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‘The Simpsons’ Fans Confess What Jokes They Thought Were Real—and Vice Versa

Here's your crown, your Majesty!

Superintendant Chalmers scowls, holding up the two halves of a hamburger.

Until middle school, I thought that operating a command center at a nuclear power plant was a normal, middle-class job.

I don’t know what prompted me to finally question it, but I remember the day I abruptly realized that Homer Simpson’s job on The Simpsons was actually an absurd, long-running gag. And apparently I wasn’t the only one who was fooled! TV writer Josh Weinstein opened the floodgates on Twitter when he asked Simpsons fans what jokes they thought were real.

The replies are absolutely delightful. These jokes are a testament to just how amazing the writing, directing, and animation for The Simpsons was in its heyday. The show’s gags managed to straddle the line between ridiculous and believable, giving us a fictional world that was sideways enough to be funny, but real enough to be relatable.

Plus, the series had an uncanny ability to predict real events. For example, 10 years after Homer launched a grease-stealing operation in 1998’s “Lard of the Dance,” real restaurant grease theft skyrocketed because of rising oil prices. Or how about “The Wizard of Evergreen Terrace,” in which Homer writes an equation that’s shockingly close to the real mass of the fabled Higgs boson?

Anyway, on to the tweets!

First up, there’s the idea that A Streetcar Named Desire was a musical.

In “A Streetcar Named Marge,” Marge plays Blanche DuBois in the musical Oh, Streetcar! The director, played by Jon Lovitz, rigs Marge into a harness and flies her around the stage surrounded by flashing colored lights to symbolize Blanche’s descent into madness. I’d watch that musical.

The Simpsons has also coined multiple words that started out as gags, but ended up being added to the dictionary, like “embiggen” and “cromulent.”

Apparently, a lot of people think that Gloria and John in the couple’s counseling scene in “The War of the Simpsons” were based on the movie Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? starring Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. More importantly, though, at least one person watched the original movie expecting to hear Burton shout the “Queen of the Harpies” line.

Then there are the Simpsons jokes that turned out to actually be real things! Like this bizarre comic strip that I vaguely remember from my childhood.

Then there’s the Springfield Pool-Mobile, which seems like it would be pretty disastrous in real life, but was actually based on a real novelty vehicle from director David Mirkin’s childhood.

And the musical Paint Your Wagon, which I’ve only just now learned was real?? It was a real musical?? But not about painting wagons?

Or how about the fact that until 2009, it was legal to sell children in Mississippi!? That’s actually got some sinister implications that I don’t love thinking about.

One user included a joke that’s from a different show—The Critic, starring Jon Lovitz—but fits into the same vein.

I’ve saved the best for last. This poor soul thought that “steamed hams” were a real thing … and has been using the phrase for years.

If you don’t know what steamed hams are, they come from what is, hands down, no question, the best Simpsons sequence ever: season 7, episode 21, “22 Short Films About Springfield.” It’s the “Skinner & the Superintendent” segment, where Superintendent Chalmers comes over to Principal Skinner’s house for dinner. Some of the segments in the episode have aged poorly, but this one holds up.

(featured image: 20th Television)

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Julia Glassman (she/her) lives in Los Angeles, where she reads tarot and watches Marvel movies. You can check out more of her writing at linktr.ee/juliaglassman, or find her on Twitter at @juliaglassman.