'The Simpsons': 13 Jokes That Sailed Over Our Heads
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With Ivy League writers like Conan O’Brien, there’s no question that some jokes made us go, “Wait… what?” And it’s not just the brainiacs like Martin Prince or Lisa, plenty of Springfielders get in on the smart jokes.
Whether we were a bit too young to get them at the time, or they were just downright confusing, these 13 jokes from The Simpsons sailed so very high over our heads.
Brevity is… Wit.
Levels… Too many levels.
In season 3, episode 2, “Mr. Lisa Goes To Washington,” the ‘Welcome Finalists’ sign is sponsored by Reading Digest, and it reads, “Brevity is… wit”.
It’s a jab at how Readers Digest edits articles in a way that removes their nuance, and fundamentally changes their meaning.
To get this one, you’d need a rough working knowledge of Shakespeare to know that it’s a contraction of the aphorism, “brevity is the soul of wit”, which Polonius uses in Hamlet.
By shortening it, they’ve literally ripped the soul out of it.
Objectivism at daycare.
Maggie’s daycare is an opportunity to break out the objectivism jokes.
While Marge is rehearsing for “A Streetcar Named Desire”, Maggie is left at the "Ayn Rand School For Tots," where a poster reads, "A is A."
This is a reference to Ayn Rand, and her philosophy of Objectivism.
Maybe we just had to be a hair older.
In season 8, episode 24, ”The Simpsons Spin-Off Showcase" features The Simpsons Family Smile-Time Variety Hour, which is a parody of 1960s and 70s variety shows.
Lisa is replaced by a tall, peppy, blonde teen, and this is a direct reference to The Brady Bunch Hour, which was a real show where actress Eve Plumb (who played Jan Brady) refused to participate, and was replaced by a "fake" Jan.
Homer works out the mass of the Higgs Boson.
Homer is so S M R T.
In season 10, episode 2, “The Wizard Of Evergreen Terrace”, the equations on Homer’s chalkboard features one put together by David Schiminovich, an astronomer at Columbia University.
The top line on the board estimates the mass of the Higgs boson (expressed as M(H0) on the board) by combining elemental physics, namely the Planck constant, the gravitational constant, and the speed of light.
The crazy this is that was in 1998… 14 years before scientists discovered the actual answer, and Homer was so close! if you stick those numbers into the equation itself, it’s higher than the actual mass. (Homers equation gives us 775 giga-electron-volts rather than CERNs 125).
Martin has heard of this Ray Bradbury character.
Martin might be aware, but we are not.
In season 2, episode 19, “Lisa’s Substitute”, Martin Prince is in the running for class president, and delivers the speech, “As your president, I would demand a science-fiction library, featuring an ABC of the genre. Asimov, Bester, Clarke!”
When albino classmate Wendell Borton asks, “What about Ray Bradbury?” Martin dismissively brushes him off with a quick, “I'm aware of his work”.
Many sci-fi fans and critics consider the first three names listed as classic "hard" science fiction writers, but Bradbury is considered too wishy-washy by many sci-fi dorks to “count."
In season 6, episode 18, “A Star is Burns”, Abe Simpson yells, “The metric system is the tool of the devil! My car gets forty rods to the hogshead and that's the way I like it”.
You might think this is complete gibberish, but a rod is actually an old English measurement that can equal anywhere from 9 to 28 feet. A hogshead is an old unit of measurement for liquids that equals about 79 old wine-gallons.
One of Smithers’ many hints.
Let Smithers float!
In “Who Shot Mr Burns Part 2”, after Smithers thinks he shot Mr. Bruns, he goes into a Catholic church to confess.
In the confession box he says, ''Father, I'm not a Catholic. I tried to march in the St. Patrick's Day parade… but, anyway...'' This joke references the criticisms that the annual St. Patrick's Day parade doesn't allow floats from gay organizations, or gay marchers.
Springfielder means jelly donut?
But how did Homer know?!
In season 3, episode 11, “Burns Verkaufen der Kraftwerk”, a German company purchases the nuclear plant, and Mayor Quimby welcomes them to town by saying, "Ich bin ein Springfielder."
It seemingly comes out of nowhere when Homer immediately say, "Mmmmm. Jelly Donuts”, but "Ich bin ein Springfielder" is a reference to JFK's speech in West Berlin where he said, "Ich bin ein Berliner" ("I am a Berliner").
A "Berliner," however, is not only someone from Berlin, but also a German word for Jelly Donut.
More like Maggie the genius.
Foreshadowing all the math to come in this episode.
Back in 1990, The Simpsons’ second episode ever, “Bart the Genius”, opens with Maggie stacking alphabet blocks to form EMCSQU.
Without any letters or equal sign, this is the closest Maggie could get to form the famous equation E = mc2.
More from Bart the Genius.
When Bart swaps his answer sheet with Martin Prince, everyone thinks he has an IQ of 216.
At his new school, The Learning Center for Gifted Children, the teacher writes an equation and says: “So y equals r cubed over three, and if you determine the rate of change in this curve correctly, I think you will be pleasantly surprised.”
The other children laugh, but the teacher asks: “Don’t you get it, Bart? Derivative dy equals three r squared dr over three, or r squared dr… or r dr r.”
“R DR R” sounds like har-de-har-har, a sarcastic laughter in reaction to a bad joke, popularized by the 1950s sitcom The Honeymooners.
So, advanced calculus and a 50s reference. Nice.
Mr. Burns' chosen phone greeting of "ahoy hoy" seems like just a funny little character choice, but this is actually the original phone greeting suggested by telephone inventor Alexander Graham Bell in the 1800s.
"Ahoy," had been around for at least 100 years longer than “hello”. It too was a greeting (a nautical one) derived from the Dutch "hoi," meaning "hello." Graham Bell felt so strongly about "ahoy" that he used it for the rest of his life.
Ruin me like a what?
If you were up on your political news in 1992… This one’s a gem.
In season 7, episode 13, “Two Bad Neighbors”, former President George H.W. Bush moves in across the street, and things escalate into a full on brawl. As Bush chokes Homer, he tells him that he'll ruin him like a "Japanese banquet."
This is a reference to a real incident when, a very ill President Bush threw up at a banquet hosted by the Prime Minister of Japan in 1992.
Proving a conspiracy theory?
In the classic episode, "Bart vs. Australia," before ticking off all of Australia, Bart randomly prank calls random numbers. One of the numbers he calls is in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where an elderly Adolf Hitler attempts to answer.
This is a reference to the conspiracy theory that Hitler survived WWII and escaped to Argentina, where he lived until 1962.
Top Image: Gracie Films & 20th Television