by Wyn Hilty
I’m very afraid.
A possible reference to the line “Be afraid. Be very afraid,” which was spoken by Geena Davis in the 1986 horror film The Fly, a loose remake of the 1958 film of the same name. The line became a tagline for the film, was used extensively in its marketing, and has since become so firmly embedded in popular culture that many people know the line but don’t know its origin.
Has he got Pringles in his shoes?
Pringles are a brand of potato chips developed by Procter & Gamble in 1967 and now owned by Kellogg’s. Unlike other chips, which involve slices of actual potatoes and come in bags, Pringles are machine-made: compressed potato residue and wheat starch chips sold neatly stacked in cylindrical cardboard tubes.
The true story of Neil Peart.
Neil Peart (1952-2020) was the drummer and primary lyricist for the Canadian rock band Rush. Peart was admired by peers, fans, and music journalists for his technical skill in the studio, and his strength and precision in concert. He also wrote several non-fiction books about his life and travels. Peart died of an aggressive form of brain cancer (glioblastoma) at age 67.
Is this Coach’s brother here?
A reference to Coach Ernie Pantusso, the elderly bartender played by Nicholas Colasanto (1924-1985), who appeared on the first three seasons of Cheers. Colasanto died toward the end of filming the third season, and his absence was explained by having the character die as well; he was replaced by Woody Harrelson. (Thanks to Seth Coleman for this reference.)
In here’s my secret stash of Cheetos, Dr Pepper, and back issues of Cosmo.
Cheetos are a brand of cheese-flavored snacks manufactured by Frito-Lay. Dr Pepper is a soft drink manufactured by the Dr Pepper/Seven Up corporation. It was first introduced in 1885. Cosmopolitan, or Cosmo, as it has been nicknamed, is a women’s magazine known for its cover photos of cleavagey women and articles with titles like “10 Ways to Drive Your Man Wild in Bed.” It is owned by the Hearst Corporation.
Jimmy Stewart and Rex Smith in Breaking In.
Jimmy Stewart (1908-1997) was a beloved leading man known for his roles in such films as It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) and Rear Window (1954). Rex Smith was a teen idol in the 1970s, regularly featured on the covers of teen magazines like Tiger Beat. In 1979 he released his one hit song, “You Take My Breath Away.” Since then, he has appeared on several TV shows, including the short-lived 1985 series Street Hawk. Breaking In is a 1989 movie starring Burt Reynolds as a professional thief.
Yup, I used to be Robert Frost, you know.
Robert Frost (1874-1963) was an American poet known for his evocation of the New England countryside in poems like “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening.”
I’d love to get out of the rat race and guard a U-Store-It for a while.
U-Store-It is a chain of self-storage facilities, one of the largest in the country; it boasts somewhere around 37,000 locations nationwide.
Okay, then, I say dress in hot pants from now on.
Also known as “short shorts,” hot pants are very short (two inches or less inseam) and very tight, emphasizing the butt and highlighting the thighs. They were introduced in the mid-1960s and had faded by the early 1970s. A denim version experienced a brief revival in the late 1970s thanks to the character of Daisy Duke (played by Catherine Bach) on the TV series The Dukes of Hazzard (CBS, 1978-1985); they are still known as “Daisy Dukes.”
Okay, so, what, now he becomes a Jedi Knight? Why am I sitting here?
The Jedi Knights were the order of mystical warriors in the Star Wars films by George Lucas; one of the main plot threads involved the young Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) training to become a Jedi Knight.
It’s a secret blow comb storehouse.
Blow combs are a type of hair dryer that incorporate a comb into the design.
I need another Yoo-hoo!
Yoo-hoo is a chocolate-flavored drink popular among the kiddie set.
Oh, Burgess Meredith’s in there reading.
A reference to the Twilight Zone episode “Time Enough at Last,” in which a bookish bank clerk, played by Meredith, takes his lunch break in the vault and emerges to find himself the only survivor of a nuclear holocaust. He realizes that at last he has all the time he could ever want to read, until (spoiler alert) he ironically breaks his glasses.
Maybe the Great Carnac answers are stored in there.
Carnac the Magnificent was a character played by host Johnny Carson during his run on the Tonight Show. Carnac was a mind-reader with an enormous turban, who would magically divine the answers to questions written inside sealed envelopes.
This poor guy was edged out of every decent role by Grant Goodeve.
Grant Goodeve is an actor best known for playing the oldest son on the TV series Eight Is Enough; he has also appeared on Northern Exposure and acted as the host for several TV series. He has also recorded a couple of albums of Christian music.
I mean, besides you, Cerberus.
Cerberus is the three-headed dog that guards the gates to Hades in Greek mythology.
Wow, David Crosby’s eating in there.
David Crosby (1941-2023) was a founding member of Crosby, Stills & Nash and one of the most influential folk-rock musicians of the 20th century. He was also fairly heavyset most of his adult life.
Leif Garrett in The Rose.
Leif Garrett was a singer and teen idol in the 1970s who had a couple of modest hits and turned to acting, appearing in Shaker Run and Thunder Alley, among other films. In later years he had a high-profile struggle with substance abuse that brought him back into the public eye. The Rose is a 1979 film starring Bette Midler as a 1960s-era rock star, a story loosely based on the life of Janis Joplin.
You know, he’s already got Loverboy beat as a live act.
Loverboy was an extremely popular hard rock band during the early 1980s, with hits such as “Working for the Weekend” and “Hot Girls in Love.”
You know, this is a real cheap biopic of Jim Morrison.
Jim Morrison (1943-1971) was the lead singer for The Doors. In 1991 director Oliver Stone made a biopic called The Doors, with Val Kilmer playing Morrison.
[Sung.] We’re on the road to nowhere … –I'll say. –[Sung.] Come on inside.
A line from the Talking Heads song “Road to Nowhere.” Sample lyrics: “We’re on a road to nowhere/Come on inside/Taking that ride to nowhere/We’ll take that ride.”
Oh, just sing the St. Elmo’s Fire theme song and get it over with.
