When Did People Start Throwing Pies in Other People’s Faces?

Slate's Culture Blog
July 19 2011 3:13 PM

A Short History of Pies-in-Your-Face

Rupert Murdoch’s testimony before Parliament today was interrupted when a man—identified as activist and comedian Jonathan May-Bowles, aka “Jonnie Marbles”— walked up from the back of the committee room and threw a shaving cream pie in the embattled media tycoon’s perpetually skeptical kisser.  When did people start throwing pies in other people’s faces?



Slapstick pioneer Mack Sennett was known as “the Custard Pie King” for popularizing the bit in the early 20th century (he’s also the father of the Keystone Kops), but the gag dates back to at least the 1909 short “Mr. Flip.” The trope was codified by the 1927 Laurel and Hardy film Battle of the Century, which culminates in the flinging of some 4,000 pies. (Laurel insisted in a letter 40 years later that they were “real pies (filling and all).”)


Pelting political opponents with baked goods has its own long and storied tradition. A 2000 New York Times essay dates the opening salvo of the “modern pie movement” to 1970, when Thomas King Forcade, the founder of High Times, threw a “cottage cheese pie” at Otto Larsen, head of the U.S. Commission on Obscenity and Pornography. (An article from the period notes that Forcade had “volunteered to testify at a hearing. He identified himself as a clergyman, sprinkled his testimony with expletives, then pulled a cream pie from a box and hurled it at [Larsen’s face.]”) The last high-profile victim in the ‘70s pieing trend was anti-gay singer Anita Bryant, who was pelted by Aron “Pieman” Kray at news conference in 1977.

“At least it’s a fruit pie,” Bryant quipped.


The trend had an uptick in the late 1990s, thanks to prolific pastry slingers like Noël Godin and the lefty activists known as the Biotic Baking Brigade. Since then, notable victims have included Bill Gates (four cream tarts), San Francisco mayor Willie Brown (a $6 bio-organic cherry pie), and Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling (a white-chocolate-tofu-cream pie).


Photograph courtesy of Thinkstock.

Bonus: What’s the best kind of pie for hurling? In the late 1990s, British supermarket chain Tesco tested all its pie varieties for aerodynamics, crust dispersion, and “creamability.” The winners: egg custard, lemon meringue, and anything with a fruit filling. For his part, Godin favors the “tarte classique,” which is “filled with whipped cream and perhaps a little chocolate in soft sponge cake.” According to their 2004 cookbook, the Biotic Baking Brigade uses vegan whipped cream (for “maximum sploosh effect”) on paper plates (for safety) whenever possible. Earlier, the BBB learned that vegan pies tend to make bad projectiles, because without milk or eggs, they tend to soften and get drippy too quickly. ("The vegan ones don't hold together so well," a member told Mother Jones in 1999. "There have been emergencies when we've needed a pie immediately. In that case, we've usually gone to local stores. You know, we want to support community stores whenever possible.")

Marbles opted for shaving cream—perhaps because it’s cheaper than an actual pie, which is why they often use shaving cream or whipped cream to recreate the gag on television.

Or perhaps he was intrigued by the hair removal product’s potential for pain. Besides tasting offensive, it also badly stings the eyes, as victim Craig Stammen, a pitcher for the Washington Nationals, reported.  “It didn’t ­hurt-hurt,” though, Stammen said.

No such luck for Marlins player Chris Coghlan, one of many Major League Baseball players to engage in the sport’s latest celebratory ritual: A shaving cream pie incident last summer landed him on the disabled list with a torn meniscus in his left knee. The irony: Coghlan was the tosser, not the target.


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