309: The Amazing Colossal Man
by Wyn Hilty
Hey, American International House of Pancakes.
The International House of Pancakes, better known as IHOP, is a chain of restaurants specializing in breakfasts. Though there are locations outside of the U.S., the “International” in their name actually refers to the restaurant's original menu, which featured pancakes with different toppings vaguely inspired by various countries.
[Sung.] Scarecrow ... scarecrow ...
A reference to the theme of The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh (a.k.a. Dr. Syn Alias the Scarecrow in its theatrical release). (Thanks to Joe Klemm for this reference.)
“The time is 2:45 a.m.” Do you know where your children are?
A reference to the old public service announcement that used to air on late-night TV: “It’s 10 p.m. Do you know where your children are?”—with the idea being to shame you into keeping a better eye on your kids.
The … amazing … –Kreskin?
The Amazing Kreskin (born George Joseph Kresge) bills himself as the world’s greatest “mentalist.” He performs an act in which he claims to read people’s thoughts, and he makes predictions about things like the Academy Award winners.
Everlasting Gobstoppers are a kind of jawbreaker that change color and flavor as you suck on them. They are made by Wonka. They are named after the fictional candies in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl, which really did last forever.
Russ Bender. He takes a lot of sick days. You know, bender, and …
The slang term “bender” means a drinking spree that typically lasts several days and results in lost memories, lost money, lost jobs, etc.
Get your stinking credits out of my face.
A riff on the Monty Python’s Flying Circus sketch “Beethoven’s Mynah Bird” (Season 2, Episode 8; originally aired 11/17/70), in which Beethoven does battle with furry rodents. Actual lines: “Get out the bloody piano, you stupid furry bucktoothed gits! Get out! Gott im Himmel. Get your stinking tail out of my face!”
And Bruce Springsteen driving through Nebraska.
Nebraska is the title of a 1982 album by Bruce Springsteen; the cover shows a desolate road.
I … am … Biroc!
“I … am … Kirok!” is a line from the Star Trek episode “The Paradise Syndrome.”
Ronald Sinclair—we’ve enjoyed his fine gas products.
Sinclair Oil Corporation is a company founded in 1916 by Harry Sinclair. Sinclair was huge throughout the middle part of the century, and their famous green “brontosaurus” logo was everywhere. In 1969, though, petroleum company ARCO acquired Sinclair, and they were forced to sell East Coast Sinclair stations due to antitrust law.
Hey, look up there. Neck braces by Josef von Stroheim. It’s Erich, actually.
Erich von Stroheim (1885-1957) was an actor and director who hit his peak of fame in the silent-film era of the 1920s and ‘30s. As an actor, he specialized in villainous womanizer roles (and was dubbed “The Man You Love to Hate”). In the 1938 film The Grand Illusion, he played the role of German fighter ace Captain von Rauffenstein with his body held rigid by a neck and back brace. (Thanks to Michael Folker for pointing out the Grand Illusion reference.)
Ah, Bert I. Gordon produced and directed. He did everything! He’s king of the world! All right! You win!
Bert Ira Gordon (1922-2023) was an American film director best known for his low budget science fiction and horror B-movies made in the 1950s and 60s. Nicknamed “Mr. Big”–for both his initials and the general size of creatures, or people, in his films–Bert I. Gordon has the distinction of being the one director with the most movies to have been featured on MST3K. These are:
Show 210: King Dinosaur
Show 309: The Amazing Colossal Man
Show 313: Earth vs. the Spider
Show 319: War of the Colossal Beast
Show 411: The Magic Sword
Show 414: Tormented
Show 517: Beginning of the End
Show 523: Village of the Giants
Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.
“Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain” is a line from the 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz.
The snack bar will be closing in ten minutes. Robert Peterson, pick up your free pizza.
These are typical announcements heard over the PA system of a drive-in movie theater. The first drive-in theater opened in 1915 in Las Cruces, New Mexico. At their peak in the early 1960s, there were around 4,000 drive-in theaters across the United States; however, a steep decline in popularity over the next couple of decades led to their near-extinction. Following a nostalgia-fueled revival in the early 1990s, the number of drive-ins now hovers around 300, and “pop-up” drive-ins, featuring a mobile, inflatable screen and food-truck concession stands, have become a phenomenon.
Oh, no, it’s Amelia Earhart. She picked a bad time to come back.
Amelia Earhart (1897-1937?) was a world-renowned aviator; in 1932 she became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. Three years later she became the first person to successfully fly from Hawaii to California. In 1937 she and her navigator, Fred Noonan, set out on an attempt to fly around the world. Their plane disappeared in the central Pacific after completing two-thirds of the journey; the remains were never officially found. In 1940, parts from a plane matching hers, a sextant box matching Noonan's, and a female skeleton matching her height and general description were found on the island of Nikumaroro. Still, somehow, the "mystery" persists.
Hello, Sarah? Get me Mount Pilot.
On The Andy Griffith Show, which aired from 1960 to 1968, Mount Pilot was a city near Mayberry where the characters would go when they wanted some excitement. It was likely based on Pilot Mountain; Mayberry itself was based primarily on Griffith's hometown of Mt. Airy, North Carolina. Sarah was the name of the never-seen telephone operator.
[Sung.] Pop goes the weasel.
This is from the classic children’s song “Pop Goes the Weasel.” Sample lyrics: “Round and round the cobbler’s bench/The monkey chased the weasel/The monkey thought ’twas all in fun/Pop! Goes the weasel.” Another variation goes “Round and round the mulberry bush …”
It’s Buddy Hackett! And Mickey Rooney too!
