“A hundred clowns crammed into a Volkswagen”

LORELAI: I just need space.
MAX: Well I don’t. In fact I want as little space as possible. A hundred clowns crammed into a Volkswagen. That’s the kind of non-space I’m talking about.

An popular clown sight gag is for a number of clowns to be crammed into a small car, and then come out, making it seem as if the car is much bigger than it appears. The trick requires the car to be modified so that there is nothing inside it (no seats etc), and for the clowns to be very flexible and pretty uncomfortable. It was first used in the Coles Brothers Circus in the 1950s.

The number of clowns involved is usually around 14-21, but the record number of people jammed into a small car is 28 gymnasts into a Mini. Obviously gymnasts are extremely limber and aren’t wearing baggy costumes and holding props, so this number wouldn’t be feasible for clowns. A Volkswagen Beetle would be a classic vehicle to use as the car, as they are small, and sort of cute and comical looking anyway.

This comment from Max is something of an in-joke. Scott Cohen, who plays Max Medina, first began his career in the entertainment industry through taking a course in clowning at university – his teacher encouraged him to audition for a theatre company. One of Cohen’s early screen roles was a flirtatious driver in a 1999 Volkswagen Passat television commercial.

English Literature Class

While talking to his class and their parents on Parents’ Day, Max explains that they will be spending the next two weeks on a creative writing assignment. However, that doesn’t mean they will stop reading, as writers find inspiration reading other writers that they admire. He mentions several writers during his short speech.

Walt Whitman (1819-1892) was an American poet, essayist, and journalist. Highly influential, he is often called “the father of free verse”. His major work is his poetry collection Leaves of Grass (1855), originally self-published and very controversial at the time. The class must have just finished studying Walt Whitman, as their assignment on him is due the next day.

Homer is the name the ancient Greeks gave to the traditional author of The Iliad and The Odyssey, two epic poems which are the central works of ancient Greek literature. Walt Whitman first read Homer as a teenager, read his works frequently, and regarded Homer as the ideal to which all poets should aspire.

Dante, born Durante Alighieri (c1265-1321) was a major medieval Italian poet. His epic poem The Divine Comedy is considered the most important poem of the Middle Ages and the greatest literary work in the Italian language. Walt Whitman greatly admired Dane’s economy of language, and re-read The Inferno (the section of The Divine Comedy devoted to Hell) as part of his preparation for becoming a nurse during the American Civil War.

William Shakespeare was another of Walt Whitman’s literary idols. He believed that Homer, Shakespeare, and the Bible were the pinnacle of poetic vision.

Edna O’Brien (born 1930) is an award-winning Irish author, regarded as changing the nature of Irish literature, and one of the finest writers in the English language. Her first novel was The Country Girls (1960), credited with breaking silence on sexuality and social issues in post-war Ireland. It was banned and even burned in Ireland. In 2000 her most recent novel was Wild Decembers (1999), set in Ireland during the 1970s.

I have not been able to locate the source of O’Brien’s quote about Marcel Proust, but he is one of her favourite authors.

Ditch Day

LORELAI: Mr. Medina’s class, huh?
RORY: The fancy book owner himself.
LORELAI: How does first annual mother/daughter ditch day sound?

Ditch day (also called skip day) is a tradition in some American schools where the majority of the senior class “ditch” or skip school on one particular day. It’s usually in the spring, at the end of the school semester.

Oscar and Felix

While arguing over whether to eat leftover pizza from the garbage bin – it was only just thrown out and is still in the box – Rory calls Lorelai “Oscar”, and she counters by calling Rory “Felix”.

This is in reference to Oscar Madison and Felix Ungar, the main characters from The Odd Couple, originally a 1965 Broadway play written by Neil Simon. In the story, the pair are friends sharing an apartment, with the slovenly Oscar and neat-freak Felix constantly clashing.

The Odd Couple was made into a comedy film in 1968, directed by Gene Saks, and with Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon starring as Oscar and Felix respectively. Given rave reviews by critics, it was the #4 film of 1968.

It was then made into a television sitcom with Jack Klugman and Tony Randall as Oscar and Felix, originally airing from 1970 to 1975, but still on American television in reruns. This may be the version of The Odd Couple that Lorelai and Rory is most familiar with.

It seems to be an old joke between Lorelai and Rory to see themselves as “the odd couple” – mismatched housemates who nevertheless are very fond of each other.

(Note that Lorelai cleaning out the refrigerator is a call back to the contest she and Rory had at the start of the episode to see who had to clean out the fridge – apparently Lorelai lost).

“The new Heather”

RORY (referring to Louise and Madeline greeting her): Normal, friendly, no acts.
LORELAI: Wow, you’re the new “Heather”.