St. Elmo’s Fire is a 1985 film starring the Brat Packers (Judd Nelson, Demi Moore, Rob Lowe, etc.) as a group of friends coping with life after college. The theme song, performed by John Parr, became a huge radio hit.
Hey, it’s Carl Lewis! Oh, no. –It’s the old guy.
Carl Lewis is a renowned track and field star who won nine Olympic gold medals over twelve years, the first in 1984 and the last in 1996. He has also won ten World Championships and set numerous world records; he is considered one of the greatest track stars of the 20th century.
Member FDI MURDER. –DEATH guaranteed for up to fifty thousand DIE.
The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) is an independent government corporation that insures bank deposits against the possibility of a catastrophic failure of the banking system. It was put into place after the panic of the Great Depression, in which many banks closed and customers lost their life’s savings.
Ah, the king of the Wisconsin Dells finally gets a movie.
Wisconsin Dells is a city in south central Wisconsin, popular as a Midwestern tourist destination. Often known as just “The Dells,” the place became divided in 1908 into the Upper and Lower Dells when Kilbourn Dam was constructed on the Wisconsin River. The Dells is home to numerous waterparks, go carts, miniature golf courses, regular golf courses, and a host of other icons of wholesome family fun. “Ever been to The Dells? Let’s ride the ducks” came in at #7 in The Fifty Most Obscure References in The Amazing Colossal Episode Guide, referring to The Dells as “that paradise of water playlands, that miniature golf hot-bed…” The Tommy Bartlett Show, a water-skiing stunt exhibition founded in 1952, was one of the Dells’ main attractions; the show closed in 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
[Sung.] Paige Sullivan ...
A reference to the song "Hymn for a Sunday Evening" from the musical Bye Bye Birdie. Actual lyrics: "Me on the Ed Sullivan Show?/Ed Sullivan/Me, Henry McAfee, appearing with/Ed Sullivan ..." (Thanks to alxp for this incredibly obscure reference.)
Ah, the cheap sequel to Billy Jack.
Billy Jack is a 1971 film starring Tom Laughlin (who also produced, directed, and wrote) as a Native American martial artist/crack shot/Vietnam veteran who tries to protect a hippie school from local racists.
Is she related to Wacky T. Backy?
Wacky tobacky is a slang term for marijuana.
Kari French! I bet she loves that dressing.
French dressing is a type of salad dressing. In its simplest form, French dressing can be any blend of oil and vinegar, but American mass-produced French dressing tends to be sweetened and is red or orange in color, thanks to paprika and other ingredients.
James Mayberry R.F.D. Oh, I hate myself too.
Mayberry R.F.D. was a TV sitcom that aired from 1968-1971. It was a continuation of The Andy Griffith Show, which was renamed after Griffith decided to leave the show. Farmer Sam Jones and his son Mike became the main characters of the new series.
“It’s not that complicated.” JFK Jr. could do it.
John F. Kennedy Jr. (1960-1999) was the oldest son of President John F. Kennedy, born shortly after his father won the 1960 presidential election. He was a few days short of his third birthday when his father was assassinated, and a picture of the small boy saluting his father’s coffin became famous worldwide. In 1999 Kennedy was killed, along with his wife and sister-in-law, when the small plane he was flying crashed into the ocean off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard, an accident blamed on his inexperience as a pilot.
Yes, we paid for this wing with the profits from D.C. Cab.
D.C. Cab is a 1983 movie starring Adam Baldwin as a man who dreams of opening his own cab company.
This is where we keep Clint Howard and Michael J. Pollard.
Clint Howard, brother of actor/director Ron Howard, got his start as a child actor and has since appeared in such films as Apollo 13 (1995) and Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997). Michael J. Pollard (born Michael J. Pollack Jr., 1939-2019) was an American actor whose best-known role is that of C.W. Moss in the 1967 film Bonnie and Clyde. With his nerdy, almost elfin appearance, he played more than 100 character parts in films and TV shows. Deep trivia: Canadian actor Michael J. Fox’s actual middle name is Andrew; to avoid having his name sound like “a fox” or the Canadian “eh?”, he changed it to Michael J. Fox in a tribute to Michael J. Pollard.
Sometimes Katharine Hepburn shows up; we have to chase her out of here.
Katharine Hepburn (1907-2003) was an elegant actress known for high-class roles in such films as The Philadelphia Story and Adam’s Rib.
Use it to kill Archduke Ferdinand.
In 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was shot to death by Serbian rebel Gavrilo Princip while visiting Sarajevo. Austria-Hungary promptly declared war on Serbia, and within a week most of the major European powers had been drawn into the widening conflict. World War I had begun. It ended four years and 40 million casualties later.
Had to wing Gloria Swanson once.
Gloria Swanson (1899-1983) was a glamorous actress who got her start in silent films but is best remembered for her role in Sunset Boulevard (1950), in which she played a fading movie star.
Smells like Jack Ruby.
Jack Ruby (c. 1911-1967) was a Dallas nightclub owner who catapulted to fame when he shot and killed Lee Harvey Oswald, the accused assassin of President John F. Kennedy. Ruby was convicted of the killing and sent to prison, where he died of cancer in 1967.
[Sung.] Fresh fish!
The vaudeville/early movies comedy duo Laurel and Hardy did an old routine in which they sold fish out of a truck.
“Whoa, everybody have sex tonight!” Everybody throw up tonight.
A reference to the 1986 Wang Chung hit song “Everybody Have Fun Tonight.” Sample lyrics: “Everybody have fun tonight/Everybody wang chung tonight.”
Ironically, no one in the band Wang Chung had sex that night.
See previous note.
What, did Mark Rothko do this room?
Mark Rothko (1903-1970) was an artist who pioneered the movement of color field painting—most of his paintings are just huge rectangles of color floating in space.
Choose your Garden Weasel.
The Garden Weasel is a gardening tool that has been advertised on television for years (it was introduced in 1976). It is a cultivator designed to break up soil and root up weeds, preparing the ground for planting.
So we sent our armies to the Gulf War with garden shovels and grass rollers?
