Five Times Fans Read Way Too Much into a Joke

Five Times Fans Read Way Too Much into a Joke

TV shows love to plant little nods to the knowledgeable and/or pop-culture-obsessed. Between running gags, Easter eggs and foreshadowing, there’s a whole taxonomy of jokes that encourage keen viewers to search below the punch line. Sometimes, however, a cigar is just a cigar — or in this case, a shoe.

‘Put it in H!,’ ‘The Simpsons’

Fans have such a habit of reading too much into Simpsons jokes that its writers have developed a rule of thumb that the simplest interpretation is usually correct. Homer’s razor, if you will. One that’s popped up on scores of reaction GIFs and copyright-infringing T-shirts and been debated on Reddit threads as long as Reddit threads have existed is “Put it in H!” That’s what a vaguely foreign car salesman tells Homer in an attempt to sell him a car that runs on kerosene and comes from a country that no longer exists.

So what gear is “H”? What car is this? What country is it from? What language does Crazy Vaclav momentarily lapse into? These are all questions that fans have put way more thought into than the Simpsons writers. One of them, Josh Weinstein, suggested in a 2023 Twitter thread that “it’s a purer, funnier joke that it’s a random letter like ‘H’ not normally seen on transmissions.” Some fans actually tried to argue with him that a shot of the dashboard shows the Cyrillic letter “N” as one of the gears, which looks like “H,” indicating that he was telling Homer to put it in neutral, but Weinstein politely did not tell them to go touch grass.

Inside the Mind of the Talking Cat, ‘Rick and Morty’

The writers of Rick and Morty don’t care for your fan theories, and they’re willing to let you know with varying levels of fed-upness. Creator Dan Harmon has explained that “the showrunner and the fan are at cross purposes” because “you don’t actually want all your answers determined at the beginning of some conference, six years before they’re important to the plot,” while writer Mike McMahan has come right out and said that he has personally ensured no fan theories come to fruition, just to be petty.

They poked the gentlest of fun at such superfans with the introduction of a talking cat who refuses to explain why he can talk, leading Rick and Jerry to read his mind, only to be traumatized by what they (but we can’t) see. It’s sort of what they deserve for ignoring the cat’s warning that they’re “overthinking it” because “the point of a talking cat is to have fun.”

So, of course, fans likewise immediately ignored the cat and began guessing what Rick and Jerry might have seen. Theories have ranged from the cat being another Morty to a “cosmic entity of unspeakable evil” to the result of “horrible sexual acts,” but Harmon confirmed that “the cat subplot was an attempt to just have fun. The cat represents that voice in your head in the writers room that you’re overthinking it.” 

That last theory came from Jerry voice actor Chris Parnell, by the way, who is not helping.

Opening Credits, ‘Bob’s Burgers’

The opening credits of Bob’s Burgers are notable mostly for the revolving door of pun-based businesses constantly opening and closing in the space next to the restaurant (you’d think they’d have figured out by now it’s a cursed location), so you’d be forgiven for barely noticing the series of misfortunes that have left it in a perpetual state of grand re-openings. There’s a fire, a rodent infestation, and finally, some kind of act of God. “Cursed” might not have been an exaggeration.

Some fans, however, think the opening credits are darker than divine sabotage. They believe all the Belchers except Bob are dead and the events of the opening credits represent how each of them died, which is why they never age. The rest of the show is Bob’s delusions, and to be fair, his habits of getting stuck inside walls and having fully two-sided conversation with inanimate objects don’t exactly speak to a robust mental health.

Unfortunately for them, creator Loren Bouchard shot down the theory, explaining that eternal children are just kind of the nature of sitcoms. God really is mad at the Belchers, and honestly, it’s hard to see how someone could be killed by rats.

The ‘Reserved’ Sign, ‘Friends’

Of the many questions raised by the premise and mechanics of Friends, how they always managed to snag the couch at Central Perk isn’t one of the more pressing. Have you ever been to a coffee shop with couches? They’re usually unoccupied because people in smaller groups don’t want to take seating from bigger ones, and the Friends are the only group of adults in New York City who hang out at a coffee shop instead of a bar like normal thirtysomethings.

Regardless, it does appear there was a reason. In 2015, after the show debuted on Netflix, one viewer spotted a small, unassuming “Reserved” sign on the table in front of the couch. The logical conclusion is that the gang is so obnoxious that they frequently called ahead to their favorite coffee shop, but there were times when the table wasn’t available for them or otherwise reserved. As such, fans deduced that an employee was reserving the table for them, probably Gunther. It’s just a real Gunther move.

However, the actor who played Gunther, James Michael Tyler, said that as far as he knew, his character had nothing to do with it. At least, “I never did that! That was probably one of the set designers, I’m guessing, maybe one of the writers. … It never really occurred to me why it was there.” 

Oh, Gunther. You pretty little bleached bratwurst.

‘Ever see a guy say goodbye to a shoe?,’ ‘The Simpsons’

Ironically, considering Homer’s razor, one of the most debated Simpsons jokes is also one of its simplest. There are no foreign alphabets here, just a guy and his shoes. In a 1996 episode, a character named Hank Scorpio concludes a footwear-based diatribe by yeeting his shoes into the void and asking Homer, “Ever see a guy say goodbye to a shoe?” to which Homer responds, “Yes, once.” The debate: Is Homer referring to the events of three seconds ago or a previous occurrence?

In 2016, a BuzzFeed writer finally thought to ask Dan Castellaneta, the voice actor behind Homer Simpson who the show’s writers have credited with ad-libbing the line. It turns out that not even he knows what it means. “Albert Brooks (who voiced Hank Scorpio) always improvised whenever he did the show,” he explained. “That line was a reflexive response to Albert’s improvised line about seeing a man say goodbye to a shoe.” 

If he had to guess, he “probably thought it was a previous time, but it is funnier if it means he saw it at that moment,” but it’s a hollow victory for either side. Like most things in life, it means nothing.

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