Lorelai is referring to the 1988 black comedy film Heathers, directed by Michael Lehmann. The film stars Winona Ryder as Veronica, a popular girl at an Ohio high school, who hangs out with a clique of beautiful, wealthy girls all named Heather (Shannen Doherty, Lisanna Falk, and Kim Walker).

Despite being the most popular students at the school, the Heathers are feared and hated, and Veronica wants to get away from them. When a new student named JD (Christian Slater) becomes Veronica’s boyfriend, he manipulates her into helping him kill one of the Heathers and making the death looks like suicide. After the death, the next Heather in line assumes her role. Lorelai is saying that with Paris apparently toppled from her role as head mean girl, Rory can now step into her shoes.

Heathers was widely praised by critics on release for its cynical and subversive tone, and the director and screenwriter both won awards. It wasn’t a big success at the box office, but developed a cult following after being released on video in 1989.

“Here’s Johnny”

RORY: Well, Madeline and Louise, Paris’ best friends, they said hello to me the other day.
LORELAI: Really? Like a normal hello? Not like a “Here’s Johnny” kind of hello?

Another reference to the horror film The Shining, earlier discussed. In one memorable scene of the movie, the sanity-challenged Jack Torrance hacks through a bathroom door with an axe in an attempt to kill his wife and son. Jack Nicholson, who played Torrance, adlibbed the line “Here’s Johnny!”, which he shouts in a terrifyingly deranged manner with his head through the broken door. It is regarded as an iconic film moment.

Jack Nicholson took the line from the long, drawn-out catchphrase used by Ed McMahon when introducing the host on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, which ran from 1962-1992. It’s one of the best known catchphrases in history.

Rick James and Hugh Grant

RORY: Her [Paris’] dad’s like this big wig at a huge pharmaceutical company and they’re printing all the sordid details about it [his divorce] in the paper.
LORELAI: Ooh how sordid?
RORY: Well, it’s not the Rick James incident, but Hugh Grant should be feeling pretty good about himself.

American R&B singer Rick James (1948-2004) had several public scandals. In 1991, he and his wife were accused of holding a woman hostage for several days during a cocaine binge, tying her up, and forcing her to perform sexual acts. In 1993, while out on bail, he and his wife were accused of kidnapping and assaulting a female business associate for several hours. He was found guilty in both cases, sentenced to two years prison, and ordered to pay his second victim $2 million in damages in a civil suit. Released from prison in 1996, he was accused of sexually assaulting a woman in 1998, but charges were later dropped. It may be this final “incident” that Rory is alluding to.

British actor Hugh Grant (born 1960) [pictured] was arrested in Los Angeles in 1995 for receiving oral sex in a car from a Hollywood prostitute named Divine Brown. He was fined, placed on two years probation, and ordered to complete an AIDS education program. The incident occurred just before his film Nine Months was released, but he was able to gain public appreciation by speaking honestly about what he’d done and not making any excuses for his behaviour. As a result, no major damage was done to his career or reputation.

Mr. Geller’s scandalous exploits are apparently significantly worse than an encounter with a prostitute, but not as bad as the sexual assault allegations levelled at Rick James. We know that they must be sexual in nature, and of enough public interest to be reported in the newspaper. Other than that, they must be left to our imaginations.

“When did you become the relationship expert?”

From the conversation between Lorelai and Sookie, we learn that Sookie has been single for years (Lorelai is quite hurtful to her about it, but apologises for it). We also discover that this hasn’t been entirely by choice, but because Sookie is very busy working at the inn, and has so many accidents that she has frequent hospital visits as well. This is another example of shortness of time being a factor in the show.

Ricky Martin

To accompany the cha-cha-cha dance that Sookie says Lorelai is doing, Sookie begins singing songs by the Puerto Rican singer Ricky Martin at her.

Sookie sings parts of two songs: Livin’ la Vida Loca, and Shake Your Bon-Bon. They are both from Ricky Martin’s 1999 self-titled album, which was his first in the English language. A massive hit world-wide, the album reached #1 and went seven times platinum in the US; it remains Ricky Martin’s most successful album to date.

Livin’ la Vida Loca was a #1 hit for Martin, was #10 for 1999, and is his biggest-selling single. It made him an international star, and has become his signature song. La vida loca is Spanish for “the crazy life”.

Shake Your Bon-Bon peaked at #22 in the US, but was #2 on the dance charts. The song was used in commercials for Toyota Corolla in 2000, which showed Hollywood actor Brad Pitt driving the car.

Most unusually, Sookie singing Ricky Martin is the only commercial music used in this episode.