The Persian Gulf War was fought in 1990-1991 after Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein invaded the tiny neighboring country of Kuwait. Dozens of countries, led by the United States and the United Kingdom, contributed forces to the conflict, which was sanctioned by the United Nations. Iraqi forces were quickly driven out of Kuwait, although Hussein remained in power until he was defeated in the Iraq War of 2003.
Their garden tools make little Casio sounds.
Casio is a Japanese electronics manufacturer that released a number of cheapie synthesizer keyboards in the 1980s. Designed for use by children, their low price and wide availability resulted in their being used by aspiring garage bands everywhere.
You know, I’d switch to the Weed Whacker at this point.
A Weed Whacker is a brand of string trimmer, a gardening device that cuts grass and weeds with a whirling length of string, usually a plastic line.
Throw some Miracle-Gro in his eyes!
Miracle-Gro is a brand of plant food first marketed in the 1940s. The company also sells soil, weed killers, and other gardening products.
This movie’s making me nostalgic for the film Gymkata.
In 1985, world champion gymnast Kurt Thomas made an enjoyably bad movie called Gymkata, in which he goes to a country called Parmistan and wrestles a bunch of ninjas and fights off zombies armed with pitchforks so the American military can put in a missile base. Fortunately, the country has a lot of gymnastic equipment lying around that he can use to defeat the bad guys.
Did you know that Nick went on to play Pong in his underwear while drinking beer?
Pong was one of the first, if not the first, video games. It was essentially an electronic version of table tennis: each player had a “paddle” and they bounced a little “ball” between them.
So does Hardware Hank have a major defense contract, or ...
Hardware Hank is a chain of retail hardware stores based in Minnesota.
Nick’s also a black belt in Whack-a-Mole.
Whack-a-Mole is an arcade game in which small plastic moles pop up out of holes in the game board in a random pattern, and the player attempts to hit them with a mallet before they disappear again.
You know, there hasn’t been such a glorious battle since the Arnold Stang-Wally Cox fight of 1958.
Both nebbishy, bespectacled character actors: Arnold Stang (1918-2009) got his start in radio as the sidekick to comedian Henry Morgan; he later appeared in such films as The Man with the Golden Arm and It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. Wally Cox (1924-1973) made numerous TV appearances on such shows as The Beverly Hillbillies and Alias Smith and Jones, and he supplied the voice for the cartoon superhero Underdog.
Pee-wee Herman casual wear.
Pee-wee Herman is a character created by comedian Paul Reubens. Essentially an overgrown kid in a too-short suit and bow tie, Pee-wee was featured in two movies, Pee-wee’s Big Adventure and Big Top Pee-wee. He also served as the host of a very successful children’s show, Pee-wee’s Playhouse. That show was canceled in 1991 following Reubens’s arrest on charges he indecently exposed himself during a showing of an X-rated film in an adult theater.
They made love in their Chevy van and that’s not all right with me! –Or me!
A reference to the Sammy Jones song “Chevy Van.” Sample lyrics: “Cause like a princess she was layin’ there/Moonlight dancin’ off her hair/She woke up and took me by the hand/We made love in my Chevy van/And that’s all right with me.”
I got a 3 on the GED.
GED stands for General Educational Development—the standardized test for people who never graduated from high school. Passing the GED is equivalent to earning a high school diploma.
“It’s really a long story.” “I’ve got all the time in the world.” Well, okay then. Call me Ishmael …
“Call me Ishmael” is the opening line of the extremely lengthy novel Moby-Dick by Herman Melville, in which a sea captain is obsessed and finally destroyed by his quest to kill a giant white whale.
“We’ve got this friend who’s in the army.” Omar Bradley?
Omar Bradley (1893-1981) was a highly respected general who served under Eisenhower during World War II. President Truman appointed him head of Veterans Affairs, and in 1948 he took over the departing Eisenhower’s job as Army Chief of Staff, later serving as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
I was Tokyo Rose.
“Tokyo Rose” was the nickname American soldiers gave to the female broadcasters on Japanese propaganda radio during World War II; the broadcasts were in English and were aimed at destroying morale among Allied troops stationed nearby.
Oh, that’ll be Kevorkian.
Dr. Jack Kevorkian (1928-2011) was known for his determination to assist terminally ill people in committing suicide. He spent time in jail for violating assisted suicide laws, and was criticized even by some proponents of euthanasia for his willingness to help total strangers commit suicide.
Looks like Dana Gould.
Dana Gould is a comedian and screenwriter who has appeared in numerous standup TV specials; he also wrote for The Simpsons for a number of years, and has a popular podcast, The Dana Gould Hour. He is also a friend of the MST3K writers, who have freely dropped lines written by Gould in numerous episodes, and will be a guest writer on the MST3K reboot.
Hey, the Kirk Cameron show!
Kirk Cameron was a teen heartthrob who starred as the teenage Mike Seaver on the TV sitcom Growing Pains, which aired from 1985-1992. After the show went off the air, Cameron tried his hand at his own sitcom, titled Kirk, which lasted for two seasons. In the 21st century Cameron has mostly been known for his evangelizing, appearing in a number of Christian films, including the Left Behind series.
He goes the same speed on the Ventura Freeway.
The Ventura Freeway is an east-west highway in Southern California, running from Ventura County to the Hollywood Freeway in Los Angeles.
Bullitt. Now for seniors.
Bullitt is a 1968 action flick starring Steve McQueen as a San Francisco cop bent on avenging the death of a witness under his protection; it contains one of the most famous car chases ever filmed.
I’ll get that guy, but first I’ll just stop at the Bishop's Buffet here.
Bishop’s Buffet was a chain of cafeteria-style restaurants in the Midwest. The first opened in 1920 in Waterloo, Iowa, and at one time there were 38 locations, but it looks like the last surviving Bishop’s, in Moline, closed in 2012.
[Sung.] Take on me … take me on …
A line from the song “Take On Me” by A-Ha. Sample lyrics: “Take on me/Take me on/I’ll be gone/In a day or two …
If found, please return to Hunter Thompson.
