The episode: “Danger! Death Ray,” ep. 620
The riff: Gaped by Mike as a spy’s boss compliments him and says “You deserve a special prize for your work.”
The explanation: Irving Thalberg was the co-creator of the movie studio MGM and was one of history’s most storied and successful film producers. Known as “The Boy Wonder” for his great success at a young age, he passed away at only 37 years old from pneumonia. The Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Awards were established and are awarded sporadically at the Governors Awards ceremony to “Creative producers, whose bodies of work reflect a consistently high quality of motion picture production.” The most recent recipient was director Francis Ford Coppola in 2010.
Novelty factor: My film education taught me who Thalberg was, but I actually haven’t heard of the award before.
The episode: “The Magic Sword,” ep. 411
The riff: Spoken by Joel in a deeper, TV announcer’s voice as the villainous wizard (played by Rathbone) bickers with his underling.
The explanation: “You Can Negotiate Anything” is the title of a 1982 self-help book by Herb Cohen that is all about winning arguments and negotiations. To do so, one must apparently focus on three variables, which are “power,” “time” and “information.” The book’s advice is all presented in storytelling format, in the form of anecdotes from Cohen.
Novelty factor: Never heard of it before, but I can’t help but imagine for whatever reason that someone who is a self-styled “negotiation expert” would be annoying to be around.
The episode: “Century 21 Calling,” the short in front of “The Space Children,” ep. 906
The riff: Noted by Mike immediately as the crew enters the theater and the short’s title card is shown.
The explanation: He’s referring to the tagline and fashion choice of Century 21 Real Estate agents, who wear gold jackets as part of their uniform. The company’s motto is “the gold standard,” and the jackets have been part of their brand identity for quite a while as far as I can tell. They’ve even done whole series of commercials built around the gold jacket image.
Novelty factor: This may be commonly held knowledge, but it wasn’t commonly held by me. Perhaps that has something to do with the fact that I’ve never been in the market for real estate. Honestly? I was expecting some kind of song lyric.
The episode: “The Truck Farmer,” the short in front of “I Accuse My Parents,” ep. 507
The riff: Joked by Crow as a tractor is shown with a plowing implement, breaking up the fields. Joel and the other robots groan at this apparently poor joke.
The explanation: They’re groaning because it’s a pun. A harrow, as it turns out, is the tilling implement consisting of many small rotating blades, pulled behind a tractor. It is typically used after larger plows are used to break up dry ground. The smaller harrow blades can then break up larger clumps and smooth the surface out so it is ready for seeding.
Novelty factor: I grew up in the suburbs, okay? The only time we experienced anything harrowing was when power outages interrupted our videogame playing.
NOW ENJOY THIS HOT HARROWING ACTION!
The episode: “Time Chasers,” ep. 821
The riff: Wondered aloud by Mike as the movie’s villain strokes his chin in his “mall skyway” office and looks troubled.
The explanation: I’ve always gotten the sense that the MST3k writers were very amused by business world jargon, and I submit this joke as an example. Later on in the same episode we get a joke about ISO-9000 certification, so they were mining much of the same territory as “Dilbert” did in its heyday. As it turns out, “core competencies” are supposed to mean “a specific factor that businesses see as being central to the way the company or its employees work.” Like most business jargon, though (hello, “paradigm shift”), terms like this are resented by many employees, who included “core competencies” on this “bullshit bingo” card.
Novelty factor: I’d always chuckled at this riff in the past, and I think it has something to do with my fondness for the early days of “Dilbert,” a comic that is a very sad state of affairs today. Enjoy this idiot explaining core competencies off a cue card sitting right in full view of the camera.