The episode: “Hobgoblins,” ep. 907
The riff: Spoken by Mike as he imitates the movie’s senior citizen security guard, who is supposed to be going after an intruder at the time.
The explanation: Bishop’s Buffet was a chain of classic Midwestern buffet restaurants. I say “was” because it is today no more. The last Bishop’s was located in Moline, Illinois and apparently closed in mid-2012. There were once 38 Bishop’s locations throughout the Midwest, with the first opening in Waterloo, IL in 1920. It seems they failed to adapt with the times, blaming the eventual going-out-of-business on “people not eating out anymore.” I think it’s more likely they just couldn’t keep up, as this sparse Facebook profile for the final Bishop’s location would imply. They never even made an announcement when they closed the doors forever.
Novelty factor: Despite living in Illinois, I hadn’t heard of these before their closure. It sounds like they were fixtures of smaller towns than the suburbs where I grew up. I count it as another Midwestern joke, as the buffet restaurant in this style strikes me as a supremely Midwestern sort of place to name-drop.
The episode: “The Undead,” ep. 806
The riff: Observed by Mike as a rather frightening-looking medieval guard accosts a woman in prison accused of witchcraft.
The explanation: Ray Nitschke was a hall of fame linebacker for the Green Bay Packers in the 1960s. He was sometimes known as “Mr. Hyde” for the difference in his on-field and off-field personas. On field, he was a frightful presence, a brutal tackler and all-around tough guy. Off the field, however, he was known as a gentle person and a devoted family man. He received many accolades in his career, is generally considered one of the top 10 linebackers in pro history, and has one of the Packers’ practice fields named in his honor. Also, this guy looks like him.
Novelty factor: I’d be lucky to recognize modern football references, let alone Lombardi-era ones. This is, however, a good example of one of MST3k’s Midwest-centric jokes.
He had a certain degree of “ogre face” going on there.
The episode: “The Beast of Yucca Flats,” ep. 621 (Note: I’ve already done the two shorts in front of this one, so I figured I should do one from the film even though, for my money, this is the single worst movie they ever viewed. Source: Coleman Francis.)
The riff: Howled by Crow as a car full of Russian spies chases an American scientist and his black driver.
The explanation: Crow is imitating the character of Rochester van Jones from the old Jack Benny radio and television shows. Played by comedian Eddie Anderson, Rochester was Benny’s main foil, a manservant of sorts who gradually became as big a character on the show as Benny himself. His distinctive, raspy voice was often used in song, and he always referred to his employer as “Mr. Benny.”
Novelty factor: This one sounded vaguely familiar to me when I heard it, but I didn’t really know enough about the Jack Benny show to put it together. My pop culture knowledge goes back pretty far most of the time for someone my age, but this was beyond me.
The episode: “Women of the Prehistoric Planet,” ep. 104
The riff: Chortled by Tom Servo as an Asian-looking guy gets socked in the stomach.
The explanation: Mr. Moto was a character from a series of American novels in the 1930s-1950s, later made into a well-known series of films. He was a rather dapper Japanese man who played a role somewhere between international secret agent and detective. In eight different American movies churned out between 1937 and 1939, he was played by Slovakian-born Peter Lorre because hey, why not? It was these roles that really introduced American audiences to Lorre, who wasn’t as well known there as he was in Europe for German films like Fritz Lang’s “M.” Moto is very much a character made in the vein of the earlier Asian detective Charlie Chan.
Novelty factor: As you can probably tell reading that explanation, I knew this one. In my film studies in college I wrote one of my longer research papers on Peter Lorre, a guy I have always found endlessly entertaining. The Mr. Moto films were of course touched upon as some of his significant earlier work in America. Sadly, he is probably better remembered for Warner Brothers cartoon caricatures today than his actual roles.
The episode: “Progress Island U.S.A.,” the SECOND short in front of “The Beast of Yucca Flats,” ep. 621
The riff: Exclaimed by Servo right after the short’s title card.
The explanation: Quinn Martin, as it turns out, was one of the most successful television producers of all time. In the 1960s and 1970s he produced successful shows like “The Fugitive,” “The Streets of San Francisco” and “Barnaby Jones.” He also produced 20 made-for-TV movies. He holds the distinction to this day of having the most years back-to-back of having at least one show he was producing running in prime time, with 21. From 1959 to 1980, that made him a major television figure. His shows would play that fact up, proclaiming themselves as “Quinn Martin Productions”!
Novelty factor: Never heard of this dude in my life, I must say. When Servo said the riff, it could have meant anything to me.
The episode: ”Money Talks!”, the first of TWO shorts before “The Beast of Yucca Flats,” ep. 621
The riff: Spoken in a sad-sack voice by Crow as the short’s title character complains within his own mind about his poor money management.
The explanation: They’re talking about the object on his desk, which I think is a large, bell-shaped inkwell. Mallomars are a regionally popular dessert cookie that consists of puffed marshmallow, a graham cracker bottom and chocolate outer coating. They are especially popular in the New York area, where the vast majority are consumed–but only during the winter, because Mallomars are seasonal for whatever reason. This has led to a certain cult of personality around them, as the true Mallomar devotees buy up enough of them in the winter to last them until next year. Of course, the rub is that they never make it to the next year because they all drop dead from eating Mallomars all day.
Novelty factor: I’ve heard the term “Mallomars” on a few occasions and was aware they were some kind of dessert, but I never knew the details of their actual composition. Judging from my distaste for marshmallow Peeps, it doesn’t seem like the kind of thing that would tempt me. Enjoy this informative documentary on Mallomars.
The episode: “Danger! Death Ray,” ep. 620
The riff: Remarked by Crow during the extremely repetitive music that plays during the opening credits. The only words are “bah da da da da daaaahhh.”
The explanation: Hal David was a prolific songwriter of both pop music and movie soundtracks, along with his longtime collaborator Burt Bacharach, the more famous “name” of the songwriting team. Together, they produced hits like “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” and “What the World Needs Now is Love.” He also worked on movies like the James Bond series and “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” As for why they’re making the reference to him, I’m thinking this one is just straight-up sarcasm, given David’s real-world credentials and accomplishments. He was awarded the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song by the Library of Congress in 2011 and passed away in the fall of 2012.
Novelty factor: I’ve certainly heard his work of course, but I had never heard of Hal David before. Somehow, it does not surprise me that several of these cheesy love songs were written by the same guy.