Hunter S. Thompson (1935-2006) was a writer, the father of gonzo journalism, who was best-known for his semi-autobiographical book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. He was known for his wild writing style, his extensive experimentation with psychedelic drugs, and his boundless enthusiasm for firearms. He committed suicide with a handgun in 2006.
I don’t like the way you greeted me at Wal-Mart.
Wal-Mart is the largest chain of retail stores in the United States. The first store was opened in 1962 by Sam Walton, offering discount merchandise at low prices. Often stores hired retirees to stand by the doors and welcome shoppers; these employees were known as “greeters.” In 2012 the company phased out greeters, moving the employees near registers to perform other tasks.
You Menendez brother wanna-be!
In August 1989, brothers Lyle and Erik Menendez shot and killed their parents, Jose and Kitty Menendez, in their Beverly Hills mansion. At first the two brothers claimed they had been at the movies when their parents were killed; later, they admitted to the killings but claimed they were acting in self-defense after years of physical and sexual abuse. Prosecutors argued the true motive was Jose Menendez’s $14 million fortune. The first trial ended in a hung jury; at the second trial the two young men were convicted of first-degree murder. In 1996 they were sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Oh, great—you just took out Air Force One, you dope.
Air Force One is the name of the official airplane of the president of the United States; currently the White House maintains two Boeing 747s for the president’s use.
This is Captain Kangaroo, come in, Mr. Moose!
Captain Kangaroo (played by Robert Keeshan) was the host of the long-running children’s show Captain Kangaroo, which aired from 1955-1984. Mr. Moose was a joke-telling, prank-pulling puppet character on the show.
Serpico. Dirty Harry. Jake Gittes. Kevin.
Serpico is a 1973 film starring Al Pacino as a New York City police officer; it was based on real-life policeman Frank Serpico. Dirty Harry was the tough-talking, quick-shooting cop played by Clint Eastwood in a series of films, starting with the eponymous Dirty Harry in 1971. Jake Gittes is the private investigator (played by Jack Nicholson) who uncovers corruption in city government in the 1974 film Chinatown.
Carl Sandburg, P.I.
Carl Sandburg (1878-1967) was an American poet, essayist, and novelist who lived in Chicago for much of his life and wrote many poems about that city. “P.I.” is a reference to Magnum, P.I., a TV detective series starring Tom Selleck that aired from 1980-1988.
I’ve got to lobby against Medicare cuts immediately!
Medicare is the government-run health insurance program for people over 65. It was founded in 1966 and currently covers about 43 million Americans.
This is Old Guy Radio, WOLD. (Sung.) WOLD!
“W.O.L.D.” is a 1973 song by Harry Chapin about a radio DJ whose life is going nowhere. In concert Harry would say, "This is a song that snuck on the pop charts for about 15 minutes" mainly because radio DJs identified with it. The song supposedly helped inspire the premise and theme song for the TV sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati (CBS, 1978-1982). (Thanks to Emily Newell for this reference.)
[Sung.] The vault turned twenty-one in prison, doing life without parole …
A line from the song “Mama Tried,” which became a 1968 hit for country musician Merle Haggard (1937-2016). Sample lyrics: “And I turned twenty-one in prison doing life without parole/No one could steer me right but Mama tried, Mama tried/Mama tried to raise me better, but her pleading I denied/That leaves only me to blame 'cause Mama tried.”
Sister Kevin Prejean.
Sister Helen Prejean is a well-known anti-death penalty activist. She wrote a book about her relationship with a Death Row inmate called Dead Man Walking that was later made into a movie starring Susan Sarandon.
I’m gonna break into Jack Benny’s piggy bank.
Jack Benny (1894-1974) was a radio and television comedian, star of the eponymous Jack Benny Program. His character on the show was, among other things, a notorious miser who kept all his money in a basement vault, watched over by Ed the Guard (played by Joseph Kearns).
Ah, he’s found Ben Stein’s money.
Win Ben Stein’s Money was a game show that aired on Comedy Central from 1997-2003. Its somewhat standard format had three contestants competing in a trivia contest; the gimmick was that host Ben Stein would also compete in the second half of the show, and he got to keep any prize money that was left over at the end of the season—so he had a financial incentive to win.
The script to Billy Madison II is kept hidden in here.
Billy Madison is a much-maligned 1995 film starring Adam Sandler as a shiftless rich boy who must go back to elementary school in order to inherit his father’s empire.
Buddy Ebsen, triathlete.
Buddy Ebsen (1908-2003) was a character actor best known for his two turns as an old codger: patriarch Jed Clampett on the TV sitcom The Beverly Hillbillies (1962-1971), and the title role in Barnaby Jones (1973-1980).
Papillon? Hi, the door was open …
Papillon is a 1973 film starring Steve McQueen as a prisoner bent on escape.
Oh, Taz got out.
Taz, a.k.a. the Tasmanian Devil, is a character in the old Warner Brothers animated shorts: a whirling, snarling, perpetually starving critter. He was voiced by Mel Blanc.
Enough with the Count Chocula music! Jeez!
Count Chocula is a chocolate-flavored children’s cereal that was introduced in 1971. The Count himself, bearing a strong resemblance to Bela Lugosi’s Count Dracula, appeared in animated commercials for the cereal; he was voiced by Larry Kenney. He was followed by a series of “monster” cereals—Frankenberry, Boo Berry, and Fruit Brute—but Count Chocula remained the most popular.
What have they done with Casey Martin?
Casey Martin is a former professional golfer. He suffers from a birth defect in his left leg that in 2001 prompted him to sue the PGA Tour for the right to use a golf cart on the course. He won the case, but he achieved only limited success in his pro career and ultimately took a job coaching a university golf team.
[Sung.] Oh, Thunder Road …
A line from the Bruce Springsteen song “Thunder Road.” Sample lyrics: “Oh Thunder Road, oh Thunder Road/Lying out there like a killer in the sun/Hey, I know it’s late, we can make it if we run/Oh Thunder Road …”
I went to Michael Spinks’s barber, okay?
