Ten TV Comedy Myths Put to Rest (Hopefully)

By

Who doesn’t like to collect neat little bits of trivia about their favorite TV shows? People with more important things to do, probably, but this isn’t about them. Hell, if you’ve got the time, why not obsess over the stuff that interests you? You never know when you might end up on Jeopardy lacking the necessary sitcom facts your opponents came prepared with. Just be sure to do a little Google research first, because even bullshit can spread like wildfire, as it did in these cases…

10. Aliens aren’t in every episode of South Park.

The myth: If you ignore what’s actually happening on South Park and focus on the background, you’ll spot a hidden alien somewhere in each show.

The fact of the matter: While they can be seen lurking in the shadows on occasion for seemingly no reason, aliens haven’t actually visited this quiet little mountain town as often as you’ve been led to believe. Sure, they’ve been around from the beginning, and they turn up in the damndest places, but frame-by-frame analysis will leave you with just as much disappointment as searching for aliens in real life would. Anyone who tells you otherwise is about as full of shit as Mr. Hankey, because if they’d paid much attention in the past 20 years, they’d know that not even the main characters are accounted for in every single episode. Yet the myth still persists, thanks to “reputable” sources like The Syfy Channel, but what can you expect from a network that airs fake alien stories on a regular basis?

9. Groucho Marx never made a suggestive reference to his cigar (at least not on TV).

The myth: After a female contestant on You Bet Your Life said that she had a lot of children because she loved her husband, Groucho told her that he loved his cigar, but that he took it out once in a while.

The fact of the matter: The now-infamous exchange is said to have happened during a televised episode featuring a Mr. & Mrs. Story, who had twenty children. Except for the part where the Storys only ever appeared on the radio version of You Bet Your Life. Though there’s some confusion as to when their episode aired, it exists in its entirety, unlike the cigar comment so many people swear they heard. Groucho did ask Mr. Story if he went around passing out cigars with each new kid, but there’s no trace of the other (arguably funnier) quote that he’s still erroneously credited with saying to this day.

And although such high-profile people as Alice Cooper claim to remember the line, there’s no way such a risqué remark would have made it to air on radio or television in those days. Especially not when the show was pre-recorded. Groucho’s secretary, Steve Stoliar, claimed that the line was said, and cut before the show was broadcast, but none of the many existing outtakes contain it, nor is any of the alleged dialogue leading up to the exchange present in the surviving half-hour. Plus, Groucho said he never said it, so you can either believe fuzzy memories from 60 years ago or the horse’s mouth itself.

8. Andy Kaufman didn’t throw eggs at Dinah Shore or pour them on her head.

The myth: During a 1979 episode of Dinah!, Andy Kaufman, badly disguised as Tony Clifton, reportedly either threw eggs at the host or dumped the yolks over her head — depending on who’s yanking your chain.

The fact of the matter: “Tony Clifton” sang a song before appearing alongside Dinah Shore and Charles Nelson Reilly in what was supposed to be a cooking segment. Both Kaufman and his friend Bob Zmuda assumed the role of the fictional Clifton at some point or another, but it was clearly Andy here as he drunkenly forgot to put on Clifton’s signature sunglasses. Zmuda seems to be the source of the yolk-pouring story, which somehow evolved into the egg-throwing story that Rolling Stone has written off as a “stubborn rumor.” Author Bill Zehme has also gone on record as saying that Kaufman/Clifton did nothing more than hand Shore cracked eggshells. Kaufman did apologize for the incident, but did so on behalf of his made-up friend who was obviously him. The existing tape of this episode cuts out before the segment in question, which, in an odd way, is probably how Andy would’ve wanted it.

7. Desi Arnaz didn’t invent the method of shooting a TV show with multiple cameras.

The myth: The three-camera filming technique most commonly associated with I Love Lucy was originally used by Desi Arnaz in 1951.

The fact of the matter: While Desi was certainly a pioneer and I Love Lucy is hands down the best remembered of the early shows that incorporated the technique, it wasn’t the first. The former head of NBC’s film department, Jerry Fairbanks, is credited with devising the method for the 1947 series Public Prosecutor, with the assistance of producer/director Frank Telford. 16mm film was used in the days of Prosecutor, but by the time Fairbanks introduced the system to Al Simon for Truth or Consequences, 35mm became the standard — one year before I Love Lucy. Even The Amos ‘n’ Andy Show beat Lucy to using the setup, but to be fair, it also beat every show to being banned from ever being seen again, which is probably why that achievement doesn’t come up often. Simon was the one who showed it to Desi, who never tooted his horn about creating it, according to his daughter Lucie. Ricky Ricardo might’ve said that whoever spread the rumor had “some splainin’ to do,” if the character had ever uttered such a phrase.

6. Johnny Carson never told Zsa Zsa Gabor that he’d love to pet her pussy.

The myth: In a Tonight Show interview where she inexplicably had a cat on her lap, Zsa Zsa Gabor asked Johnny Carson if he’d like to “pet [her] pussy,” to which he said that he’d love to if she removed “that damn cat.”

