Welcome back to AVQ&A, where we throw out a question for discussion among the staff and readers. Consider this a prompt to compare notes on your interface with pop culture, to reveal your embarrassing tastes and experiences, and to ponder how our diverse lives all led us to convene here together. Got a question you’d like us and the readers to answer? E-mail us at email@example.com.
This week’s question:
As I get older, I’m finding that relics of my pop-culture past fade from the top of people’s memories but remain in mine. For example, I will call people “farging iceholes” and “bastages,” quotes from the little-remembered and little-loved movie Johnny Dangerously, a Michael Keaton/Joe Piscopo mob comedy from 1984. I guess I say it to myself because it still makes me laugh, but outside of my high-school friends, who remembers it? So my question is, what bit of pop-cultural ephemera still sticks in your own personal quote machine that few people get?
Charles, I think perhaps you and I should form a Johnny Dangerously Appreciation Society: That’s one of the most strip-mined fields in all the acres of pop-culture ephemera in my brain robbing valuable space from more useful things, like science and the ability to make small talk. I’m annoyingly fond of Joe Piscopo’s “You shouldn’t hang me on a hook, Johnny. My father hung me on a hook once. Once.” routine, as it works in pretty much all situations where somebody does something I don’t like, but which doesn’t merit an actual, more germane form of protest. (“It shoots through schools” is also a useful, though usually completely meaningless, way to say something is really powerful, and I’ve been known to break the ice with Ma Kelly’s “We’re both swell lookers, and neither of us is Chinese” line. Yeah, that always goes over well.) Around my old video store, where I worked with perhaps the only people I’ve ever met who appreciated 1987’s Real Men as much as I did, we used to call each other out on our general slack-assitude with “Did I tell you you’re doing a good job today?” and unfortunately, I haven’t ever run across anyone outside those walls who finds that funny. Same with Dave Foley’s “I’m not being sarcastic, this is just a speech impediment” bit from Kids In The Hall, which, removed from its context, just makes you sound like a giant asshole. (Not that that’s ever stopped me.) I’m also a big fan of the total non-sequitur quote, such as Jack Nance’s “There was a fish in the percolator” line from Twin Peaks, which is useful whenever something (though especially an appliance) breaks. Ditto my absolute favorite, albeit slightly amended Simpsons quote, “Elephants like peanuts,” which is a greatly utilitarian, borderline-Zen response to any confusing question or complex set of instructions.
Asking this question around here is a bit like asking, “Do you know any words?” Sometimes the entire workday is literally us quoting pop-culture ephemera. (“Literally? You literally shit your pants?” —David Cross) So I’ll just fire a few at you that get some semi-regular use. When there’s any sort of debate, a line from Pee-wee’s Big Adventure often solves the problem: “I say we let him go!” (The mere mention of that line in a meeting on Wednesday set us all giggling.) When you want to agree with something most solemnly, you can always adopt the voice of Omar Little from The Wire and simply say, “In-deed.” When you want to insult a whole group of people in front of a person in that group, you have two choices: There’s either “Not you, Zaxxon, you’re one of the good ones” from Mr. Show’s “Racist In The Year 3000” sketch, or “I meant those other assholes” from Natural Born Killers. None of those are terribly old or obscure, so here’s one that falls into the latter category, at least: There’s a really weird kid named Harry in the spelling-bee documentary Spellbound, and often when I see strange, overly smart, but totally ingratiating little nerd kids, I’ll turn to my wife and say, “I am a musical robot.”