Michael Spinks is a former light heavyweight boxer, the younger brother of Leon Spinks, who in 1985 became the first light heavyweight to win the heavyweight championship against Larry Holmes. In 1988 he went up against Michael Tyson for the championship; Tyson knocked him out in the first round, and Spinks never fought professionally again.
Here, try some pole dancing.
Pole dancing combines dancing and acrobatics, using a vertical pole mounted on a stage or platform, usually extending from the floor to the ceiling. Traditionally associated with strip clubs, pole dancing has become a bit more mainstream in recent years as a form of exercise.
The SAT Reasoning Test, formerly known as the Scholastic Aptitude Test, is a standardized written exam given to high school seniors as part of the college preparation process; most colleges and universities consider SAT scores as one of the major criteria for acceptance.
Now I sound like Joseph Campbell.
Joseph Campbell (1904-1987) was a scholar of comparative mythology; he was particularly interested in how recurrent themes cropped up in the myths of wildly diverse cultures, examining these themes in books like The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Shortly before he died, he collaborated with journalist Bill Moyers on a series of TV interviews called The Power of Myth, which gained widespread popularity.
William Holden had just passed out.
William Holden (1918-1981) was an actor who appeared in such films as Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing (1955) and The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957). He died after suffering a severe cut to his forehead during a night of drinking; evidently not realizing how serious the injury was, he did not seek help, eventually passed out, and subsequently bled to death.
I had the popular Jerry Orbach hairstyle back then.
Jerry Orbach (1935-2004) was one of the lead actors on the television series Law & Order, which debuted in 1990. He played the role of Detective Lennie Briscoe from 1992 until his death from prostate cancer in 2004.
Luckily all I wanted was a good Thermos.
Thermos is a brand of insulated food containers first manufactured in 1904; its tall drink cylinders became iconic in the 1940s and 1950s.
Great, Gramps. I’m gonna go see if the Colonel is hiring.
Colonel Harland Sanders (1890-1980) was the man who, in 1940, came up with the famous “original recipe” and founded Kentucky Fried Chicken. He died in 1980.
Huh. He never asked me about my grandchildren.
“Ask Me About My Grandchildren” is a popular bumper sticker among people of a certain age.
Hey, don’t scratch the Quarterflash!
Quarterflash was a rock band briefly popular in the early 1980s, particularly for their 1982 hit “Harden My Heart.”
Why the Ross Perot doll?
Ross Perot (1930-2019): businessman, philanthropist, multibillionaire, POW advocate, twice-unsuccessful presidential candidate, founder of the Reform Party, and paranoiac. Until 1992 Perot was largely known as a successful Texas businessman, having founded data-processing giant Electronic Data Systems. That year he ran as an independent candidate for president against incumbent George H.W. Bush and Democratic candidate Bill Clinton. The campaign was marked by bizarre incidents—at one point Perot dropped out of the race because he claimed his rivals planned to embarrass his daughter by pasting her head on photos of someone else’s naked body—and voters’ initial enthusiasm quickly waned. He won 19 percent of the vote in the 1992 election, but in 1996 he received a scant 8 percent.
[Sung.] It’s the eighties … Do a lot of coke and vote for Ronald Reagan …
Ronald Wilson Reagan (1911-2004) was the 40th president of the United States, serving from 1981 to 1989. He was a key player in the conservative resurgence of the 1980s and 1990s and is still hailed as a conservative hero in Republican circles. In addition to the rising conservative tide, the use of cocaine exploded in the 1980s, although the crack epidemic still lay in the future.
Larry Wilcox is gonna make a cameo, isn’t he?
Larry Wilcox is an actor best known for playing Officer Jon Baker in the TV series CHiPs, which aired from 1977-1983.
Say, is that Haircut 100 they’re playing?
Haircut 100 was a new wave band in the early 1980s that had a couple of hits in Britain before its lead singer, Nick Heyward, decided to leave the group for a solo career.
[Sung.] Invest in arbitrage and read Jay McInerney …
Risk arbitrage became a gold mine during the 1980s for some investors, who would buy stock in a company that was facing a pending takeover and sell it at a profit to the company interested in taking it over. The possibilities for abusive insider trading in such an arrangement are obvious. The infamous Ivan Boesky even wrote a 1985 book extolling the virtues of risk arbitrage; the following year he pleaded guilty to insider trading and served two years in prison. Jay McInerney is a novelist whose 1984 debut novel, Bright Lights, Big City, told the story of a man caught up in the New York cocaine scene of the 1980s.
I think we stumbled onto Mel’s Rock Pile.
Mel’s Rock Pile was the weekly disco music show on the Canadian sitcom SCTV, hosted by “Rockin’” Mel Slirrup (played by Eugene Levy).
Make that three hard-boiled eggs!
In the 1935 Marx Brothers movie A Night at the Opera, Groucho orders dinner from the steward, including repeated requests for different numbers of hard-boiled eggs.
Okay, Olive Oyl!
Olive Oyl was Popeye’s tall, gangly love interest in the comic strip “Thimble Theater” and in the series of animated cartoons based on the strip. Her voice was supplied by Mae “Betty Boop” Questel.
She looks like Michael Bolton.
Michael Bolton is a singer-songwriter who had a string of soppy tenor hits in the late 1980s and early 1990s, including his cover of “When a Man Loves a Woman.” In his heyday, he had a famously long, wavy mullet hairdo.
Don King is a legendary boxing promoter who first rose to prominence promoting the 1974 “Rumble in the Jungle” match in Zaire between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman. He managed seven of Ali’s title bouts, including the “Thrilla in Manila” against Joe Frazier, considered one of the greatest boxing matches of all time. He has one of the most singular celebrity hairstyles, which bears a certain resemblance to a Troll doll.
Can’t you see what I’m trying to tell you? I love you.
A well-known line from the Marx Brothers movie Duck Soup (1933), spoken by Groucho Marx to straight woman Margaret Dumont.
The historic first meeting of Luke and Laura.
