Die-hard Simpsons fans have a near encyclopedic memory of every joke and reference throughout the animated series’ decades-long run. Except for one. A punchline in the third season was basically impossible to hear until someone recently used audio software to decode it over 30 years later.
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The joke appears in the third season’s 21st episode called “The Otto Show.” Bart goes to a Spinal Tap concert which sets in motion a series of events that lead bus driver Otto to lose his job and end up living with the Simpsons. Early in the episode, Marge worries the concert will be too loud for Bart. Homer says he went to plenty of heavy metal concerts and never had an issue, only for his tinnitus to take over, with the ringing drowning out Marge’s response.
This secret joke was originally teased long ago by the show’s writers in the DVD commentary. Jeff Martin said at the time that it had taken them forever to write the line, which they then proceeded to mix down so no one watching could actually hear it. More recently, video editor Ewzzy Rayburn (via IGN) decided to use Adobe Audition to filter out the noise and boost the levels for Marge’s voice.
That process revealed what Marge actually says during the scene: “Well all right, but make sure they don’t pick up any of the band’s attitude toward women, liquor, religion, politics…really anything.” Vintage Simpsons humor just waiting for someone to come along and decipher it.
Rayburn explained that he used a spectrogram measuring volume by color and pitch by height to isolate the ringing, remove it, and increase the volume of what was left. In addition to Marge’s voice, that also included the sounds of birds and crickets, which Rayburn said were often in the audio mix depending on whether the scene took place during the day or at night.
The Simpsons is currently in its 34th season which wraps up in May. There hasn’t been a good video game spin-off in over a decade though. It’s definitely time to change that.