In the 1963 film It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, Buddy Hackett and Mickey Rooney charter an airplane in an attempt to get to the hidden fortune first. Hackett (1924-2003) was a nightclub comedian and actor who had a huge show in Las Vegas for many years, where he was one of its most successful entertainers. Rooney (born Joseph Yule,1920-2014) started acting as a child and appeared in many films with Judy Garland in the 1930s and '40s before becoming a go-to character actor in film and TV for the rest of the century.
Oh, boy, one weekend a month …
“One weekend a month, two weeks a year” is an old slogan used by the National Guard to indicate the amount of time a recruit was expected to spend once he enlisted.
Stop, wait, come back.
This is a line from the 1971 version of the movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, starring Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka. Wonka opens his miraculous factory for a once in a lifetime tour for five lucky children and their guardians. Each child, except for the hero Charlie, meets a foul end with Wonka showing no remorse, and slowly becoming fatalistic about it.
Glenn, this is your Father O’Malley. Come back, boy! It’s not worth it!
Possibly a reference to the Bing Crosby character Father O’Malley, who appeared in the movies Going My Way (1944) and The Bells of St. Mary’s(1945).
You know what they say about Nevada: if you don’t like the weather, wait a couple of minutes.
This saying has been applied in various forms to Montana, Michigan, Oregon, Texas, and probably the rest of the 50 states.
Calvin Coolidge was the thirtieth president of the United States, from 1923-1929. He succeeded to the post after Warren G. Harding died in office. He was known as Silent Cal for his laconic manner of speaking.
Next, on a very special Trapper John M.D.
Trapper John M.D. was a TV series that aired from 1979-1986. A spinoff of the original M*A*S*H, it starred Pernell Roberts in the title role, as the chief of surgery at a San Francisco hospital. Here's a trivia tidbit: the show is considered a spinoff of the 1970 film MASH and not the long-running TV series M*A*S*H. This is for legal reasons, as the producers of Trapper didn't want to pay royalties to the producers of the TV show. A court agreed with Trapper's producers, as the shows all trace back to Richard Hooker's 1968 novel anyway.
Adam and Eve on a raft and wreck 'em.
In diner lingo, when a waitress shouts to the chef, "Adam and Eve on a raft," that means "Two poached eggs on toast." "Wreck 'em" means the eggs should be scrambled.
And then it says, “Remove wrenched ankle. Ha, ha, ha.”
A paraphrase of vintage TV commercials for Operation, a classic children’s game currently produced by Hasbro, in which players use tweezers to remove punnily named plastic “organs” from tiny cavities in the “patient.” If the tweezers brush sensors around the edges of the cavities, a buzzer sounds and the player loses his or her turn. It was invented by John Spinello in 1965. In Show 206, Ring of Terror, the Mads’ Invention Exchange features TV’s Frank as a life-sized Operation game.
Looks kind of like Bluto when I do that—see that?
Bluto was Popeye’s arch-nemesis and his chief rival for the hand of the strangely rubbery Olive Oyl in the series of short cartoons. He first appeared in the cartoons in 1932, but for a time, thanks to some copyright confusion over who owned the rights to the Bluto name, he was called Brutus.
Get her a Kleenex.
Kleenex is a brand of facial tissue made by Kimberly-Clark. It was introduced in 1924 and has become an informal brand eponym for all such facial tissues.
“Things like this just happen. There doesn’t have to be a reason.” Oh, he’s a Calvinist.
Calvinism is a branch of Protestantism founded by religious thinker John Calvin. It emphasizes God’s supreme power over everything, even man’s decision whether or not to follow Christ, and thus argues that men cannot determine their own salvation or damnation; only God can do that.
Mmmm, Stove Top Stuffing!
Stove Top Stuffing is a brand of boxed stuffing mix that can be prepared on the stove, rather than having to be baked inside a bird.
It’s Jerry Paris!
Jerry Paris (1925-1993) was an actor and director who is best known for playing Jerry Helper on The Dick Van Dyke Show. He later went on to a successful career directing, including episodes of ‘70s/80s sitcoms The Odd Couple, Laverne and Shirley, and Happy Days.
Vroom! Vroom! Hey, hang a Roscoe here! [Squealing tires.]
“Hang a Roscoe” is a slang term for “turn right.” Along with “hang a Louie,” meaning “turn left,” the phrase goes back to the 1960s, and is similar to the military practice of substituting proper names for directional phrases to avoid confusion over sketchy radio connections.
I prescribe me, Dr. Chad Feelgood. Ciao.
There have been a number of doctors-to-the-stars whose freewheeling generosity with their prescription pads has earned them the nickname “Dr. Feelgood,” from President John F. Kennedy's personal physician, Dr. Max Jacobson, to those of Adolf Hitler, Elvis Presley, and Michael Jackson. The most famous might be Dr. Robert Freymann, the purported inspiration for the Beatles’ 1966 song “Dr. Robert.” Freymann was a New York physician known for his vitamin B12 injections, given to a huge stable of celebrity clients. Their promised rejuvenating effects might have been enhanced by the amphetamines the shots were laced with. Freymann lost his license to practice in 1975.
Next, on Insensitive Hospital.
A probable reference to the long-running ABC soap opera General Hospital, which began in 1963.
Oh, terrific, my fiance's a deli stacker.
"Deli stacker" is a catchall term for the oversized sandwiches made famous by New York delicatessens.
And how is our little Johnsonville brat doing?
Johnsonville is a maker of various kinds of sausages, including their famous “Brats,” or bratwurst. They also make Italian sausage, breakfast sausage, and other variants.
You know, Saran Wrap has so many useful uses.
Saran Wrap is a brand of plastic wrap. It was invented in 1933.
It’s Phyllis Diller!
Phyllis Diller (1917-2012) was a comedian known for her self-deprecating humor–which often included references to her multiple cosmetic surgeries– and her flamboyant outfits.