Geez, Charles. There are times when I don’t think my boyfriend and I actually communicate in anything but quotes from The Simpsons, movies we’ve seen together, TV shows we saw separately in our youth, and the old Woody Allen comedy albums and books we bonded over when we first met. (“Lord, why dost thou kill my kine? Now I am short kine, and kine are hard to come by.”) Some of our most repeated-over-time quotes come from a show that was pretty popular among our circle: The 1994 animated incarnation of The Tick: “What kind of corn soldiers are you?” is our shorthand version of “What are you doing?” or “Why are you wearing that?” “Eating kittens is just plain wrong!” is a useful protest in any situation where we disapprove of each other, and so is “NOW you’re doing it on PURPOSE.” “Shiny objects are good!” is an acknowledgement that one of us was distracted and missed something the other was saying. And “READ A BOOK!” comes in handy whenever someone else misses a reference. On the more obscure tip, we unfortunately quote Inframan, a terrible 1975 Japanese monster movie, more than is really healthy—mostly “It’s weird!” “If you are ever frozen in liquid ice, use your missiles to thaw you out. You must use three missiles,” and “Thunderball fists? I can have such a thing?” Most recently, the boyfriend weirded me out when he started repeatedly referring to our house pets with the phrase “They’re… cats. I’ve never been fond of… cats.” Eventually I realized he was misquoting a character from one of the first episodes of Thundercats, a show he never really watched. I’m betting even most of our pop-culture-loving, South Park-referencing, Tick-quoting friends aren’t going to figure that one out.
Possibly the dumbest quotes that have stuck with me forever are from ’80s TV ads, though. Like “Parts is parts! Little tiny pieces parts!” from a fast-food ad (for Wendy’s, maybe?) disparaging McNuggets. To this day, I tend to thank my family (who actually get it, and join in on the chicken imitation at the end) with a phrase from an old Cadbury Chocolate Eggs commercial: “Thanks, Easter Bunny! Bock bock!” God, shoot me now. The one I always have to bite back, though, for fear of offending people, is “Nobody boddas me! Nobody boddas me eitha!” from this TV commercial for Jhoon Rhee martial-arts classes that was ubiquitous on the local Maryland channels of my youth:
Oh, boy! Finally, a legitimate reason for the comments to be nothing but a quotefest! As with every other helpless pop-culture dork, it sometimes seems to me that there is no situation in life for which there is not an appropriate Simpsons quote, and much of my internal monologue consists of various snippets of your workaday geek constellation: Mr. Show, the Coen brothers, Monty Python, and anything that aired on HBO or Adult Swim about four years ago. But since the point here seems to be obscurity rather than universality, I’ll stick to three that are relatively little-known, but that my friends and I inject into constant conversation: any episode of Home Movies in which the brilliant Andy Kindler plays Mr. Lindenson, especially his perfectly delivered line “Not a bad joke… but a bad time for jokes”; Albert Brooks’ hilariously prescient reality-show satire Real Life, from which, among other lines, we love to lift his viciously sarcastic epithet “Dr. Cup” to describe anyone smarter than we are; and most of all, the stunning William Peter Blatty film The Ninth Configuration, which, before it turned into a staggeringly heavy psychological thriller about halfway through, was the most endlessly quotable comedy until The Big Lebowski came along. I quote tons of its lines in everyday conversation: “I want you to drop like an overripe mango” is as useful a go-to office insult as “I break the arrow of peace” is a threat. “Independent snots! Shape up or ship out!”—yelled by a character at the atoms in a wall—is a great thing to shout for no reason. And as vague mystic pronouncements go, you can’t beat my favorite character, Lt. Reno, claiming “Any idiot can dig up a tree, and then anyone with money can fill in the hole.” While I’ve never found a way to incorporate Capt. Cutshaw’s line “I think the end of the world just came for the Fritos I had in my pocket” in normal life, it is on my list of things to do before I die.
I didn’t consume a lot of pop culture as a kid, so the oldest quotes in my arsenal are from the Bob & Ray radio-show tapes that my brothers and I memorized. “‘Tea For Two,’ I’m sorry, is wrong,” from a game-show sketch, comes in handy whenever someone gives a wrong answer. “That’d be Ted Williams, famous for his valuable service to the Boston Red Sox,” from a sports call-in quiz sketch, is appropriate whenever someone mentions Ted Williams. (It happens more often than you’d think!) “Let’s do it now, is my suggestion,” a soap-opera character’s response to the suggestion of moving to solve the problem of rotting, undiscovered Easter eggs, serves me well whenever I want to get going right away.