The TV soap General Hospital hit its peak of popularity in the 1980s with its romance between Luke Spencer (played by Anthony Geary) and Laura Gray Vining Webber Baldwin Cassadine Spencer (played by Genie Francis). The romance started off with a bang in 1979 when Luke raped Laura on the floor of a disco; their wedding followed two years later.
Tell ‘em Laraine Newman’s in town.
Laraine Newman is a comedian and actress best known for her tenure on Saturday Night Live as part of that show’s original cast, appearing from 1975-1980.
After my date with Prince, I went right home.
Prince (1958-2016) was one of the seminal musical talents of the 1980s; in particular, his albums 1999, Purple Rain, and Sign o’ the Times were phenomenally successful. He was based in Minneapolis.
Koala bears are attacking! –We hate Qantas! Grrrr!
Qantas is the national airline of Australia. A TV ad campaign for the airline that first aired in 1967 featured a small koala snarling “I hate Qantas!” for bringing so many tourists to disturb his quiet little corner of Australia. The campaign was phenomenally successful and ran for many years.
One of the towering heroes of Grenada.
Grenada is an island nation in the Caribbean. In October 1983 the United States launched Operation Urgent Fury and invaded, in reaction to an internal power struggle on the island. America’s actions were harshly criticized in the international community, with the UN General Assembly condemning the invasion 122-9.
I don’t like Shari Lewis’s new show.
Shari Lewis (1934-1998) was a ventriloquist who starred in several children’s television shows, beginning in 1960. Her most famous puppet was Lamb Chop.
Oh, Nick’s in the French army! I see.
Jokes about the cowardice of the French army are legion; most date back to the World War II era, when France surrendered to Nazi Germany in 1940.
Ha! We drank your bong water.
A bong is a water pipe used to smoke tobacco and marijuana. The water cools the hot gas and removes cinders, making the smoke easier to inhale without diluting any of its, ahem, desirable effects.
This guy gets his kicks by calling about used Vegas. –Does it have three on the tree? Oooohhh.
The Chevrolet Vega was a subcompact passenger car produced between 1970 and 1977. Although it was initially well reviewed, it later gained a reputation as a lemon. “Three on the tree” is slang for a manual transmission located on the steering column that has three speeds, plus reverse and neutral; they were popular in America during the 1940s and 1950s, although they clung on grimly in Ford models until the mid-1980s.
It’s the hobgoblin with the laughing face.
A reference to the song “Nancy With the Laughing Face,” which was written for Frank Sinatra by comedian Phil Silvers. “Nancy” was Sinatra’s then-infant daughter Nancy Sinatra, who would grow up to sing the classic 1960s anthem “These Boots Are Made for Walking.”
Is Fran Drescher out there?
Fran Drescher is an actress and comedian with a famously nasal, annoying voice; she is best known for her eponymous role in the TV sitcom The Nanny, which ran from 1993-1999.
Robert Plant was the lead singer for Led Zeppelin, a wildly influential rock band known for such hits as “Stairway to Heaven” and “Dazed and Confused.” After the band split up in 1980, Plant enjoyed a successful solo career that has spanned decades.
What, did they split a keg of Robitussin? What did they—get up!
Robitussin is an over-the-counter cough syrup manufactured by Whitehall-Robins.
Three hours of C.P.O. Sharkey.
C.P.O. Sharkey was a TV sitcom starring insult comic Don Rickles (1926-2017) as a naval chief petty officer. It aired from 1976-1978.
Ah. Painted by the cast of Hee Haw.
Hee Haw was a syndicated country variety show hosted by Buck Owens and Roy Clark. The show featured cornpone humor and appearances by virtually every major star in country music, including Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, and Loretta Lynn. It ran from 1969-1992.
It’s reserved for Bob Packwood.
Oregon Senator Robert Packwood served in the U.S. Senate from 1969 to 1995. He resigned his office after the Senate Select Committee on Ethics recommended his expulsion due to a series of explosive sexual harassment charges, in which more than two dozen women accused him of sexual misconduct ranging from kissing to forceful groping.
The ZZ Top version of sexuality.
ZZ Top is a blues-rock band based in Houston, Texas, known as much for their lush, majestic beards as for their hit songs, which include “Sharp Dressed Man” and “Legs.”
That is not a woman, that’s David Lee Roth!
David Lee Roth was the flamboyant front man for the rock group Van Halen from 1978-1985, when he either left the group or was forced out, depending on which story you choose to believe; he was replaced by Sammy Hagar. Roth finally reunited with his old band mates in 2007 for a phenomenally successful concert tour.
Camaro: the official car of Peaked in High School.
The Camaro was Chevrolet’s answer to the Ford Mustang and quickly became one of the classic pony cars: small, affordable muscle cars that also included the Pontiac Firebird and the Mercury Cougar. They were particularly popular with younger male drivers.
It’s an Agnes de Mille dream ballet!
Agnes de Mille (1905-1993) was an American dancer and choreographer whose most famous work is her choreography for the Broadway musical Oklahoma! (1943). “Dream Ballet” is one of the pivotal scenes in the musical, in which the heroine dreams about her possible future life with the man she loves; it was considered one of the first scenes in American musical theater in which the choreographed dancing advanced the plot.
It’s a bonsai Bigfoot.
Bonsai is the art of training and aesthetically pruning miniature trees and other plants; while the art was also practiced in ancient Egypt and China, the Japanese are best known for their bonsai techniques. Bigfoot, a.k.a. Sasquatch, is a legendary apelike creature that haunts the forests of northern California, the Pacific Northwest, and western Canada.
Their car turned into a Lincoln and crashed!
Lincoln is Ford Motor Co.’s luxury-car division, which first began manufacturing cars in the 1920s; it is named after President Abraham Lincoln.
Drive us to Chuck E. Cheese!
Chuck E. Cheese’s is a chain of family restaurants combining pizza, video games, and animatronic animals “playing instruments.” It is a favorite location for elementary school birthday parties. The chain was founded in 1977 by Atari co-founder Nolan Bushnell. The chain’s namesake mascot is ostensibly a mouse, although the name “Rick Rat’s Pizza” was briefly considered. Very briefly. Due to the COVID pandemic, the chain declared bankruptcy in 2020.
