The Simpsons, Season Three, Episode Six, “Like Father, Like Clown”

It’s strange to me how much continuity the show has at this early stage. Most of the time, this involves introducing elements that would go on to become iconic aspects of the series – the retirement home, Homer’s job as safety inspector, etc – but this is something different; an actual sequel to another episode. By the time we hit season four, continuity becomes more of a guideline than a rule, and I suspect that once you hit about seventy-odd episodes when you’re making a TV show in an era before TiVO or Youtube, the sheer number of details means that keeping track of this shit becomes both cumbersome and pointless. The overall effect is that the Classic era of the show will become more like mythology the writers draw on (“Krusty never remembers who Bart is, no matter how many adventures they have”) rather than anything strictly realistic.

Anyway, the episode is a sequel to the season one episode “Krusty Gets Busted”. Krusty apparently offered to have dinner with Bart to pay him back for saving him, but keeps forgetting and putting it off – we get a great early indicator of where Krusty will go, a perfectly timed, perfectly acted buildup of comic brilliance:

“You’ve got a 4:30 merchandising meeting.”
“Cancel it!”
“Cancel it!”
“Personal trainer?”
“Cancel it!”
“The opening line on the Giants is five-and-a-half.”
“Put a dime on it.”
“Thank you dinner with Bart Simpson.”
“I don’t know any Bart Simpson.”
“Krusty, he’s the boy who saved you from jail!”
“Oh yeah… Cancel it!”

This whole season so far, I’ve been saying how characters have finally become their classic selves; this isn’t quite true for Krusty yet. His voice is a little higher, and he’s not quite the broken-down cynic of later episodes – more of a cheerful hedonist than anything else, too innocent to realise what a douche he is rather than too selfish, but this gag’s casual cruelty is the kind of thing he’d roll in later. There’s another gag, when Krusty’s assistant calls to say he’s cancelled before cutting to Krusty cleaning his shower, which shows who Krusty is right now much better.

When Bart is heartbroken by Krusty letting him down, his assistant righteously comes down on him like a tonne of bricks, and Krusty finally makes his appearance in the Simpson household. This whole section of the episode has some great early Krusty gags, including Bart wearing some Krusty-brand cologne, which combines a truly ridiculous number of jokes – satire of shoddy merchandising (including a warning that it can cause chemical burns), character work in how Bart did in fact buy it, character work in the fact that Bart would put it on specifically for a visit from Krusty – into one gag.

When Krusty shows up, he starts off showing off his clown skills, but Bart and Lisa tell him to be comfortable; this is how they learn that Krusty is both Jewish and estranged from his father. He tells them the story of his origin: that his father was a respected rabbi, but all Krusty ever wanted was to be a clown, and Krusty was forced to choose his career over his father. The flashbacks make me think of Family Guy’s riffs on the same concept; while I admit to knowing nothing about Jewishnessism, the gags feel a lot more warmhearted than in that show, as the jokes aren’t about stereotypes, or at the religion’s expense. Instead, they’re simply absurd riffs on situations rabbis and devout Jews must face, my favourite being this:

“Rabbi Krustofski, should I buy a Chrysler?”
“Can you phrase that in the form of an ethical question?”
“Mmm, is it right to buy a Chrysler?”

After a sequence where Krusty goes from a guest they couldn’t attract to a guest they couldn’t get rid of (which doesn’t really land for me), Krusty has become a miserable presence on his own show, so the kids decide to reunite him with his father. While it’s not a full-tilt adventure, is is an early example of Bart and Lisa becoming kid investigators in the vein of the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew with that extra layer of Simpsons satire – Lovejoy’s utter disgust with other religions never getting old for me.

When Rabbi Krustofski turns them down, the children have a new mission: convince the rabbi that clowning can be morally good, which for them involves learning as much about Judaism as possible so the right combinations of words will turn him, and I absolutely love that this apparently involves Bart running up to the rabbi, saying one thing, having it fail, running back to Lisa, and then all over again over and over, like a simplified version of the monk joke.

What eventually turns him isn’t just the quote they use, but who it’s from; they use a Sammy Davis Jr quote on Judaism, and the rabbi is moved by the fact that an entertainer could say something so profound about his religion. What we have here is an expression of two parts of the show’s philosophy; firstly, it’s the fact that pop culture said something profound about the human condition, and secondly, it’s a triumph of reason. So many problems in the show are caused by people not applying their reason; here, we have someone convinced by reason to do something good, and we get the happy ending of Krusty and his dad reuniting.

Chalkboard Gag: I will finish what I sta
Couch Gag: Everyone sits, and then Bart jumps across everyone’s laps.

This episode was written by Jay Kogen and Wallace Wolodarsky, and directed by Jeffrey Lynch and Brad Bird. Two rabbis were used as creative consultants, and one of them found it profound and was “impressed by the moral seriousness”. We aren’t the first to have noticed the beating moral heart of the story.

The whole episode is a parody of The Jazz Singer, which the rabbi namedrops at one point. Krusty’s flashback is a visual reference to The Godfather, Part II. Krusty has photos of himself with Alfred Hitchcock and The Beatles. Krusty and his father sing “Oh Mein Papa” at the end of the episode. Bart’s quote is from Davis’ autobiography Yes, I Can, which is the second time the book has been referenced on the show – someone on the crew must have liked it.

Rabbi Krustofski is voiced by Jackie Mason, and he won an Emmy for this episode.

I generally tried to avoid simply writing out gags from the show up til now, but we’ve reached the point where it’s necessary for me to do that so we can pull them apart for jokes and story.

Of course, the show’s efforts to present Judaism with care and sophistication makes the show’s reliance on stereotype in other areas (like Apu) all the more embarrassing.

A great “Homer is dumb” joke when he’s shocked that Mel Brooks is Jewish.

First Appearances: Rabbi Krustofski, Krusty’s Jewishness
Biggest Laugh:
“Rabbi Krustofski? We came to talk to you about your son.”
“Oh great. We come all this way and it’s the wrong guy.”
“I didn’t mean that literally!”

Original post with comments