My father had an inexplicable love for the original The In-Laws, so a lot of Peter Falk’s throwaway humor crops up in my everyday speech. “Grande, a big one” was the way he described a chicken sandwich, and that’s useful whenever you want a big sandwich, so pretty much every day. And it wasn’t spoken in the film, but I regularly use the words printed on Falk’s apron while he’s barbequing: “I’m loaded with options.” Since I just rewatched Defending Your Life the other day—one of my top-10 all-time movies—the many Albert Brooks lines that I quote daily are fresh in the memory. “Sometimes in the middle of a lie, the bond would kick in,” his way-too-much explanation of how he could lie to his dad and still have an important father-son bond, makes a great response to any attempt to weasel out of a contradiction. “Still don’t get the big-brain bit, do ya?”, spoken by Rip Torn, is useful for situations where someone is being obtuse. “Some fear-based, some just stupid,” Lee Grant’s description of a killer montage of Brooks’ misjudgments, can apply to any catalogue of idiocy.
Closer to the present day, the most useful recent phrases incorporated into my arsenal come from Gavin And Stacy (Brin: “He died whilst faking his own death,” which is a lighthearted response to a death that doesn’t affect you personally) and Survivor: Tocantins. (Coach raises hand and says “I have” in response to Brendan’s statement that none of them have ever thrown rocks underhand at tiles before—perfect when you want to undercut any absolute statement and aggrandize yourself in the process.)
Every time I drop a quote into a conversation with my wife that she doesn’t get—not because she’s not with it, just because my mind dredges up weird references—my heart breaks a little. Especially because there are tons of quotes and references rattling around in my brain that I know better than to drag out. Case in point, there’s a moment in the beloved (?) ’80s comedy The Monster Squad that my high-school friends and I used to quote a lot. Let me set the scene: Our heroes, a self-described “monster squad,” have fixated on a house owned by veteran character actor Leonard Cimino, playing a character billed only as “Scary German Guy.” They’re caught, if I remember correctly, sneaking around Cimino’s house. Smash-cut to Cimino wielding a butcher knife and proclaiming, “Boys, your time is almost up!” The shot draws back, and we see he’s serving them dessert. Next line: “It’s your last chance for pie.” Need to hurry up a bunch of dawdling people? It’s a great quote: “Boys, your time is almost up! It’s your last chance for pie.” Assuming, that is, that everyone has seen The Monster Squad and, like me, has that one scene locked somewhere near the surface of the brain 22 years after its release. Which is, of course, absolutely no one else on the planet that I know. It’s not even the most quotable line in the movie. What is? This is:
I know we did a whole A.V. Club feature on Simpsons quotes, but there’s one we didn’t use in the feature that I say almost every day: “Ah, sitting! The great leveler!” But I guess The Simpsons aren’t exactly obscure or ephemeral, so that probably doesn’t count. So how about these? Whenever the temperature drops, I nearly always mutter, “Brrrr... Sure is cold out Aqua Sleep Man!,” which comes from an ‘80s commercial for a Middle Tennessee waterbed wholesaler. Whenever my favorite baseball team (Go Braves!) performs especially well, I quote Walt Whitman via Ken Burns and growl, “The game of ball is glorious.” And my wife and I have an all-purpose expression of exasperation, stolen from a Chris Onstad blog post about his visit to the Google campus: “Come on, Google. Don’t have a car like this.”
Perhaps the only quote-generating machine rivaling The Simpsons among my friends is The State’s brilliant Wet Hot American Summer—that mock-’80s summer-camp flick provides fodder for just about any situation, providing you’re willing to appear utterly clueless should the recipient not know what you’re talking about, which is often. There’s the endless trove of treasures provided by Gene the cook (“I said… stick… team… like stickball”); the classic Coop “I want you inside me… Oh, I said, ‘Hey, what’s up?’ From before?”; the “secret handshake”; and the less-prevalent, though highly potent, stand-off-to-the-side that Joe Lo Truglio does—cheering on the action happening offscreen with “Oh my… oh… wait… he’s doing it… he’s actually doing it!” But my personal favorite is to make like David Hyde Pierce and escalate the most humdrum conversations with a well placed, “I SAID NO!” Best uses: business lunch, funeral, masquerade ball, “Just Say No” drug rally from the ’90s.