Yeah, right, Dorothy. You can go back to Kansas now.
A reference to Dorothy Gale of Kansas, the heroine of The Wizard of Oz.
Beautiful. Let’s preview it at Oxnard.
The city of Oxnard, California, has been home to many film festivals over the years.
Domino’s calling there. Get up. Pizza’s ready.
Domino’s is a chain of pizza delivery stores located nationwide. It was founded in 1960.
Let’s see, original or extra crispy?
Original recipe or extra crispy are the menu options offered by Kentucky Fried Chicken, or KFC.
Paging Dr. Fine. Dr. Howard. Dr. Fine.
“Dr. Howard. Dr. Fine. Dr. Howard” is a line from the 1934 Three Stooges short Men in Black, in which the Stooges become doctors at a large hospital, with predictable results.
Sorry, miss, but I’m Nat King Cole.
Nat King Cole (1919-1965) was a celebrated jazz pianist and singer who had success as the leader of a jazz trio in the 1940s and as a solo artist during the 1950s and 1960s, with such hits as “Unforgettable” and “Ramblin’ Rose.”
Let me see … I was a student at a small Midwestern college.
An imitation of the type of letters frequently received at the “Penthouse Forum,” a column published in Penthouse magazine, in which readers would write in explicit letters about their “real-life” sexual experiences, most of which were wildly implausible. There is now a magazine called Penthouse Forum as well.
Susie thinks she doesn’t need a seatbelt. Watch Susie go ballistic through the windshield.
An imitation of all those driver’s safety films they show in driver’s ed to scare the bejabbers out of teenagers.
Oh, this is Hazelden in the early days.
Hazelden is a chain of alcohol and drug treatment centers. Its largest facility is located fifty miles north of Minneapolis. (Thanks to Brandon Gonzales for identifying this reference.)
Wait, the sign says “Turn back, this means you.”
In the classic 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy and her companions enter a haunted forest and encounter a sign saying “I’d turn back if I were you.”
Xanadu, palatial home of Charles Foster Kane. Cost: no one can say.
This phrase (and variations thereof) was one of the writers’ favorites. It is a reference to the 1941 film Citizen Kane, directed by, produced by, co-written by, and starring Orson Welles as media tycoon Charles Foster Kane. Xanadu was modeled after Hearst Castle, the enormous California mansion of William Randolph Hearst, on whom Kane was based.
She kinda looks like Fran Allison, actually.
Fran Allison was the human regular on the children’s puppet show Kukla, Fran and Ollie, which aired from 1947-1957.
That was close. Too close.
A variation on an often-quoted phrase that goes back to 1920 and French artist Marcel Duchamp's writings about Prohibition America: "One doesn't drink here any more and it's quiet, too quiet."
[Hummed.] Dum, dum, dum, dum, duuuuum ...
This familiar ominous musical cue dates back to the silent movie era and is called "Mysterioso Pizzicato," alternatively known as "Here Comes the Villain" or "The Villain's Theme." It was first compiled and published by J. B. Lampe in 1914 (although he probably didn't write it) and has been used in films, television, and cartoons for nearly a century.
See note on Citizen Kane, above.
[Imitating.] In the Twilight Zone.
An imitation of Rod Serling, creator and narrator of sci-fi anthology series The Twilight Zone, which aired on TV from 1959-1964. The phrase “… in the Twilight Zone” made frequent appearances on the show.
The Visible Man (later followed by The Visible Woman) is an educational model kit first made in 1959 by Renwal. It featured a transparent outer shell with multicolored pieces for the interior: skeleton, organs, etc.
“What made him grow?” Wonder Bread.
Wonder Bread is a brand of fortified white bread first made in 1921 by Taggart Baking. It was later acquired by Hostess. When Hostess liquidated in 2012, the brand went up for sale. It is now owned by Flowers Foods. An old slogan boasted that it helped “build strong bodies twelve ways.”
Grow, Glenn, grow.
The phrasing is reminiscent of the old Dick and Jane readers published by Scott Foresman, which contained phrases such as “Run, Spot, run. See Spot run.” The books were published from the 1930s to the 1960s and served as the primary reading texts for several generations of schoolchildren.
It’s just like Clifford the Big Red Dog.
Clifford the Big Red Dog is the star of a series of children’s books written by Norman Bridwell, first published in 1963, and a PBS animated series based on the books.
Oh, my goodness, I’m growing so fast I’m giving myself a wedgie!
A wedgie, also known as a snuggy, is a classic form of light bullying in which a person’s underwear is forcibly pulled up by another person so that it becomes wedged between the butt cheeks.
Say, a hot dog makes her lose control.
A line from the theme song to The Patty Duke Show (ABC, 1963-1966). Sample lyrics: “Where Cathy adores a minuet/The Ballets Russes, and crepe suzette/Our Patty loves to rock and roll/A hot dog makes her lose control/What a wild duet!”
Hey, what, are we watching the Arts & Entertainment network?
The Arts & Entertainment Network, or A&E as it is more commonly known, is a basic cable channel launched in 1984 that originally focused on documentaries, biographies, and second-run dramas like Crossing Jordan, but has since shifted to reality series such as Duck Dynasty and Gene Simmons Family Jewels.
The all-Hitler channel, you mean?
A&E (see previous note) has run any number of shows about Nazi leader Adolf Hitler. Later, documentaries like this were shifted to sister network History Channel, leading to jokes that the "H" logo stood for "Hitler." (Until 2008, anyway, when History began shifting toward reality programming, too.)
I’m Mike Wallace, and this is Biography.