Marty Allen is attacking.
Standup comedian Marty Allen is half of the comedy team Allen and Rossi, which was popular in the 1950s and 1960s. They were a particular favorite of the Ed Sullivan Show, appearing more than forty times.
Gary Gaetti played third base for the Minnesota Twins during the 1980s, including their victorious World Series turn in 1987.
Hey, Marge Simpson.
Marge Simpson is the matriarch on the animated TV sitcom The Simpsons, which first aired in 1989; she has a famously towering beehive hairdo.
Ivan Lendl look-alike night?
Ivan Lendl was one of the dominant professional tennis players in the 1980s, for several years ranked number one in the world. Before retiring in 1994, he had racked up nearly a hundred singles titles, including eight Grand Slam titles, and earned a record $21 million in prize money.
[Sung.] Willkommen, bienvenue, welcome …
A line from the song “Willkommen,” from the musical Cabaret, sung most famously by Joel Grey. Sample lyrics: “Willkommen, bienvenue, welcome/Fremder, etranger, stranger/Glücklich zu sehen/Je suis enchanté/Happy to see you/Bleibe, reste, stay.”
Satan’s on the phone.
Satan (a.k.a. the Devil) is the personification of evil, primarily featuring in Christian and Islamic traditions. He is most often described as a “fallen angel” of God, though his initial job seems to have been as a prosecutor of sorts, sent to test men’s faith.
[Sung.] Calling out around the scum, are you ready for a brand-new filth?
A paraphrase of the song “Dancing in the Street,” first recorded in 1964 by Martha and the Vandellas; a 1985 cover by Mick Jagger and David Bowie was also quite popular. Actual lyrics: “Calling out around the world/Are you ready for a brand-new beat?/Summer’s here and the time is right/For dancing in the street.”
Scumming in the streets.
See previous note.
This makes me want to dig out my extensive Adam Ant collection.
Adam Ant is a new wave musician and actor who first made it big in 1980 with the release of his album Kings of the Wild Frontier; his biggest hit was 1982’s “Goody Two Shoes.”
I think it’s Ron Reagan’s band.
Ron Reagan is the son of the former president. He has had a varied career: ballet dancer, talk show host, magazine journalist, and more recently liberal radio pundit.
It looks like she’s dancing on Laugh-In. –Well, then, sock it to me, Mike.
Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In was a TV sketch comedy show that ran from 1968-1973. As a product of the swinging '60s, it frequently featured scantily clad gogo dancers. “Sock it to me” was one of the show’s catch phrases.
I find that very interesting.
“Very interesting, but stupid” is a catch phrase from Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In (see previous note), which cast member Arte Johnson, helmeted as a German WWII soldier, would poke his head out and utter periodically.
Say good night, Mike. –No. –Spoilsport.
On Laugh-In (see previous notes), comedian Dan Rowan would turn to his co-host Dick Martin at the end of the show and say, "Say good night, Dick," to which Martin would reply, "Good night, Dick." (Thanks to Scott Schaffner for this reference.)
Oh, this is that Basque separatist rock—I’ve heard about this.
The Basque homeland is a section of land on the border between France and Spain. Basques have traditionally held themselves apart from other inhabitants of the area—their language and customs bear no resemblance to those of other European groups. The movement to form a separate Basque nation began at the turn of the 20th century and grew stronger after Spanish dictator Francisco Franco came to power in the 1940s. During the late 1970s the movement turned violent, with numerous terrorist attacks carried out by the Basque separatist group ETA. Things have calmed considerably since then, but relations between the separatists and the Spanish government remain tense.
Hobgoblins is usually on a double bill with The Harder They Come. Oh, who am I kidding—no it isn’t.
The Harder They Come is a 1973 Jamaican film starring reggae singer Jimmy Cliff as an aspiring reggae musician who ultimately turns to a life of crime. In 2006 it was adapted into a stage musical by Perry Henzell, who directed the original film.
Jean-Paul Sartre and the Heartbreakers.
Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980) was a French novelist and playwright who advocated the philosophy of existentialism, which supported the freedom of individual beings. His most famous work is probably the play No Exit. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers was an American rock band formed in 1976; their hits include “American Girl,” “The Waiting,” and “Free Fallin’.”
What’s weird is that Nanci Griffith was the opening act.
Nanci Griffith is a “folkabilly” singer from Austin who has enjoyed moderate success; many of her songs have gone on to wider fame after being recorded by other performers, such as “Love at the Five and Dime” and “Outbound Plane.”
The concert for herpes.
There have been many rock concerts, usually featuring multiple artists and bands, staged to raise funds for and awareness of various causes. The first really big event of this kind was the Concert for Bangladesh, organized by former Beatle George Harrison and featuring Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Leon Russell, and others, which took place over two performances in New York’s Madison Square Garden on August 1, 1971.
This is a Woody Guthrie song, right?
Woody Guthrie (1912-1967) was a folk singer best known for penning “This Land Is Your Land,” but he wrote hundreds of songs: children's songs, folk ballads, political satires, and more. He was the father of fellow folk singer Arlo Guthrie.
Okay, then, four Goofy Grapes.
In 1964, Pillsbury began manufacturing a line of drink mixes called Funny Face, intended to compete with market leader Kool-Aid. Flavors included Loudmouth Lime, Rootin’ Tootin’ Raspberry, and the above-referenced Goofy Grape. (There was also Chinese Cherry and Injun Orange, but the less said about those, the better.) The mixes were sweetened with cyclamates rather than sugar; subsequent studies showed a link between cyclamates and cancer, and the sweeteners were banned in the U.S. Pillsbury tinkered with the formula and reintroduced the line, but sales never recovered.
Paula Poundstone is a stand-up comedian known for her pyramidical hairstyle and her mannish clothes. She has four adopted children and was a foster mother for several other children until her widely publicized arrest for driving under the influence with children in the car in 2001.