The fact of the matter: As was the case with the Groucho line, this one wouldn’t have stood a chance against Standards and Practices. To make matters worse, if it was even a little bit true, it also wouldn’t have stood a chance against NBC’s habit of taping over early television history. Had it occurred during the years currently in syndication, it no doubt would’ve turned up by now. Thankfully, we have the word of both parties said to have been involved to help let the real cat out of the bag. Neither said it happened, and when Jane Fonda later asked Carson if he’d said it, he told her “No,” adding, “I think I would recall that.”

5. There’s no such character as “Grandpa Munster.”

The myth: The Grandpa character played by Al Lewis on The Munsters is called “Grandpa Munster.”

The fact of the matter: If anything’s worse than being typecast, it’s being remembered by the wrong name. Even in his obituary, Al Lewis was incorrectly labeled a Munster, much like the Frankenstein monster parodied on the show is forever doomed to be known by the name of its creator. In actuality — or the actuality of the show — “Grandpa” is not the father of Herman Munster, but his wife Lily, whose maiden name (appropriately enough) was Dracula. So Grandpa actually shares his name with the character he’s a parody of, as is pointed out on the official Munsters website and IMDb, both of which simultaneously and incorrectly call him “Munster” as well. Go figure.

4. There isn’t a Superman reference in every Seinfeld episode.

The myth: Superman is referred to in some way in all 180 episodes of Seinfeld.

The fact of the matter: Jerry Seinfeld likely can’t talk about his appreciation for Superman anymore without also having to deny letting the Man of Steel steal the spotlight from him on his own show. And before you chime in about the Superman model that can often be seen on the bookshelf in Jerry’s apartment, he says you can’t count that as a reference. Altogether, Jerry suggested that there were “maybe 10 Superman references” over the years, which isn’t exactly true, but it’s closer to the truth than the myth. The Superman Homepage, on the other hand, counted as many as 46 references out of the 180 episodes of Seinfeld. Not quite 10, but sure as hell nowhere close to every episode.

3. Ralph Kramden never just balled up his fist and said “To the moon, Alice!”

The myth: Jackie Gleason’s character on The Honeymooners would often make empty threats toward his wife, Alice, by waving his fist in her face and yelling “To the moon, Alice!”

The fact of the matter: Ralph threatened to send Alice into orbit about as many times as she made insensitive remarks about his weight, but simply shouting “To the moon, Alice!” would’ve been just as confusing to television audiences then as it is to people who don’t get the reference today. He’d say “You’re on your way to the moon!” or “Do you wanna go to the moon?” but never just “To the moon, Alice!” And he most definitely never said “One of these days, bang zoom, right to the moon!” — that’s a weird mashup of three totally different catchphrases. This is the exact type of false memory that many say is a result of the Mandela effect (a theory about alternate realities), but if you believe something that crazy just because you misremembered a moon quote, you were probably pretty damn spaced-out to begin with.

2. Gracie Allen never said “Goodnight, Gracie.”

The myth: At the end of all or some episodes of The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show, George would instruct Gracie to “Say goodnight, Gracie,” and she’d say “Goodnight, Gracie.”

The fact of the matter: Despite Shout! Factory claiming that “every episode” ended with that line, Gracie Allen never once said the most famous thing ever attributed to her. Not in Vaudeville, not in the movies, not in hundreds of radio and TV episodes, and presumably not before turning in for the night. George Burns said years later that the myth was “probably one of the most misquoted lines in theater history,” with many future performers (most notably Rowan & Martin) paying homage to the nonexistent exchange. As for why Burns & Allen never used it, apparently they were the only ones on the planet who never thought of it.

1. There was no 13th episode of Fawlty Towers.

The myth: An unaired installment of the short-lived but iconic Fawlty Towers has been intentionally kept out of circulation, according to the one and only person who’s claimed to have seen it.

The fact of the matter: In one of the oddest attempts at fan fiction ever published, Lars Holger Holm, author of Fawlty Towers: A Worshipper’s Companion, recounted his viewing of a “lost” episode that the BBC previously denied the existence of. The guy apparently even wrote a script for the mythical episode that he calls “The Robbers.” In it, Basil Fawlty (John Cleese) supposedly suspects two of his guests of being thieves during a power outage. Holm said he was able to photocopy the whole script after the person screening the footage conveniently fell asleep, but such an episode was dismissed as “nonsense” by the BBC in the opening paragraph of its official book about the series.

I managed to get through to John Cleese to see if there was any truth to the author’s claims. His response was “Definitely not” (he reiterated this in a tweet later). Furthermore, he confirmed that there was never an intent to have a 13th episode. That’s enough to convince me. Your serve, Mr. Holm.

Tony Alpsen has been known to come up with something mildly amusing from time to time. This is usually in the form of Ying & Yan, a weekly comic strip about conjoined twins that has been featured by The Duck Webcomics. Less frequently, his work is deemed publishable by the fine folks at Splitsider, in addition to Cracked and National Lampoon. He’d also like to thank John and Camilla Cleese for helping him set the record straight, as well as all the liars who make articles like this possible.

Ten TV Comedy Myths Put to Rest (Hopefully)