The episode: “Hercules Against the Moon Men,” ep. 410
The riff: Mumbled by Crow as an old, weathered man scribbles with his quill on a sheet of parchment.
The explanation: Aristophanes is one of the founding fathers of ancient Greek theater, specifically in the genre of comedy. His surviving works essentially define the Greek style of “old comedy” and give the most complete portrait we have of daily life in ancient Athens. They were typically politically charged and full of satire, singling out individuals such as the philosopher Socrates. Through his plays, Aristophanes wielded considerable political clout of his own.
Novelty factor: I’ve never actually seen a play by Aristophanes, but I know a handful of them and I’ve read about the playwright before.
You just got told by Aristophanes.
The episode: “Why Study Industrial Arts?” the short in front of “The Skydivers,” ep. 609
The riff: Spoken by Mike in a rather nerdy, pipsqueak voice as two young, 1950s-looking white kids work in shop class and one asks “Hey, are you making this?”
The explanation: The title of “Grand Wizard” was traditionally regarded as the highest ranking officer in the Reconstruction-era Ku Klux Klan. In actuality, though, the title was only heard by the first Grand Wizard, Nathan Bedford Forrest, for two years from 1867-1869. Later, in the Klan’s second era as a “social organization,” there was a procession of “Imperial Wizards” who served as the highest ranking officials. Nevertheless, many have since claimed the title of “Grand Wizard” without any national recognition as such.
Novelty factor: I knew of the title, but I had no idea of the complex history behind it. I also knew the “Grand Wizard of Wrestling” as the title of famed wrestling manager Ernie Roth.
Note: Enjoy this wannabe’s insane, anti-Semitic rambling.
The episode: “A Date with Your Family,” the short in front of “Invasion USA,” ep. 602
The riff: Spoken in a stuffy British accent by Tom as the father of the short’s nuclear family sits down to dinner with his family.
The explanation: The father bears a resemblance in appearance and manners to the famed Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery of the British military. Montgomery was commander of the majority of British ground forces in North Africa during World War II, leading the Allies to victory in key campaigns like the Battle of El Alamein against the Panzer divisions of Erwin Rommel. He was known as a stereotypical British gentleman, affectionately known as “Monty.”
Novelty factor: I actually recognized this one, as I have with several past World War II riffs. What can I say, I actually paid attention to that stuff in school.
The episode: “Commando Cody pt. 5,” the second short in front of “Robot Monster,” ep. 107
The riff: Said in a reassuring way by Joel as the second short immediately begins following the first. Crow then follows up with the Mengele comment.
The explanation: Josef Mengele was an infamous German SS officer and physician at the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz. Lording over the place as a sick tyrant, he reportedly was responsible for the personal torture and death of hundreds or thousands due to human experimentation, the details of which are too gruesome to go into here. Suffice to say, this is one of MST3k’s darkest jokes.
Novelty factor: As someone who is into World War II history, this was an obvious one. Moreover, it’s a reference that many people know, as “Mengele” has become synonymous with medical butchery.
Dork on the outside, monster on the inside.
The episode: “Cave Dwellers,” ep. 301
The riff: Exclaimed with surprise by Tom as the hero’s mute manservant stumbles into a secluded tent and finds a white-haired old man being held hostage.
The explanation: Timothy Leary was a former Harvard professor of psychology who became a famous figure of the counterculture drug movement in the 1960s for his experimentation with and advocating of psychedelic drugs, particularly LSD. G. Gordon Liddy, on the other hand, was the head of the Nixon White House’s “Plumbers” security division that was responsible for the Watergate break-ins, ultimately taking the fall for them as well. The two former foes formed an unlikely friendship in the early 1980s when they went on a lecture/debate series on college campuses, both being formerly incarcerated. They debated social topics of the day, with Leary generally espousing the left-wing stances and Liddy the right. They both made a boatload of appearance fees off the largely rehearsed stunt.
Novelty factor: I knew who Leary was of course, and I was vaguely aware of G. Gordon Liddy’s role in the Nixon administration, but I had no idea they ever went on this tour together.
The episode: “Girl in Gold Boots,” ep. 1002
The riff: This is the conclusion Tom draws when a pair of young rebels decide to pick up a bearded folk singer on the side of the road. The girl (who has the hots for him) recalls that he’s “the one with all the words,” as they had met earlier. Her grifter pal, on the other hand, remembers that this is the guy “with all the bread,” as he earlier flashed a large wad of bills.
The explanation: I’m not going to explain what a baguette is, but Samuel Johnson was a famous essayist, literary critic and lexicographer of the 1700s. He made numerous contributions to the English language, including his influential “Dictionary of the English Language,” which remained a standard for more than a century. Unlike many of his era, his contributions are particularly well documented because he was the subject of one of history’s first complete English language biographies, “The Life of Samuel Johnson” by James Boswell. So all in all, this is a very literary riff.
Novelty factor: Believe it or not, I actually remembered my English literature classes well enough to recall who Samuel Johnson was.
The episode: “Teenage Crime Wave,” ep. 522
The riff: Inserted as an old man’s dialog by Mike as a gang of unruly teenage killers take over an elderly couple’s house as a place to lay low after committing CRIMES.
The explanation: The Symbionese Liberation Army was a small, left-wing radical/revolutionary group that was active in America for only a few years between 1973 and 1975. They made worldwide headlines for kidnapping media heiress Patty Hearst, who was subsequently brainwashed and renamed “Tanya,” and participated in a bank heist where she was subsequently captured. The group committed several murders and didn’t accomplish much as far as their ideology was concerned.
Novelty factor: This is the kind of small historical anecdote that we pretty much would have glossed over at my high school–I know the group for the Patty Hearst reference and that’s about it. I’d never done any further reading on them until now. I must say, I rather like the design of their symbol.