Wet Hot American Summer is one of the few things I can quote that none of my friends ever get. Which makes me sad, really. (“I want you inside me!” is surprisingly hard to explain out of context.) I tend to grab on to random phrases as much as anybody, but I’m choking on actually coming up with any really obscure ones right now. Brian Blessed’s “Gordon’s ALIVE?!?” from Flash Gordon gets a lot of play, although that’s more something my friends do than something I ever got into; I’ve used “Come out to the coast, we can get together, have a few laughs” from Die Hard now and again, but most anybody would get that. I do have a habit of latching on to MST3K bits, and I’ve been trying to sell “And that was when the chicken heart began to grow” as a sort of intellectual upgrade to Bad Boys II’s awful “This shit just got real,” but it’s been an uphill battle. (Fun thing about “chicken heart” is that it’s a line from a radio show that got used in a Bill Cosby routine that was swiped for MST3K. Layers!) I do tend to actually say “Sigh” a lot, which comes from reading Peanuts and Calvin And Hobbes, and lately I’ve let out my share of “Blergs,” because Tina Fey is awesome. Still not that obscure, though. Damn, I guess I should tape-record my conversations more often.
I know I’m immediately going to think of half a dozen others right after this, but here goes: Although Chicago has a reputation for its temperate climate and abundant, year-round sunshine, it does occasionally get chilly enough to snow. Pretty much any time someone asks if it’s snowing outside, I think of my favorite scene in 1972’s Shaft’s Big Score!: Richard Roundtree and a woman are riding in a car, and as snow begins to fall on the windshield, she asks, “Is that snow?” His response: “Sure ain’t cotton, baby.” Brilliant. And it’s much more fun to say than “Yes it is snowing, goddammit. Why do we live here again?”
I don’t know if he’s quite obscure enough, but Rudy Ray Moore movies are a motherlode of endlessly quotable lines for me. There’s his beloved catchphrase “I ain’t lyin!” (useful when you want to convey the truthfulness of your words and/or action) but also “I don’t get me either” (when you’re so damn mysterious you’re inscrutable even to yourself) and “Bitch, are you for real?” (though this is one I think a lot more than I actually say). Other greatest hits: In John Landis’ wonderful used car-salesman documentary Slasher, a couple beams that a highly theatrical salesman’s presentation is “very dramastic.” Why say dramatic when you can say dramastic? It’s much more dramastic. I’m also a big fan of Grey Gardens’ very quotable lines, especially Little Edie’s line about being a “staunch character” and every indignity being “The worst thing that’s ever happened to anyone in America.”
Anything obscure I quote is generally from old movies. Back when the DVD player hit its stride around 2000, I bought just about any old movie that was available in the format, following the logic, “Hey, if it’s on DVD, it must be good.” So I came to own Rain (1932) and fell in love with booze-guzzling, jewelry-laden swinger Joan Crawford. I adopted the sultry snarl of her “boys” as a greeting, and when I’m looking for a bottle of something and come up with it, I sometimes say, “There’s the shy Kentucky refugee!” Also from this movie is “What’s all this, what’s all this?” which Fred Howard says rhythmically from his rocker when there’s a commotion on the porch, which I now say when I come back to my bedroom and remember it’s a mess. From that same period comes “Money, money, money!” from a stricken Mischa Auer in My Man Godfrey (1936). I used to have a few friends who shared these references, but that was in another city. Most of these quotations are normal things said with brash, dramatic inflections, so people never pick up on them. So I’ve taken to just muttering them under my breath.
Someday, all those incredibly evangelical Big Lebowski fans should consider watching another of the Coen brothers’ fine films. (Fine, but not the final word in film; the way these guys have warped the minds of film-school students, through no fault of their own, is a whole other rant.) They could start with The Hudsucker Proxy, the Coens’ most underrated movie. I’ll admit finding the Coens “quotable” is like saying Morrissey is “angsty,” but Tim Robbins’ “You know, for kids!” is something I’ve tried to use to describe high-concept, stupid pandering movies to people, and no one ever gets it. Apparently no one has seen this movie.
