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The Simpsons writer explains towel joke, and it’s not what you think

Josh Weinstein, former showrunner on The Simpsons, has explained the meaning behind the famous towel joke, and it has a surprising twist

Homer Simpson in The Simpsons

A general rule of thumb for comedy is that if you’ve to explain a joke, it’s bad. This might not be the case here, for a gag from iconic TV series The Simpsons that’s gone over people’s heads for years – ours included.

In the episode ‘Bart Gets Famous’, Homer Simpsons answers the phone at the power plant mid-shower. Still wet, with a towel hanging round his waist, he tells the caller, “You’ll have to speak up. I’m wearing a towel”. For the longest time, this just seemed like a strange Homer-ism, a quip thrown out there because his buffoonery often leads to odd behaviour and quotes.

Well, some of us were unaware the punchline was pulling at a more specific reference. Josh Weinstein, former writer and showrunner on the animated series, didn’t get it either, and provided some clarification on Twitter. “For 25 years, I assumed (and loved it) that it was just a non-sequitur,” he tweeted. “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.”

Though I’ve got long hair, I was born in the late ’80s and thus haven’t answered the phone to a call I wasn’t expecting in a good decade. But, if my locks were around when it was common, I could imagine myself saying such a thing.

Whether or not it hurts the humour will depend on your subjective taste. I like this version, too, because it suggests Homer’s picking up mannerisms from Marge and deploying them verbatim. Imagine Homer using a hair dryer, or throwing a hat on to compensate for wet hair when he’s in a rush. It’s funny!

In any case, you can find The Simpsons on Disney Plus, if you’d like to revisit this classic moment – season 5, episode 12!