Television reporter Mike Wallace (1918-2012) was a journalist and correspondent on the newsmagazine 60 Minutes from its 1968 launch until 2008. Biography is a documentary series that Wallace first hosted on CBS in 1961. It aired there until 1963 and was later revived for A&E in 1987, where it has been hosted by Peter Graves, Jack Perkins, Harry Smith and others. Another A&E sister network was created around the show in 1999 (first called The Biography Channel, then Bio, then FYI) and A&E stopped airing the program in 2006.
Stock footage is hell.
A take on the saying “War is hell,” which originated with Civil War General William T. Sherman, although it is unclear when he actually said it.
An imitation of the Big Bopper, a.k.a. Jiles Perry Richardson, from his 1958 top-ten hit song “Chantilly Lace.” Sample lyrics: “What’s that, baby? But, but, but/Oh honey/But … oh baby, you know what I like.” Richardson died in the same 1959 small plane crash that claimed the lives of Buddy Holly and Richie Valens, immortalized in Don McLean’s 1971 song “American Pie”
He’s playing the Trini Lopez part there.
The Dirty Dozen is a 1967 movie about a group of murderers trained to assassinate German officers during World War II. Singer Trini Lopez (1937-2020) played Pedro Jiminez in the film.
Hey, you save the coupons, dogface? –Sure, how do you think I got this neat war?
"Dogface" was a slang term for a U.S. Army infantryman, especially during World War II. From the early 1900s through the 1980s, numerous cigarette brands offered coupons with each pack, which could be collected and redeemed for various prizes.
You die, Joe!
"You die, Joe!" was a phrase Japanese soldiers were trained to shout in battle during World War II to intimidate their English-speaking foe. (Thanks to Brandon Gonzales for this reference.)
A reference to Show 301, Cave Dwellers. (Thanks to Ronald Byrd for spotting this reference.)
Message for you, sir.
A line from the 1975 film Monty Python and the Holy Grail. An arrow with a note attached flies into the chest of Sir Lancelot’s servant, who politely says, “Message for you, sir!” and crumples to the ground.
Hurts, don’t it? Tell your friends.
According to Mike Nelson, the frequently used riff “Hurts, don’t it? Tell your friends” is a reference to a scene in the 1989 Patrick Swayze movie (and MST3K writer’s room favorite) Road House. Mike calls it “Casablanca-style-quoting,” meaning it sounded right, but not actually word-for-word from the movie. In Road House, the character Wade kicks a bad guy, then says “Goddamn, that hurts, doesn’t it?” Mike describes the “Tell your friends” line as a more “generic cliché.”
Hershey’s syrup is a popular brand of chocolate-flavored syrup found in grocery stores everywhere. Reportedly, filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock used Hershey's syrup as blood for the famous shower scene in his black and white 1960 film Psycho. (Thanks to Donny Ferguson for the Hitchcock reference.)
Rotten. A smile on your face all the time, they want to take your place, the back stabbers.
A reference to the 1972 O’Jays song “Back Stabbers.” Sample lyrics: “(What they do!)/(They smile in your face)/All the time, they want to take your place/The back stabbers (back stabbers) …”
[Sung.] Stabbers …
See previous note.
Well, I see he made his quietus with a bare bodkin, whatever that means.
A reference to the famous “to be or not to be” soliloquy from William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The relevant portion: “For who would bear the whips and scorns of time/The oppressor’s wrong/the proud man’s contumely/The pangs of despised love, the law’s delay/The insolence of office and the spurns/That patient merit of the unworthy takes/When he himself might his quietus make/With a bare bodkin?” Hamlet is talking about committing suicide, for those unfamiliar with the play.
John Philip Sousa’s life is flashing before his eyes.
John Philip Sousa (1854-1932) was an American composer known for his military marches, which have remained popular to this day; “The Liberty Bell (March)” saw use as the theme to Monty Python’s Flying Circus.
Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
An imitation of the King from the musical The King and I.
[Imitating.] The horror … the horror … Wait a minute. Huh? Feel like chopping a cow in half. Oh, French Provincial.
“The horror! The horror!” are the famous last words of Mr. Kurtz in the Joseph Conrad novel Heart of Darkness. However, Tom is specifically imitating Marlon Brando’s delivery of the line in the 1979 movie Apocalypse Now, which is basically Heart of Darkness in Vietnam. Brando shaved his head for the role, and the movie has a scene of a native ritual in which a cow is chopped up with machetes. French Provincial is a style of furniture that involves cabriole (curved) legs and ornate carvings.
Oh, my God, I’m being held in Barbie’s Malibu Dream House!
The Dream House was a play environment for Mattel’s immensely popular fashion doll Barbie. It was first introduced in 1962 and has undergone many changes since then. It is still available for purchase.
You have an all-night bender, and your college buddies play tricks on you.
See above note.
Hi, this is Mickey Rooney. Billy Barty is on the line, too.
See above note on Mickey Rooney. He made a series of short films called “Toonerville Folks,” which was meant to compete with the “Our Gang” series. “Toonerville Folks” focused on the activities of a group of children, one of which was Mickey McGuire, played by Rooney. The part of his younger brother was played by little person actor Billy Barty. Barty (1924-2000), who plays the imp in episode 806, The Undead, was a prolific actor who also crusaded for societal acceptance of little people. He founded Little People of America in 1957 to work toward that goal. He appeared in more than 80 films and TV series during his lengthy career.
Oh, my goodness, I’m a huge Daddy Warbucks!
Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks was the bald millionaire adoptive father of Little Orphan Annie in the comic strip of the same name.
You look like Mr. Clean, Glenn. The Procter & Gamble people are on the phone.
Mr. Clean is the name of a brand of home cleaning products manufactured by Procter & Gamble. The advertising icon for the brand is a large bald man standing with his arms folded.
I’m huge. Don’t smoke. I’m huge now.