Ladies and gentlemen, Billy Squier!
Billy Squier was a popular rock musician in the early 1980s, with hits like “The Stroke” and “Everybody Wants You.” His popularity quickly waned, although he continued to release albums into the 1990s.
The lesser Kennedys on the town.
The Kennedy family is one of the richest and most powerful in the nation. Founded by Joseph Kennedy Sr., the dynasty would grow to include President John F. Kennedy, attorney general and presidential candidate Robert Kennedy, and longtime Senator Ted Kennedy. The family has also been dogged by scandal, often involving women, although the Kennedys’ power, money, and influence have largely protected its members from legal consequences. In 1991, for example, Ted Kennedy and his nephew William Kennedy Smith were caught up in allegations that Smith raped a woman at their Palm Beach estate after meeting her in a local bar; Smith was eventually acquitted of all charges.
Red-hot, uncensored Jami Gertz.
Jami Gertz is an actress who came to fame in the mid-1980s in such films as Less Than Zero and Sixteen Candles; her best-known role is as the half-vampire girlfriend in the 1987 film The Lost Boys.
Just as long as Demi Moore doesn’t come out and start shaking her saline bags.
Demi Moore is an actress, a member of the Brat Pack in the 1980s who later became known largely for her willingness to pop her top in such films as Disclosure (1994) and Striptease (1996).
They brought in David Mamet to punch up the dialogue.
David Mamet is a playwright known for his stylized, staccato dialogue in such plays as Glengarry Glen Ross and Speed-the-Plow.
Still, you could make a case that this is a better film than Road House.
Road House is a 1989 movie starring Patrick Swayze as a bouncer in a dive bar; it was one of the writers’ favorites.
Stand by for spit take. Spit take away!
A spit take is a comedy shtick wherein someone in the process of drinking a beverage reacts to hearing or seeing something by spitting the beverage out. Comedian and early TV star Danny Thomas (1912-1991) is often credited with popularizing the spit take, and the Cinematic Titanic crew performed a spectacular synchronized quintuple spit take in response to a character uttering the n-word in the live DVD for the movie East Meets Watts.
When serving the Greek dish saganaki (flaming cheese), the waiter pours retsina all over the top of the cheese and lights it, crying, “Opa!” The owner of the Parthenon restaurant in Chicago, Christos Liakouras, claims credit for inventing the tradition.
This is where his bocce ball training comes in handy.
Bocce is a kind of lawn bowling game that dates back to ancient times; its modern incarnation was developed in Italy.
Pepe Le Pew came in the back door!
Pepe Le Pew is the love-starved French skunk featured in many a Warner Brothers animated short. Created by Michael Maltese in 1945, Pepe was perfected over the years and made famous by director Chuck Jones. A typical Pepe Le Pew cartoon has a hapless black and white cat somehow getting a white stripe painted/dyed down her back, and then being mistaken for a skunk by the amorous Pepe, who proceeds to woo her in a most vigorous and insistent manner. When Pepe was created, he was seen as a parody of the “French lover” stereotype (and in fact was based on the character Pepe Le Moke, played with panache by Charles Boyer in the 1938 film Algiers). Today, with increased societal awareness of and decreased tolerance for the problems of sexual harassment and date rape (as in the #MeToo Twitter campaign of 2017), his hijinks seem a lot less amusing.
Stallone. Scum. Opens Friday.
Sylvester Stallone is an action star whose films include Rocky (1976), Rambo: First Blood (1982), and Cobra (1986).
Reuben Kincaid was the much put-upon band manager on the TV sitcom The Partridge Family (1970-1972); the part was played by Dave Madden.
Hey, anyone want to stop at Carl’s Jr?
Carl’s Jr. is a chain of fast-food burger restaurants with locations nationwide.
Oh, why did Hoover lose?
Herbert Hoover (1874-1964) was the president of the United States from 1929-1933. His administration took much of the blame for the stock market crash of 1929 and the subsequent Great Depression, and he lost his bid for re-election to Franklin Roosevelt in 1932. He is generally ranked poorly among U.S. presidents, although he is widely admired for his humanitarian efforts in Europe during and after World War I. Hoover Dam is named for him.
Hey, it’s a common man with his common van!
A reference to the John Conlee song “Common Man.” Sample lyrics: “I’m just a common man, drive a common van/My dog ain’t got no pedigree/If I have my say, gonna stay that way/Cause high-browed people lose their sanity.”
Filipino push fighting.
Filipino stick fighting, also known as Kali, is a martial arts discipline focused on fighting with hard bamboo poles.
[Sung.] Wah wah waaah … oh.
This is a famous tune used by strippers, aptly titled "The Stripper," composed by David Rose and first recorded in 1958.
Sometimes when we touch, the honesty’s too much.
A line from the Dan Hill song “Sometimes When We Touch.” Sample lyrics: “Sometimes when we touch/The honesty’s too much/And I have to close my eyes and hide/I wanna hold you till I die/Till we both break down and cry/I wanna hold you till the fear in me subsides.”
I think he’s trying to tell us something! What is it, boy?
An imitation of the television show Lassie, which aired from 1954-1974. Lassie, the hyperintelligent collie, was constantly hastening to warn her owners that various family members had fallen down wells or been trapped in cave-ins or pinned under tractors. Lassie appears in Show 510, The Painted Hills.
Let’s go for a ride on a Clarke-a-Matic.
The Clarke-a-Matic is an industrial-sized automatic floor scrubber used in hospitals and other large institutional settings. It was first manufactured in 1958.
I’m gonna call the Sears and Roebuck and get some dry goods.
Sears, Roebuck & Co. started as a mail-order catalog company in the late 19th century and later expanded to a chain of retail department stores. Their initial catalogs were aimed at farmers and other rural residents and were phenomenally successful. From a high of 3,500 physical stores, Sears’ market share declined dramatically after 2010, with thousands of stores closing. Following bankruptcy proceedings, parent company Sears Holdings announced in 2019 it would remain in business with about 400 stores.