In the early days of They Might Be Giants, the band had multiple different props and items that made their appearances in live shows, early promotional material and some of the band's early music videos. Sometime around October 1988, a majority of these props were retired in the interest of keeping the fans' attention towards the band's music. John Linnell mentioned the stripping of the props in a 1988 interview with Technician:
It was getting to be like a comedy act, where people just wanted to hear the punchline and didn't care about the joke. People just wanted us to bring out the props, and they would forget about the music. We want to showcase the songs. The props are meant to underscore and nothing more. The vehicle and not the show.
Below is an alphabetically ordered list of props, items and other material that have been known to appear in the band's early live shows, photos and music videos.
- Barbara Lipp's Spinning Machine - This prop was constructed by Barbara Lipp, who was also a part of the performance arts act Frieda, which opened for many of the band's mid-1980s live shows. The stage prop was a “painted cardboard cut-out of a rabbit, a gun, a noose, and a question mark, that they rigged up onto a spinning device”. Some of these cutouts can be seen without the spinning device on multiple different live show photos from 1985 to 1987 and a part of this prop can be seen in a 1986 live show photograph, which appeared on the Don't Let's Start EP.
- Black Cardboard Cutouts - During shows from 1986 to 1987, the band used a small selection of cardboard cutouts at their shows. They were all painted images on black cardboard, and some of these cutouts were used for Barbara Lipp's spinning machine. The known images on the cutouts contained a cat, a rabbit, a gun, a noose and a question mark, which was blue as seen in a Darinka performance photo.
- Bread Loaves - These bread loaves were mentioned in various articles, with the earliest mention being an article in the December 1985 issue of SPIN Magazine. The articles mention that the band would duel each other with these bread loaves, however the band has apparently denied that any acts involving "fencing with bread" ever took place.
- Cardboard Masks - Multiple different masks were used in the band's live shows, with the earliest use of them dating back to the Put Your Hand Inside The Puppet Head and Rabid Child music videos. The band would also perform with masks at a few of their 1986 shows at places like Club 4D and Larry's Hideaway. They also used masks for their 1988 live show performances, including a show at O.T. Price's and in a few performances of the Kitten Intro and the Critic Intro. The band has been known to use large cardboard cutouts of William Allen White's face for their 1987 and 1988 live shows, as well as using his face in the Don't Let's Start and Puppet Head music videos. The band was once interviewed about the masks that they wore by Things That People Carry in 1986.
- Carpet Hats - These three-foot hats are mostly known for their appearance in the Don't Let's Start music video, but also made their appearances in many 1988 live shows, mainly for performances of Shoehorn With Teeth. They were red in color and the band performed without any instruments when they had the carpet hats on. They were built entirely by John Flansburgh out of felt, cardboard, and duct tape. Even though they are known for their red color, they did once perform with less dazzling blue carpet hats at a show in 1988 at Maxwell's.
- Chessmaster Prototype - The famous Chessmaster guitar built for John Flansburgh in 1991 originally existed in the band's early days as a modification of a black Fernandes Guitars Telecaster constructed out of cardboard, duct tape and foam core. Flansburgh described this modification as “highly misguided”. The Chessmaster prototype is known to have made an appearance at one show at the Iron Horse and in the infamous Rabid Child music video, where it can be seen donned over Flansburgh's shoulder.
- Cue Cards - These cards were mostly brought out during performances of I Hope That I Get Old Before I Die. They had lyrics of the song printed on them and the band encouraged the audience to sing along with them during the performances of the song. The earliest instance of the cue cards can be traced back to a review of the band's 1985 Iron Horse show from the Daily Collegian.
- Lizard Head - Not much is known about this lizard head, but apparently it was brought out at least once at a 1985 show at the Iron Horse.
- Mexican Sombrero - This sombrero was seen in old mid-1980s promotional photos and was also brought out at a 1985 show at the Iron Horse. In the photo reels, John Linnell is typically wearing the hat either behind his head or on his head. One of these photos ended up in Michael Small's review of the 1985 Demo Tape for People Magazine in 1986. Linnell can also be seen wearing the sombrero in a few promotional images made for Star Hits.
- Papier-mâché Hands - These hands, entirely constructed out of cardboard and paper, were most notable for their appearance in the Put Your Hand Inside The Puppet Head music video, as well as their appearance on photos used for 1985 promotional demo tapes, including their famous 23-song cassette, the 1985 Demo Tape. As seen in the Puppet Head music video, they were red in color. John and John would use the hands during Number Three, which was a song where the band did not play any instruments. They also used these hands for live performances of Put Your Hand Inside The Puppet Head.
- Postage Stamps - These stamps were seen at various live shows throughout 1990. They were hung around the stage and formed an appearance similar to that of the hanged cardboard cutouts of William Allen White in 1987 and 1988 live shows.
- Puppet Heads - These puppet heads were used at Darinka shows. Not much is known about what they looked like.
- Question Mark Prop - This prop was made specifically for the Don't Let's Start music video, built entirely by John Flansburgh. It was a bright red cardboard circle with a white question mark printed onto it. It is unknown whether this prop made its appearance at any shows, but it did make an appearance in one promotional image for Star Hits.
- Saturn 13" Giant Walking Robot - This prop is one of the band's earliest, appearing at 1983 live shows and in rehearsal photos. In the Pyramid Club photos, it can be seen hanging on a rope, which was tied to a black bar attached to the roof of the club. The original toy dates back to 1981 and includes light-up eyes, four shooting missiles, and other features. The band also advertised a giveaway for this robot in a "misguided attempt" to expand their mailing list. In an interview with Smash Hits in April 1990, Flansburgh said that a kid once smashed the robot with a rock.
- The Snowman - The snowman was a big cardboard cutout of the snowman burning money from the Don't Let's Start EP, although colored with red gloves, a red scarf and red boots. The snowman can be seen sitting behind the band during a 1988 performance at Maxwell's, though it may have appeared at other shows as early as 1987.
- The Stick - Used to create a deep, pounding sound during certain songs, the Stick has occasionally been revived through the years.
TMBG did not entirely abandon the idea of props during their shows. In the 1990s, the band used puppet heads on poles to perform certain songs, such as "Exquisite Dead Guy" and "Counterfeit Faker". In the late 2000s, they created sock puppets called The Avatars Of They to use during certain portions of the show.