The phrase “I’m huge” comes from the comic Jimbo, Adventures in Paradise, by illustrator and Pee-wee’s Playhouse set designer Gary Panter. “Don’t smoke” is a reference to actor Yul Brynner (1920-1985), best known for roles in The King and I, The Ten Commandments, and The Magnificent Seven. He was a well-known smoker (having started at the age of 12), and after being diagnosed with lung cancer, he appeared on ABC’s Good Morning America and said he wished he could make an anti-smoking commercial. After he died, a portion of that interview became a PSA for the American Cancer Society that included the lines, “Now that I’m gone, I tell you, don’t smoke. Whatever you do, just don’t smoke.”
Call Gingiss—tell 'em to let out my tux.
Gingiss Formal Wear is a chain of tuxedo rental shops, the source for proms and wedding parties everywhere.
Morning, and Glenn orders breakfast. Huge Brown ’N Serve sausages are shipped in, hundreds of skillet scrambles are prepared with pancakes on the side and Twinberry syrup by the truckloads.
Brown ‘N Serve is a popular line of breakfast products made by Banquet Foods; precooked sausage patties and links that only need to be heated up before serving. A skillet scramble is a popular breakfast dish at restaurants and diners, consisting of eggs scrambled with a variety of ingredients, such as cheese, potatoes, sausage, etc. The Perkins Restaurant & Bakery chain is the originator of Twinberry Syrup (a combination of blueberry and blackberry flavors) for pancakes and waffles.
And take off that pledge pin.
A line from the 1978 comedy movie National Lampoon’s Animal House. Spoken (with plenty of flying spittle) by tyrannical ROTC cadet commander and frat boy Douglas Neidermeyer (played by Mark Metcalf) to full-figured cadet and fraternity pledge Flounder (played by Stephen Furst). (Thanks to Kurt E. Steidl for this reference.)
“We’re going to have a circus every Saturday.” You’re the geek.
In the early 20th century, some American traveling carnivals and circuses had what were called “geek shows” as a part of their larger sideshow attraction. Geek shows featured an individual dressed in ragged attire or a "primitive native" costume (often billed as something like “The Wild Man of Borneo”), who would behave and shout erratically and, as a finale, chase and catch a chicken and appear to bite its head off. Many carnivals considered it a matter of pride to not have a geek act; geek performers were usually alcoholics or drug addicts who were paid in booze or drugs.
Sometimes referred to as "sad trombone," "loser horns" or, more technically, "chromatic descending 'wah,'" this sound effect dates back to the early 1900s and the Vaudeville days. It was carried over into radio and then television. Today, it's mostly known thanks to the series of "Debbie Downer" sketches on Saturday Night Live.
Truth is stranger than fiction.
This saying originates in Lord Byron’s long poem Don Juan. The actual lines: “'Tis strange,-but true; for truth is always strange;/Stranger than fiction: if it could be told,/How much would novels gain by the exchange!/How differently the world would men behold!”
“Is he alive or dead?” Or Memorex.
“Is it live, or is it Memorex?” is an old advertising slogan for Memorex audio tape that dates back to the early 1970s.
Well, mm-hmm, time to die. Avon calling.
In the late 1980s/early ‘90s there was a well-coordinated and largely successful campaign by animal rights groups to identify cosmetics companies that used animals to test products for safety and hypoallergenic properties, and pressure them to stop doing so. In many countries, such as the European Union, India, Israel, and Norway, cosmetic animal testing is banned outright. Avon announced it would end animal testing in 1989. “Avon calling” is a slogan for Avon Products, Inc., a cosmetics, household, and personal products company that uses a direct sales model, which used to mean door-to-door selling in homes. To emphasize that, the “Ding Dong, Avon Calling” ad campaign was launched in 1954 and ran through 1967, making it one of the longest and most successful advertising campaigns in history.
I’ll just call you little Mary Kay. Well, Fluffy, time to shave your butt and put cosmetics all over it.
Mary Kay Inc. is a cosmetics company that operates on the Multi-level marketing business model: distributors, called “beauty consultants,” earn income through direct sales to customers, and commissions on products sold to other distributors that they recruit. Top-sellers are rewarded with an iconic pink Cadillac. In 2018, Mary Kay reported wholesale earnings of $3.7 billion. Mary Kay was also targeted by animal rights activists (see previous note)—specifically by cartoonist Berkeley Breathed, who ran a series of cartoons in his popular comic strip "Bloom County" about the company's animal testing in the late 1980s. The company was hit with such a barrage of negative publicity as a result that it stopped using animal testing completely.
What’s up, doc?
“What’s up, doc?” is the famous catchphrase of cartoon star Bugs Bunny. He said it in his very first appearance, 1940’s A Wild Hare.
Why don’t you put on Sid and Nancy for me?
Sid and Nancy is a 1986 film starring Gary Oldman as punk rocker Sid Vicious and Chloe Webb as his girlfriend Nancy Spungen. Both Vicious and Spungen had problems with heroin; Vicious died of an overdose while awaiting trial on charges he murdered Spungen.
Put this on the TV and see if we get better reception.
"Rabbit ears" is the colloquial phrase for the VHF antennae common to television sets throughout the latter half of the 20th century. By extending and manipulating the antennae, viewers could pick up signals for channels two through thirteen. Frequently, stations on the fringe of someone's range could be snagged if metal objects came in contact with the antenna or if some hapless child was stuck holding it in place. Rabbit ears went the way of the dodo in 2011, when the FCC required all broadcast television stations to convert to digital formats, necessitating a totally different kind of antenna.
Hey, pass it down: Night of the Lepus! Tonight!
Night of the Lepus is a 1972 “horror” film about giant bunnies menacing a group of folks in the Southwest. It was noteworthy mainly for its cast, which included Psycho’s Janet Leigh and DeForest “Bones McCoy” Kelley. RiffTrax riffed Night of the Lepus in 2014.