My line isn’t from the most obscure of places, but it does come from the deepest, darkest depths of craptastical filmmaking known as post-Coming-To-America Eddie Murphy movies. Not only did I pay hard-earned cash for Showtime, a steaming turd of a cop-buddy comedy featuring Eddie Murphy and Robert De Niro, which our own Scott Tobias commended for its “breathtaking stupidity”, I actually sat through the whole thing. I was, however, rewarded about 10 minutes from the film’s conclusion with what is now one of my favorite things to say at my most excited moments. At the end of an excruciatingly long, supposedly exciting car chase, De Niro jumps onto the hood of the car Murphy is driving. Murphy stops the car, takes a moment, and out of nowhere exclaims, “I think two drops of pee came out!” Quite possibly the best bathroom humor in a cop-buddy movie since the infamous “swords” scene in Cop And A Half, which was actually far more disturbing than funny. Fast forward to the five-minute mark here for the goods:
The line that usually earns me the most blank stares and uncomfortable giggles is “It’s a mystery!” from an episode of Pee-wee’s Playhouse. Reading it, I’m sure that line doesn’t seem that weird, but it’s pronounced “Eeeeeet’s ah meeeeeestery!”, so basically people are left wondering why I suddenly lapsed into a Chef Boyardee impression. No one ever gets it, yet I keep saying it, because I’m all about making people (myself included) feel comfortable. A few other favorites are “I licked her sweet tears” from Fear (my usage of this one increases 100 percent if I’m near a roller coaster, or whenever I hear “Wild Horses”); “Not a daddy. A sweet daddy.” from the made-for-TV movie Child Of Rage (recommended); and “Eat the cookie! Eat it!” from Flowers In The Attic. Naturally, these phrases have a place in all conversations pretty much all the time.
But the quote I use most of all isn’t from a movie at all, but from something my friends and I overheard in the theater at a movie—specifically, the 1999 Dangerous Liasons-4-teens film Cruel Intentions. In the movie, the virginal Reese Witherspoon tries to seduce notorious cad Ryan Phillippe, but when she takes off her robe, he leaves the room. Following this scene, the woman in the row behind us in the theater said to her friend, “Awww. She too innocent.” And from that one overheard observation, a catchphrase was born.
So I recently had my first real “Vegas Experience” (a euphemism for shooting guns, doing blow, eating steaks, gambling, and buying other people lapdances) by way of a good friend’s bachelor party. And even though I’d theretofore avoided all of the aforementioned activities, the only sport in which I felt disgustingly inadequate was one that should suit me just fine: the time-honored tradition of nerdy dudes beating their chests via rapid-fire line-quoting. The weekend left me hollow for the completely wrong reason, and only drove home my deep-seated fear that for a guy who makes his living writing about pop culture, I’m kind of a dunce when it comes to references-at-the-ready. Sure, I’ll always have the musings of The Dude and a full clip of Snatch citations, but there’s nothing original about that imitation.
Which is why I’d like to personally thank the guy who submitted the question. Because the more I started to think about it, the more I realized I’m loaded with obscure references that 99.9 percent of my friends absolutely don’t get. For instance, not a week goes by that I don’t utter “A-oy!” (short for Beavis And Butt-head’s take on Benny Hill: “A-oy! I got me finger stuck in me bum!”) under my breath in response to someone’s numbnuttery. And in fact, virtually all of my references come from the most absurd moments of the most absurd comedy shows that my dad and I sought out religiously while I was growing up. Hence, every time I misplace my wallet or keys, I adopt my best Inbred Brothers (The State) twang and shout: “Wham-eye-dooin?!”
Truth be told, most of my references come from The State, and most are actually delivered in Tourette’s-style non sequiturs (as, I believe, they were intended): “No! Cheese can’t dial a phone!”, “I’ll level with you: These bags weren’t designed for tacos,” and of course, “I wanna dip my balls in it!” (On a semi-related note, when I announce my intention to “stick my dick in the mashed potatoes” because it’s “gonna be that kind of a party,” no one gets that either, though the Beastie Boys revived that Mantan Moreland gem in 1994.) Likewise, no reference to pudding goes by without an appropriate Barry And Levon retort, and by that same logic, I can’t hear a word about breakfast links without screaming “Sausages!” with all the desperation that Scott Thompson mustered for Kids In The Hall’s weirdest skit ever. I also frequently reference Chumbawumba strictly in context of Upright Citizen’s Brigade.
What’s that? You say none of this is ringing a bell? Well, that’s perfectly fine with me.