Four Horsemen of the Apopcalypse – Pop culture references in The Colbert Report: September 20-23, 2010


Welcome to No Fact Zone’s weekly roundup of cultural references on The Colbert Report. From Darcy to Danger Mouse, String Theory to Shakespeare, we’ve got the keys to this week’s obscure, oddball, and occasionally obscene cultural shout-outs (hey!).

Hey Zoners!  One of my favorite recurring props is the random wheel of absurdity.  There was the **BP Oil Containment Solution Randomizer, or its cousin the **Super Bowl Ad Office Pool.   This week it was the Christine O’Donnell Clip Predictor 3000.  Personally, I was rooting for “Groped El Chupacabra On BP’s underwater cam.” That or “Woke up in a bathtub missing a kidney With a drunk bobcat On The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.”  What were your favorite segments this week? Post them in the comments! (** = TCR/TDS link).

Monday: Tip/Wag – Portland Press Herald & Pavement

“How can you run “Hagar the Horrible” on your comics page without balancing coverage about the pillaging at the Battle of Svolder in the year 1000.  Damn you Svein Forkbeard, King of Denmark!”

Research! Find me an obscure naval battle with Vikings, stat!  Actually quite a famous event in Norwegian history, the Battle of Svolder found King Olaf of Norway defending his small fleet against the much larger forces of Svein Forkbeard of Denmark, Olaf Eriksson of Sweden, and Eirik Hakonarson, Jarl of Lade.  By battle’s end, the King’s fleet was ruined, Olaf was at the bottom of the Baltic Sea, and Norway was partitioned among the victors.  Svein himself went on to a successful career raiding, and ultimately conquering, England.

Put this on my list of too cute for words: Stephen’s funny, dorky rendition of Snow’s 1992 single “Informer” during his interview with Stephen Malkmus.  I don’t think there were two actual words in that whole thing, but it certainly was bouncy.  Then again, listen to the original (warning: serious ear-worm risk) – I challenge you to do any better!

Tuesday: In Poor Taste – Mark Shriver & Eric Schmidt

“We may be able to bring some fears back from the dead.  Mothers, did you know they never capped that well that Baby Jessica fell down?”

In 1987, millions around the world were captured by the plight of an 18 month old girl who had fallen 22 feet down a narrow well shaft and become trapped.  Reporters and rescuers descended on the scene in droves, television viewers watched 24 hour news coverage, and after 2 1/2 days of rescue efforts, Baby Jessica emerged injured but alive.  The incident is often cited as a watershed moment in round-the-clock, live television coverage of events.

“The real question, Glen, is what is the preconditioned activation code?  Is it the Queen of Diamonds?  Or perhaps it’s something completely arbitrary – I don’t know, what do you think, Pirate Squirrel?  Or they could be activated by a completely innocuous phrase that doesn’t mean anything to today’s youth, like 420.  When they hear that I’m sure they’ll spring into action with energy and focus.”

Perhaps this line would have gotten a bigger laugh with Jon’s audience, notorious “stoned slackers” as they are?  420 is universal marijuana enthusiast lingo for smoking pot – keep your eyes peeled and you’ll see references to the number all over pop culture.  The other cultural reference in here?  Using a playing card to activate a subconscious program.  In the novel & film The Manchurian Candidate, a former soldier is an unwitting Soviet sleeper agent, activated as an assassin by the sight of the Queen of Diamonds card (the film also came up in Wednesday’s interview with Zoe Lofgren).

“By the way, why don’t I get more hits when I put in ‘tall women carrying heavy things’?”

One of my favorite inexplicable character quirks, “Stephen” has a long-standing fascination with tall women lifting heavy things.  See his previous reports on **protecting your online identity, his **personal browsing history, and **CNN email alerts.

Wednesday: Fallback Position – Migrant Worker/Zoe Lofgren & Guillermo del Toro

“So I grabbed my overalls, and said goodbye city life.”

This is a pretty subtle reference to the theme song of Green Acres (Eva Gabor wistfully calling “Goodbye, city life!”), a sitcom aired from 1965-1971, in which two New York City urbanites move to the country to become farmers.

I really enjoyed the interview with Guillermo del Toro – partly because he’s an amazing filmmaker, partly because he was such an entertaining guest, and partly because his gruesome descriptions of Mexican Catholic imagery so amused Stephen.  His offhand remark about “Saint Lucy and her eyes on a little tray” put Stephen in giggles.  Saint Lucy was a Christian martyr whose eyes were removed with a fork; she’s often depicted very delicately carrying her eyes on a plate.

Thursday: Fallback Position – Migrant Worker

Stephen puts his glove on an ear of corn, and waves as he sends it down the line.  This was a cute reference to the opening of 1970’s tv show Laverne & Shirley, with Penny Marshall sending a glove down a beer bottling line in Milwaukee.