Oh, some crystal meth and a leather clown suit.
“Crystal meth” is an illicit form of methamphetamine hydrochloride, a powerful and highly addictive stimulant.
“With every breath I take, every movement …” I’ll be watching you.
A reference to the 1983 song “Every Breath You Take” by British rock/reggae band The Police; it was the biggest hit single of that year, and won two Grammy Awards. In later years songwriter Sting said he was baffled that people regarded it as a romantic love song (a popular wedding song, even), since he intended it to be a blatantly creepy song about a stalker. Sample lyrics: “Every breath you take/Every move you make/Every bond you break/Every step you take/I’ll be watching you/Oh can't you see/You belong to me?/How my poor heart aches with every step you take.”
"I just don't want to grow anymore." I’m a Toys R Us kid.
“I don’t wanna grow up, I’m a Toys R Us kid” is a line from a jingle used in a series of commercials for the toy giant during the 1980s and 1990s.
[Sung.] “Entry of the Gladiators”
While most people know this as “that circus song,” the actual title is “Entrance of the Gladiators” or “Entry of the Gladiators.” It was composed in 1897 as a military march by Czech composer Julius Fučík. Circuses began to use it after a small band version was arranged by Canadian composer Louis-Phillippe Laurendeau in 1910 under the title “Thunder and Blazes.”
Little Women? Oh, come on.
Little Women is a novel by Louisa May Alcott that was first published in 1869. It tells the story of four young girls who grow into women over the course of the novel.
Oh, great. Five gallons of hospital Jell-O.
Jell-O is a sweetened gelatin dessert made by Kraft Foods. The powdered gelatin that serves as a base for the product was first developed in 1845 by Peter Cooper. In the 1880s, the patent was sold to a New York carpenter who replicated the powder but added flavors to it. The first flavors available were lemon, orange, raspberry, and strawberry. The Jell-O name was bestowed upon it in 1897.
Hey, how’d the Giants do? That’s a little joke of mine.
The New York Giants are a professional football team in the NFL.
Picked it up at Tom Thumb. Just kidding.
Tom Thumb is a chain of grocery stores based in Dallas and founded in 1948. The name comes from a character from an English folk story that dates back to the sixteenth century about a child the size of his father's thumb.
Hmm. Lockhorns. She burned the dinner again; he came home late.
Leroy and Loretta Lockhorn are a married couple who hurl hurtful barbs at each other every day in the syndicated newspaper comic strip “The Lockhorns.” The series was created in 1968 by Bill and Bunny Hoest.
Ah, the healing power of laughter. He must have read Anatomy of an Illness by Norman Cousins.
Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient is a book by Norman Cousins about his experience battling a serious illness with humor and vitamin C.
[Sung.] “Entry of the Gladiators.”
See above note.
Oh, Shelley Winters.
Shelley Winters (1920-2006) was a hefty actress who appeared in such films as The Diary of Anne Frank (1959, for which she won an Oscar) and The Poseidon Adventure (1972). She also appeared in Show K16, City on Fire.
Yeah, you’re a super freak, sir, the kind you don’t take home to mother.
A reference to the 1981 Rick James song “Super Freak.” Sample lyrics: “She's a very kinky girl/The kind you don't take home to mother/She will never let your spirits down/Once you get her off the street, ow girl.”
Oh, the pain, the pain, the pain …
An imitation of Jonathan Harris as Dr. Zachary Smith, on the CBS series Lost in Space, which aired from 1965-1968. Originally cast as a villain, Dr. Smith soon became a sympathetic character and comic relief in the series, with most of the conflicts resulting from his harebrained schemes gone awry. Dr. Smith’s relentless cowardice resulted in frequent emotional breakdowns, in which he would either hide behind other characters and howl “We’re doomed!” or confess his shortcomings and whimper, “Oh, the shame, the pain …”
Well, 130 Rob Roys and he’s in the other room talking to Earl.
A Rob Roy is a cocktail consisting of Scotch and vermouth with a dash of bitters. “Talking to Earl” is one of many, many, colorful euphemisms for vomiting.
Dumbo is a 1941 animated Disney film about a young elephant whose enormous ears enable him to fly.
No man is a Three Mile Island, Glenn.
“No man is an island” is a line from the John Donne sermon “Meditation XVII.” The relevant lines: “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania is the site of a nuclear power plant that suffered a partial meltdown on March 28, 1979. No injuries were reported, but the accident was a PR disaster and contributed to a decline in public support for nuclear power.
So, how’s the tar heroin coming there?
Black tar heroin is a crude form of heroin that is dark in color and often sticky like tar.
It’s Cocoa Puffs, Bob! I have no idea why, but it fits the equation! Check it out. There’s the skim milk, and then there’s the Cocoa Puff, you see?
Cocoa Puffs is a chocolate-flavored cereal popular with kids, made by General Mills and introduced in 1958.
Carol Merrill was a model on the TV game show Let’s Make a Deal from 1963-1977.
Abba-dabba, abba-dabba, abba-dabba.
"Abba-dabba" is a slang term meaning a person or thing of little importance.
Let’s do it on the 3-D BB.
On the Tennessee Tuxedo and His Tales series of semi-educational cartoons (CBS, 1963-1966), the character Professor Phineas J. Whoopee (voiced by Larry Storch) used a 3-dimensional blackboard that he called the “3-D BB” for short.
Do you like Peter Allen?
Peter Allen (1944-1992) was an Australian songwriter and cabaret performer popular during the 1970s and 1980s. He was briefly married to singer Liza Minnelli and wrote hit songs for performers like Melissa Manchester and Olivia Newton John.
“We won’t hurt him unless he gives us cause.” Like Rodney King.
