TV URBAN LEGEND: The Big Bang Theory originated the term "bazinga."
It’s interesting how long it takes for some television series to manifest their “classic” attributes. For instance, the Sheldon Cooper of the first episode of The Big Bang Theory is different in a lot of ways from the character he eventually becomes (and that's not even counting the dramatic differences between Sheldon and how he was depicted in the original pilot, which we've detailed in a past TV Legends Revealed). Sheldon's distinctive door knock and the accompanying "Penny … Penny … Penny" Didn’t come about until the 10th episode.
Amazingly enough, Sheldon didn’t actually use the term "bazinga" (sometimes spelled "buzzinga" in the closed captioning), indicating whatever he said before was intended as a joke, until the Season 2 finale! It has become wildly popular ever since. However, the origins of the term are interesting in their own right. How did it work its way into the show? Did the show’s writers actually create the term? Read on to find out!
“Bazinga” first showed up in the writers’ room at The Big Bang Theory as a catchphrase of writer Stephen Engel, who’d use it whenever he played a prank on one of his colleagues. Co-creator Bill Prady recalled a time that Engel gave him a grapefruit but when Prady went to eat it, it turned out to be hollowed out and carefully put back together. Engel then said, "Bazinga!"
In the opening of the Season 2 finale, "The Monopolar Expedition," Leonard (Johnny Galecki) is working on a problem on the whiteboard when Sheldon (Jim Parsons) tells him he’s made a mistake. Leonard looks for the error but can't find it. Sheldon then tells him, "You actually had it right in the first place. Once again, you’ve fallen for one of my classic pranks. Bazinga!" This happens two more times in the episode, once when Sheldon tells Leonard that Penny (Kaley Cuoco) doesn't want Leonard to go on a work trip because she wants to be his girlfriend and then when the group is in the Arctic, when it appears as though Leonard has forgotten some rice.
As it turns out, however, the word wasn't initially in the script; Sheldon simply told Leonard it was a prank. Parsons later recalled:
I remember it wasn't in a script. It was one of those moments where we'd work on a scene and then you'd go and take notes from the producers and writers. If I'm correct, it was inserted right before a taping basically. It was like 'That would work in here. What if he said 'bazinga' after that?'"
And obviously they liked it a lot, because they used it the other two times in the episode. And so a catchphrase was born!
However, did Engel/the show COIN the term?
It doesn't appear so, no. The term likely has been around for many years, just as a variation of the popular word "zing," used to denote a "gotcha" moment (often a prank, but not necessarily).
As far as I can tell, it first appeared on screen in a 2000 episode of The X-Files, in the famous "Hollywood A.D.,” written and directed by star David Duchovny. It’s a comedic episode in which a studio makes a movie based on agents Mulder and Scully (with the actors playing Mulder and Scully being Duchovy's good friend Garry Shandling and Duchovy's then-wife Tea Leoni). In any event, at one point in the episode, Scully investigates the so-called "Lazarus Bowl," which purportedly has the voice of Jesus Christ recorded in its grooves. Scully takes the relic to a sound engineer named Chuck Burks, and they listen and, sure enough, they hear voices in Aramaic. When Burks discovers the noise, he says "Bazinga."
In a 2001 episode of Family Guy, Stewie Griffin plays some pranks and punctuates them with "Bazing!"
So the term definitely predated The Big Bang Theory, but it's clear that Sheldon's usage has made the word famous. Interestingly enough, the show has been pulling back on the term. It didn’t appear in seasons 6 or 7, and I don't believe it has shown up yet in Season 8.
The legend is ...
Thanks to Emile Rome, Brian Balthazar, Jim Parsons, Bill Prady and The Big Bang Theory Fansite for the information!
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is email@example.com.
Be sure to check out my Entertainment Urban Legends Revealed for more urban legends about the worlds of TV, Movies and Music!