  1. Mr. Arkadin says:

    I think I got all the references you singled out except the Battle of Svolder, 420, (I’m a slacker. Just not a stoned one) & “Informer.” (Didn’t even know there was such a song!)
    I’d forgotten about “Stephen’s” obsession with “Tall women carrying heavy things.” I somehow feel like a lesser Zoner for not remembering that. :(
    Thanks for doing another great job wren!
    Oh yeah. I think your choices for the O’Donnell Clip Predictor 3000 were better too. :)

  2. Ohhhh, THAT’S the Laverne and Shirley reference everyone was mentioning…. While I did spend (waste?) my adolescence watching Nick at Nite, and have thus seen every single episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show despite having been born after it went off the air, 70’s TV in general is a big mystery to me, and references usually go right over my head. “Informer,” however… instant recognition, clear as day!! :)

  3. Excellent breakdown.

  4. Karenatasha says:

    Also, re the conveyer belt: Charlie Chaplin’s “Modern Times” (in which he takes a ride on the belt and through its gears) and (I Love) Lucy at the chocolate factory.

    Conveyer belts are great comedy, always!

    • Oh, Modern Times! I totally forgot about that! I agree – conveyor belts are comedy gold :D

    • Mr. Arkadin says:

      “Also, re the conveyer belt: Charlie Chaplin’s “Modern Times” (in which he takes a ride on the belt and through its gears)…”

      Don’t forget A nous la liberte by Rene Clair. The film Chaplin may have “borrowed” the conveyor belt gag from. ;P

      • Karenatasha says:

        Great point, Mr. Arkadin–and it definitely shouldn’t be forgotten! I don’t mind the borrowing, though, as long as the comedian redefines it in his/her own terms. Chaplin does, making the gag meaningful in terms of his own character.

        On a totally unrelated issue–one that should be saved for elsewhere on this site, where it will probably be discussed–I am flying high from Jon’s spirited eight-minute defense of Stephen and his Congressional testimony. *Feeling very warm to Jon*.

    • I am flying high from Jon’s spirited eight-minute defense of Stephen and his Congressional testimony. *Feeling very warm to Jon*.”

      YES. That was brilliant, plain and simple. And entirely needed and appropriate. I also loved that it was Jon who did the segment about it, and Stephen made a small joke about it at the top of TCR and then promptly went on with the show. So we got both Jon being Jon and defending Stephen and then “Stephen” going on with a new week a new set of shows to focus on. :)

    • Mr. Arkadin says:

      I quite agree with you about “Modern Times.” And more importantly so did Rene Clair! Clair was honored about the “borrowing” (Chaplin always maintained he’d never seen “A nous la liberte”) & was quite embarrassed by the producer’s subsequent lawsuit against Chaplin. Clair felt that all film-makers were in Chaplin’s debt.

      I’m on the west coast so I didn’t know about Jon’s defense of Stephen.
      I’ve still got 90 mins. to go! Damn!

      • Karenatasha says:

        DOH! Oh, I am so sorry! Sometimes I forget about the time difference. I didn’t mean to post a spoiler.

        But do enjoy.

        As for the “borrowing,” Clair, of course, was correct. It’s pure comic tradition to take the same bits of business and spin it so it reflected your own vision. (Even more than Chaplin, my personal favorite is Buster Keaton.)

        Another aside: I’ve always thought Stephen would be really good in Beckett. I’d love to see him do “Waiting for Godot.”

    • Mr. Arkadin says:

      Ha! Don’t worry about the spoiler. :)
      I too prefer Keaton. Although, “City Lights” is easily one of the ten best films I films I’ve ever seen.
      Stephen would be perfect for Godot! Lucky or Pozzo leap to mind first. Or maybe Krapp’s Last Tape? He does have a great voice. But could he stay seated that long? ;P

      • Karenatasha says:

        Agreed on all points. I wonder if Stephen ever did any Beckett when he was in Chicago–espcially during his “black turtleneck” days before he turned to comedy.

  5. Wow, definitely some interesting references last week! I didn’t catch the playing card/Manchurian Candidate reference, since I have yet to see the original film or its remake. But I did catch the “Informer” reference – watching I Love The ’90s finally comes in handy! ;)

    I think my favorite reference was the nod to Laverne & Shirley. I used to watch that show all the time when I was younger. And thanks for the background on Saint Lucy during the Guillermo del Toro interview – her eyes were removed with a fork? Gruesome, indeed!

    • Mr. Arkadin says:

      “I didn’t catch the playing card/Manchurian Candidate reference, since I have yet to see the original film or its remake.”
      If you ever see either one I hope you see the original first. It’s really something else! :)

  6. Thanks for catching the subtle indeed “Goodbye City Life!” quote from Green Acres – which went by so fast that I missed it. For anyone who’s never seen it, Green Acres was a hilarious show with some definitely surreal aspects. You have to see it to understand.

    I had been hoping Stephen would work the fields in a suit as Eddie Albert did though he did start out that way in the interview part. I did love his adorable work clothes though!

  7. Ooh, thanks for the explanations. I personally think the ‘tall women lifting heavy things’ is his answer to rule 34, because it really doesn’t make much sense for rule 34 to apply to it. I thought the glove thing was just his cute little way of goofing off. I really don’t know much about 70s shows.

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