The beauty of The Simpsons, especially in the early seasons (when you’ve been on for 33 seasons and counting, season nine counts as “early”), is that you is that you can watch an episode 10 times, and not get a joke until the 11th viewing. Or in the case of “Bart Gets Famous,” until the joke is interpreted by one of the show’s writers on Twitter.
In the season five episode, Principal Skinner and Mrs. Krabappel call the Simpsons household after Bart goes missing during a field trip to the Springfield Box Factory. Marge is seen running down the stairs in a towel to pick up the phone, but she doesn’t make it in time, so they call Homer at the power plant instead. He’s also in a towel, and upon answering the phone, he says, “You’ll have to speak up, I’m wearing a towel.”
I always thought of Homer’s response as a brilliantly stupid non-sequitur, but that might not be the case. “I’m proud to say I’ve loved this joke and possibly misinterpreted it for nearly 30 years now,” The Simpsons writer Josh Weinstein (who would later serve as co-showrunner with fast food expert Bill Oakley) tweeted. “For 25 years, I assumed (and loved it) that it was just a non-sequitur but then someone explained it’s what people with long hair say when they have a towel over their wet hair (and ears) after a shower when they answer the phone. Makes 100% sense but also make me like joke less.”
To quote a one-dimensional character with a silly catch-phrase, ay caramba!
I think the funniest part of this joke is that so many millions of people (myself included) thought for years that it was a non-sequitur. And then we all realized 15 years later that it had a punchline. This joke was playing a long-con. https://t.co/EfOVAHP0dS
— Owen Siebring (@owensiebring) June 14, 2022
Honestly, this whole thing blows my mind – do yourself a favour and pour yourself a coffee, sit down, and read the replies to this *chef’s kiss* https://t.co/f1S16GrZ6X
— Mel Evans (@melevans) June 14, 2022
I didn’t even know there was a meaning behind it, I thought I was just normal Simpsons bonkersness https://t.co/zA4NW1Rlcj
— Natalie (@NatalieDawns) June 14, 2022
I too have misinterpreted this joke until today. https://t.co/sbOagKvhpW
— Selvey but indoors (@Selvinator) June 14, 2022
Holy shit. I was today years old when I realised me too https://t.co/c8ynSR3dYa
— Nigel Byrne (@nigelbyrne) June 14, 2022
My God, I never gave it a second thought. Just figured it for good and absurd
— Antoine Bugleboy (@Emersonjays) June 14, 2022
I feel dumb now for not getting that.
— John Heuer (@JohnHeuer) June 14, 2022
Weinstein’s original understanding of the joke — that it’s a non-sequitur from a character written like a “big, talking dog” — might not be wrong, though. “Don’t let people ruin it for you. It’s the silly joke you think it is,” writer Mike Scully tweeted. Weinstein wondered if he pitched the joke, to which Scully replied, “I want to say yes because it sounds like me, but not sure. Could’ve been David Cohen and my contribution was laughing.”
If your interpretation of Homer’s towel line ends up being wrong, just say, “I didn’t do it.”