The Simpsons’ thick stew of historical references, literary allusion, pop culture trivia, neologism, and comedic invention has long invited viewers to break one of the golden rules of comedy: That there’s nothing to be gained from dissecting a joke. From early message boards to DVD commentaries to the personal Twitter feeds of its writers and producers, the more the show’s dead frogs get poked, the more fascinating layers they reveal.
Josh Weinstein, who joined the Simpsons staff in 1992 and ran seasons seven and eight with his writing partner Bill Oakley, has been one of the most reliable sources for these behind-the-scenes tidbits of late, commemorating the anniversaries of “Marge Be Not Proud” and “A Milhouse Divided” by sharing tales from from his (terrifying) time with guest star Lawrence Tierney and deleted scenes from the Albee-esque deterioration of Kirk Van Houten’s dignity. Yesterday, Weinstein opened himself and his former colleagues up to burning questions about “jokes/lines people misunderstood or misheard,” and while the Twitter prompt yielded its fair share of inquiries about magic xylophones, CD-ROM dungeons, and wizard’s keys, it also definitively put to rest debates that have raged among fans for decades. No, Hank Scorpio is not the first person Homer ever saw saying goodbye to a shoe. “So I says to Mabel, I says” isn’t from anything else—and there’s no dialogue that comes before or after it. Has the “Sneed’s Feed And Seed—Formerly Chuck’s” sign gag from “E-I-E-I-(Annoyed Grunt)” always sailed over your head? Just take a moment and think about why nobody ever plays “The Name Game” with someone named Chuck. There’s a rich, mild, surprisingly addictive core to every ToMacco of a thread like this one—even for the people who were there when the jokes were harvested.
Contacted by The A.V. Club via Twitter DM, Weinstein said he’s amazed by the way certain Simpsons jokes and lines stick with viewers. “And what is even more amazing is realizing some of those jokes and lines have been living in our heads totally differently,” he said. “There’s even a joke I’ve loved for 25 years that only last night I realized I might not have been appreciating correctly. And I love that—it’s like discovering hidden jokes, something the show is famous for.”
The joke in question: “You’ll have to speak up, I’m wearing a towel,” an immaculate non sequitur uttered by the second Simpson pulled from the shower by a phone call in season five’s “Bart Gets Famous.” Or is it? Even Weinstein himself was surprised at fans’ alternate interpretations of the line: That it’s not simply a ludicrous thing to say, or an amusing escalation of the predicament that prevented Marge from hearing that Bart has gone missing during Springfield Elementary’s field trip to the box factory. It could, in fact, be Homer parroting the words of someone rushing out of the bathroom wearing a towel on their head and over their ears, thus muffling the sounds coming from the receiver. “Until this very moment, I had never even thought that and I loved this line as you did, just because it was absurd,” Weinstein tweeted to user @RexMottram1. “This is now the one case so far that I actually don’t know! & this is one of my fav lines!”
In the generous spirit of the enterprise, Weinstein not only kept the thread going for a good half of the day, but also repeated his towel-based amazement at several subsequent citations of the line. As of the wee hours of Tuesday, December 22, he was expressing his combined elation and exhaustion in a language everyone understands—a Simpsons GIF—but he was back at it a few hours later, shining additional light on Cletus’ screen door, Homer’s familiarity with the Supreme Court justices, and whether things need to “safen up” in sector 7-G or if they’re already “safe enough.” (It’s the latter.)
“For years, we couldn’t really interact with fans, but now with Twitter, it’s like we can have a mini-Comic-Con every day,” Weinstein told The A.V. Club. “And The Simpsons is the most Comic-Con-y show ever.”