So THAT's Where Some Of Your Fave Simpsons Jokes Actually Come From

If you find yourself quoting "you'll have to speak up, I'm wearing a towel" often, you might want to read on...
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“Y’ello? You’ll have to speak up, I’m wearing a towel” is what Homer says to the person calling him as he stands in his workplace in the episode “Bart Gets Famous” from season five of The Simpsons.

From there, this joke has been quoted widely and you can even buy t-shirts with the iconic phrase on it.

Until now, I thought this was just a silly gag, just another Homer-ism for the books but no, this joke is actually a callback to classic radio, thanks to the influence of legendary comedy writer John Swartzwelder.

Swartzwelder wrote 59 episodes of The Simpsons — more than any other writer in the show’s history —and it’s thought a huge part of his influence was old radio lines.

Benedict Townsend, a comedian and host of Scroll Deep, formerly known as Youtube News, discusses Swartzwelder’s radio influence on a recent video saying, “he was much older than a lot of The Simpsons writers, most of them were Harvard graduates who were like 23, like Conan O’Brien.”

He adds that Swartzwelder was in his 40s when he joined as a writer and his love of old-time radio comedy was what brought his wildly popular episodes to life.

The radio influence in classics Simpsons gags

Swartzwelder’s interest in vintage comedy brought us the iconic Homer vs. the First Amendment (one of Swartzwelder’s favourite episodes ever) episode which has a retro-vibe from the get-go as an old Prohibition law is enforced and Homer reinvents himself as the Beer Baron.

Even within that, though, the beloved character ‘Moleman’ says, “that’s not a knife, this is a knife” and proceeds to pull out a sword.

As he pulls it out, he starts to fall and says in his beloved warbly voice “oh, down I go”. Which is another callback to radio plays because of course, you don’t need to be told he’s falling down when you can see it.

As for the towel joke? It’s because when people with long hair would call into radio shows, they may have been in the middle of drying their hair and had a towel wrapped around it so they’d ask the hosts to speak up to ensure that they were heard through the towel.

The gag of course is that Homer is wearing a towel but not in a way that would affect his hearing.

Swartzwelder also takes credit for popularising the word “Meh”

“Meh” is a word with Yiddish origins but it was brought to screens around the world in 1994 by Swartzwelder. First used in the 1994 episode “Sideshow Bob Roberts” when a librarian reacts to Lisa’s surprise that voting records are not classified. It also appeared later in “Lisa’s Wedding” after Marge weaves the words “Hi Bart” on a loom to try to pique her son’s interest in weaving, to which he responds “meh”.

It’s been repeated frequently in the show since then and speaking to the New Yorker, Swartzwelder said, “I originally heard the word from Howie Krakow, my creative director at Huvis, Binzer & Churchill, in 1970 or 1971. He said it was the funniest word in the world.

“I don’t know when it was invented, or by who, but I got the impression it was already very old when Howie told it to me.”

Turns out, I’ve spent my whole life quoting John Swartzwelder.


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