The episode: “The Undead,” ep. 806
The riff: Intoned by Mike as a “medieval” knight inquires to a peddler about an escaped witch.
The explanation: I believe he’s referring to the knight’s rather uninspired vocal delivery or lack of attempt at a “period accent” like most of the other characters have. Muncie, Indiana is a small city in East Central Indiana, to the northeast of Indianapolis. It’s home to Ball State University and is the birthplace of the “Garfield” comic strip.
Novelty factor: I have been to Muncie exactly once. I volunteered at a beer festival there and had a pretty good time.
The episode: “Money Talks,” the first of two shorts before “The Beast of Yucca Flats,” ep. 621
The riff: Asked by Mike as the spirit (more like the shadow) of Benjamin Franklin appears and says “William? William, my boy…”
The explanation: In the upper Midwest, the phrase “borrow” as a different colloquial meaning for whatever reason, being used in situations where the rest of the country would say “lend.” I’m not sure why it’s centered around this area, but it stands to reason that all of the lakes in Minneapolis have a way of making their nearby residents deranged in the ways of the English language.
Novelty factor: I’m not even sure why I know this, but I did. I know I’ve heard it before, but I’m not really sure where. I’m sure it would be confusing to someone outside the Midwest, though.
The episode: “The Thing that Couldn’t Die,” ep. 805
The riff: Intoned by Tom as the camera lazily lingers on the family’s front room windows during an intense scene of phone dialing.
The explanation: Andersen Windows is a door/window manufacturer/vendor based in Bayport, Minnesota. Unsurprisingly, the name seems to be that of Scandinavian origin, like everything else in Minnesota.
Novelty factor: Two extremely Midwestern riffs in a row, eh? Of course I didn’t know this one. Who would, except someone who had been to Andersen Windows?
The episode: “The Brain that Wouldn’t Die,” ep. 513
The riff: Uttered with no apparent context by Crow as a sleazy stripper/dancer in a grimy nightclub shakes her stuff.
The explanation: The actual Escanaba, Michigan is a small city (population 13,000) in the Upper Peninsula of the mitten state. The word roughly translates to “land of the red buck” in local native tongues. It’s basically a tourist town for fishing on the lake, and I have absolutely no idea why the content on screen in this movie would make them think of such a random Midwestern town. That’s just what this show was like sometimes–they could have inserted the name of any small town. Perhaps they knew someone from Escanaba who told them stories. One has to figure they had some personal connection to the place.
Novelty factor: It will probably not surprise you to know that I was not aware of the existence of Escanaba. I can’t help but wonder if anyone from the town ever saw this riff.
Escanaba: Home of the obscure reference.
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 Horror of Party Beach,” ep. 817
The riff: Inquired by Tom after the movie’s female lead tells her father “Daddy, I’m so upset about Hank!”
The explanation: Hardware Hank is a popular chain of hardware and tool stores in the upper Midwest, originating in Minnesota, the cradle of MST3k. They own many hardware store locations throughout the Midwest, but the ones with the “Hank” name are mostly in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa. This is just one more example of the cast’s tendency to make references and jokes to their stomping grounds, especially the Minnesota region. It’s something you rarely would see in a cable TV show today, as they’re more concerned with references understood on a national scale. This is purposely obtuse–only someone in the upper Midwest could be expected to know what this means.
Novelty factor: As seems to be a common theme lately, I feel certain that I’ve heard them make this reference before in different episodes. Either way, I’ve heard of Hardware Hank before somewhere, but I don’t know when.