In 1991, motorist Rodney King was viciously beaten by Los Angeles police officers. The beating was videotaped and caused an enormous outcry among the public. In the subsequent trial, held in sheltered Simi Valley, the officers were acquitted on charges of excessive force, and the verdict touched off a devastating riot in Los Angeles.
Wait a minute, it’s Mr. Ziffel from Green Acres! Check it out!
Green Acres (CBS, 1965-1971) is a TV sitcom about a prominent New York lawyer and his socialite wife who move to the sticks and become farmers. Fred Ziffel (played by Hank Patterson) was the old farmer on the show who constantly dispensed bad advice, and kept a pig named Arnold who he referred to as his son.
Either those curtains go or I do.
According to some sources, Victorian poet and playwright Oscar Wilde’s last words were “Either those curtains go or I do.” Other versions give conflicting accounts of his last words: “Either that wallpaper goes or I do,” or “I suppose I shall have to die beyond my means.” Similarly, the wording varies somewhat between sources, but Wilde was reported to have said, “I find it harder and harder every day to live up to my blue china.”
Thank you, Oscar Wilde.
See previous note.
Well, he scared Mr. Ziffel and bit the head off Eb.
According to Joel Hodgson, the resemblance of the actor in this scene to Green Acres (CBS, 1965-1971) star Eddie Albert inspired this riff. See note on Fred Ziffel, above. Eb Dawson (played by Tom Lester) was the lazy farmhand on Green Acres, who always called Eddie Albert's character "Dad."
Put that pipe out, Rockwell.
Norman Rockwell (1894-1978) was a painter renowned for painting "life as I would like it to be,” as he once said. Rockwell had a knack for painting nostalgic scenes that awakened the viewer’s longing for a mythical simpler, purer time. In his myriad illustrations for the Saturday Evening Post—he painted more than 300 of their covers over 50 years—he evoked a vision of small-town America that still resonates today. He was frequently seen with a tobacco pipe and even depicted himself with one in his famous 1960 piece, "Triple Self-Portrait."
He’s with a little guy named Sprout.
The Jolly Green Giant, the advertising icon for the Green Giant Company, has an assistant named Little Green Sprout, first introduced in 1973.
Next to the Stuckey’s.
Stuckey’s is a chain of roadside convenience stores/restaurants/souvenir shops founded in 1937 and famous for their Pecan Log Rolls. At one time there were more than 350 Stuckey’s along America’s highways, mostly in the South and Midwest. Following a decline in the ‘70s that left fewer than 75 outlets, a comeback beginning in the mid-‘80s brought the number back up to more than 115.
Have Jack and the Beanstalk read for tomorrow, people.
“Jack and the Beanstalk” is a traditional English fairy tale dating back to the mid-1800s, about a boy who climbs a magical beanstalk up into the sky and steals a hen that lays golden eggs.
Lindy, headed for Paris.
Charles Lindbergh, known affectionately to his adoring public as “Lindy,” was a pilot who in 1927 made the first nonstop transatlantic flight from New York to Paris.
Hey, it looks like they must be visiting Keith Richards.
Keith Richards is the lead guitarist for the Rolling Stones. He has had widely publicized problems with drug addiction, particularly heroin.
Here's Barry ZeVan.
Barry ZeVan (1938-2020) was a TV weatherman for Channel 11 in Minneapolis/St. Paul during the 1980s. (Thanks to Mike Gilstrap for this reference.)
Think I’ll go catch Siegfried and Roy. See you later, Habib.
Siegfried Fischbacher (1939-2021) and Roy Horn (1944-2020) were German-born entertainers known for their illusions and Las Vegas show featuring white tigers. In 2003, Horn was critically injured by one of their tigers during a show. In 2009, after more than five years hiatus, they staged a final performance and retired.
Oh, no, he’s going to pee! Quick, over to the Tropicana!
See note on the Tropicana, above.
Eating crow now, buddy.
“Eating crow” is a colloquialism meaning a humiliating admission that a person is wrong, after having taken a strong position. It comes from the assumption that crow would taste bad and be hard to swallow.
I think I saw him in a Japanese dance troupe.
Butoh dancing is a form of Japanese modern dance; in a typical performance, dancers covered in white powder, with shaved heads, slowly uncurl from fetal positions.
I am the king. Give me my crown. I'm going to have an Imperial party.
According to Joel Hodgson: “I had a neighbor in Green Bay, and his Mom worked at Super Value, a grocery chain in Wisconsin. One day she brought Greg home a huge display that read ‘Give an Imperial Party.’ He was pretty proud of it, and hung it in his room, as he thought it was pop art.” Imperial brand margarine is sold by Unilever; it is the chief competitor of Parkay margarine. Their symbol is a crown.
I know this is The King and I.
Also according to Joel Hodgson: “It’s a reaction to three visual cues: the velvet crown, the man being shirtless, AND the man having a shaved head. Put them all together, and you’ve got four miles of two-lane blacktop in which you do a Yul Brynner/King and I riff." The King and I is a musical by Rodgers and Hammerstein about the King of Siam and the Englishwoman he hires to tutor his wives and children. The role of the King was famously played by Yul Brynner with a shaved head nearly 5,000 times on the Broadway stage, revivals and touring productions, and he won a Best Actor Academy Award for his performance in the 1956 film version.
Oh, it’s an Imperial margarine commercial.
See previous note. A series of TV commercials for Imperial in the late ‘70s and ‘80s entered the pop-culture landscape: someone tastes the product and a crown suddenly appears on their head, accompanied by a musical fanfare.
Butter. Parkay. Butter. Parkay.
A play on the series of commercials in the 1970s for Parkay margarine, in which an animated tub of Parkay margarine gets in a running argument with a consumer over whether it tastes more like margarine or like butter.
There was an old woman who lived in a shoe? I don’t think so.
