney again later in Season 2. However, in Season 3 the stakes were heightened with the iconic “Slapsgiving” episode. Bays revealed why they decided to place Neil Patrick Harris’ next slap during the holiday episode, saying:
When we ended the first Slap Bet episode, and it was left with the five slaps for eternity thing, 99 percent of the joy of that episode was just knowing we’re going to get to come back to this in the future. … I don’t remember why exactly we picked Thanksgiving. Someone probably said the word slapsgiving and that’s when everything fell into place.
From then on, Marshall’s methods for distributing the slap got more extra, more tortuous, and occasionally more musical. And just like how Barney never knew when it was coming, we rarely did too, unless it was Thanksgiving.
The Story Behind Slapsgiving
Bays said that while they were trying to write a Thanksgiving episode where Ted and Robin deal with their breakup in Season 3, they realized the B-story could be all about Barney’s third slap. He said that the writer’s room was cracking up over the idea of “Slapsgiving,” and creator and showrunner Craig Thomas knew it “could become a thing.” Well, not only did it turn into a thing, but Slapsgiving got two sequel episodes, showing just how legendary the bit became.
Continuing to talk about the evolution of the Slap Bet and Slapsgiving Thomas revealed why they all loved working on Marshall’s extra holiday hijinks together. He told EW:
There was a website; there was a song; there was arts and crafts; there was puns — it was such a multimedia onslaught of an effort that went into something that’s about a guy slapping another guy in his face. It’s just so stupid, but it brings so much joy.
Seeing the look of horror on Barney's face when he realizes what the countdown is for made me cackle, and Marshall's original song about getting slapped was not only hilarious, but a fun way to show off Segel's and Harris's musical talents. Overall, "Slapsgiving" not only delivered on this ongoing bit, but it showed off its stars' skills as comedians by way of this dumb little joke.
Slapsgiving really does bring “so much joy,” and each time I watch How I Met Your Mother I can’t help but laugh over all the effort put into pulling off the Slap Bet and Slapsgiving.
Jason Segel Actually Slapped Neil Patrick Harris
Due to the fact that both Jason Segel and Neil Patrick Harris are brilliant physical comedians, and they were very committed to playing Marshall and Barney the best they could, the slaps were real. In the EW story, it was revealed that in rehearsal, Segel said when they got on screen he would actually slap NPH. Harris explained that he wanted to play out Barney’s wild actions for real too, he didn’t want to fake it. With that said, the Uncoupled star explained:
We just went for it. It felt a little bit like a college fraternity hazing. [Jason] went back and slapped the fuck out of my face, is kind of how it went.
It turns out the two How I Met Your Mother cast members, Harris specifically, took the bit so seriously, that the cast was worried he would get hurt. Cobie Smulders, who played Robin said:
Neil turns and then he falls and we had a breakaway table, but he was so close to the piano and where I was I was like, ‘Oh I’m going to witness Neil breaking his neck and that’s going to be the end of this.’ So I was very nervous about it because he puts 100 percent into everything that he does and so I just knew he was going sell the slap and really make it big and really showcase it.
Filming the slaps was taken seriously too. The Morning Call went to the set in 2007, via Looper, and Jason Segel made a comment about how they shoot the moments, saying backhanded slaps were not allowed. The Shrinking star continued, saying:
No pimp slaps. It's got to all be the front hand slap, which limits me comedically, frankly, but they don't seem to care about that around here. So a front hand slap it will be.
The commitment to the bit and the detail put into pulling off the Slap Bet on How I Met Your Mother from everyone in the cast and crew is commendable, and I honestly love how seriously they took this silly premise. To this day, the gag is remembered as a highlight of HIMYM, and I know I certainly think about it just about anytime the show is mentioned.
If you are looking to go back and watch How I Met Your Mother, and the eight slaps in all their glory, all you need is a Hulu subscription.