A reference to the classic nursery rhyme: “There was an old woman who lived in a shoe./She had so many children, she didn't know what to do./She gave them some broth/Without any bread/Whipped them all soundly, and sent them to bed.”
Oh, there's Circus Circus.
Circus Circus is a circus-themed hotel/resort/casino located in Las Vegas.
Danny Thomas! Oh, no!
Danny Thomas (born Amos Muzyad Yaqoob Kairouz; 1912-1991) was a singer and actor best known for his lead role on the long-running series Make Room for Daddy, a.k.a. The Danny Thomas Show, which aired from 1953-1965. (Thanks to Tom Carberry for supplying the correct name of the show.)
He hates Danny Thomas.
See previous note.
Ee-o eleven, my foot.
On noisy casino gambling floors, craps dealers pronounce the word “eleven” clearly, loudly, and distinctly to distinguish it from the similar sounding seven. Often they drag it out to “eeyoleven.” In the 1960 Rat Pack caper movie Ocean’s 11, the opening title sequence features a brassy instrumental version of the song “Eee-O Eleven,” and Sammy Davis Jr. sings parts of the song in three different scenes. A 2001 remake starring George Clooney and Brad Pitt was titled Ocean's Eleven.
Don’t you dare touch the cowboy!
"Vegas Vic" is the name given to the forty-foot-tall neon sign that adorned The Pioneer Club casino in Las Vegas beginning in 1951. The casino closed in '95, but the sign is still there, hanging above a large souvenir shop.
C’mere, Hopalong, you crummy little …
Hopalong Cassidy was a cowboy character played by William Boyd in more than fifty movies and a television show. The character was originally created by novelist Clarence Mulford.
He hated the Village People.
The Village People were a campy disco group that hit it big in the late 1970s with hits like “Y.M.C.A.” Each member of the group dressed as a different gay “icon”: cop, firefighter, cowboy, and so on.
Hey, look, he’ll be the biggest guy by a dam sight. –Careful. That kind of talk will get your arm ripped off. –I better remember that.
In Show 302, Gamera, Joel takes Crow's arm off for singing the MST3K theme song. In Show 304, Gamera vs. Barugon, he removes Crow's arm in the theater for using a horrible pun.
An imitation of Frankenstein's Monster when encountering pitchfork-wielding villagers or fire, as depicted in many films. The reanimated amalgam of corpses was played most famously by Boris Karloff in three Universal monster films and Glenn Strange in three others. Peter Boyle also employed this style of grunting in 1974's Young Frankenstein.
Does this bug you? Does this bug you? I’m not touching you.
“Does this bug you? I’m not touching you” is an often-heard MST3K catchphrase with possible origins in something U2 lead singer Bono said in the 1988 concert film Rattle and Hum: “Am I bugging you? I don’t mean to bug ya.” Or it's possibly just a reference to the timeless sibling torment of almost, but not quite, touching, tickling, or punching another sibling, and when a complaint is made, saying "What? I'm not touching you!"
Sinead O’Connor (1966-2023) was an Irish singer and songwriter who burst onto the scene in 1988 with a shaved head and an extraordinary voice. Her biggest hit was probably “Nothing Compares 2 U,” written by Prince.
Yeah—nothing compares to you.
See previous note.
It’s Peter Garrett from Midnight Oil.
Peter Garrett was the lead singer for the Australian rock band Midnight Oil; he also sported a shaved head. The band had a string of hits during the 1980s and continued to perform throughout the 1990s. In 2002 the band broke up after Garrett decided to leave the group to focus on his budding political career.
Oh, the power and the passion.
“The Power and the Passion” is a song by Midnight Oil (see previous note). Sample lyrics: “Oh the power and the passion, oh the temper of the time/Oh the power and the passion/Sometimes you've got to take the hardest line.”
The first step to recovery is recognizing you have a problem.
In twelve-step programs designed to help people recover from addiction to various substances, the first step is generally to admit that you are an addict—hence the famous phrase, “Hi, I’m _______, and I’m an alcoholic.”
This is like the Stooges.
The Three Stooges were a comedy trio with a varying lineup who starred in a series of short films featuring intense slapstick comedy. They got their start in vaudeville and made the jump to movies in the 1930s, eventually appearing in almost 200 shorts.
And this is why lawn darts were taken off the market, people.
Lawn darts were big plastic darts with metal tips. The object of the game was to throw the darts into little plastic rings you placed on the lawn, but a lot of kids just threw them at each other. They were banned in the U.S. for many years. After they were allowed in the country in the late 1970s thanks to a lawsuit, a 7-year-old California girl was killed while playing with them in 1987, leading to their re-banning in 1988. Canada followed suit the next year.
When I play the King and I, it’s the King Kong and I.
See note on The King and I, above. King Kong is a 1933 film about the love of a giant ape for a screaming woman.
Come on, honey. You know, I always wanted to see Hoover Dam.
Hoover Dam, at 726 feet, is the tallest concrete arch dam in the United States. It is located on the Colorado River at the border between Arizona and Nevada. It is used for irrigation, flood control, and power generation.
He walks kind of funny. Like Redd Foxx.
Redd Foxx (1922-1991) was an actor best known for his portrayal of irascible father Fred Sanford on the TV series Sanford and Son, which aired from 1972-1977.
He’s delightful! He’s de-lemon! He’s de-sugar free!
Paraphrased lines from a 1974 commercial for Sugar Free 7 Up (aka Diet 7 Up). The commercial paraphrased the 1936 Cole Porter song “It’s De-Lovely,” which has been sung by Johnny Mathis and Ethel Merman, among others. Sample lyrics: “The night is young and the skies are clear/And if you want to go walkin', dear/It's delightful, it's delicious, it's de-lovely.”