Season 3, Episode 8
"The Last Time I Saw Maris"
Context: Niles' wife, Maris, has disappeared and has been missing for days. Niles is understandably concerned, although it turns out Maris has simply been on a shopping spree in New York. At his brother Frasier's urging, Niles stands up to Maris, who in turn demands a divorce and kicks Niles out of the house. In the aftermath, Frasier takes his brother into his home, and it is the following morning when Frasier is in his kitchen trying to find some food for his father's dog, Eddie. Luckily, one of his housekeeper's dishes isn't fit for humans...
Exegesis: This may be the only instance when "humans" is used as a sound-alike to "Mormons". We've had "moron" several times, "hormones", too. But humans? It's a stretch, but the end result is amusing.
Of course, Mormons can eat shepherd's pie, but it's interesting to think there's some kind of food that is fine for everyone else but not "fit" for us... It makes us sound kind of important... This reference is basically a variation on a comic staple, where someone says something privately or under one's breath, and is overheard by someone else. When asked to repeat or clarify, the second person repeats instead a (usually implausible) sound-alike version of their original line. It's the dichotomy between what was actually said, and the hastily assembled alternative that produces the comic effect. Sometimes the whole phrase is replaced, sometimes just one word, and typically the word change renders the original phrase nonsensical or otherwise amusing, as was the case in this example.
Frasier was a great show - a fine example of classic farce on a weekly basis. This isn't the only time Mormons came up in the series, either; Frasier hires a Mormon agent (and former MoTab singer) in the Season 5 episode "The Zoo Story".
Season 4, Episode 12
"Late Night with Butt-head"
Mike Judge's seminal creation: Beavis and Butt-head; a show embraced by the very demographic Judge was mocking, the show was inescapable in the 90s, as were irritating impressions of the title characters (both voiced by Judge). Judge would go on to create the TV series King of the Hill, and the movies Idiocracy, and Extract, as well as his masterpiece (so-far) Office Space.
Context: Beavis and Butt-head, the two adolescent slackers, are enjoying their favourite activity, criticizing music videos, when Donny Osmond's Sacred Emotion comes on. Beavis and Butt-head are apparently aware of the Osmonds' religious affiliation... sort-of.
Exegesis: This clip is so juvenile (as was intended), it would be even more reductive than usual to pursue anything more than a cursory exegesis.
It's that old canard again: "Mormon" kind of sounds like "Moron", if you're an idiot. This joke is more or less identical to the one used in the "Married With Children" clip. Butt-head does correct his friend's malapropism (although he has just suggested that Donny's dad, "Lee Harvey Osmond", killed JFK), and points out that Beavis means "Mormon". How to describe Mormons to someone as simple as Beavis? Butt-head: "Those are those dudes who come up to your house on bicycles." Unphased, Beavis asks if the music he's hearing is the Moron Tabernacle Choir...
So we've got "Moron" for "Mormon", missionaries on bikes, the Tabernacle Choir... the only easy Mormon reference not mined for laughs in this clip is polygyny, and I'm not sure how that oversight was made.
With all that said, Donny Osmond (and his family) were real ambassadors for this Church in the 70s. There wasn't anyone as famous at that time who was a faithful member of the Church, let alone someone who was idolized by a lot of young people. (Not all young people, obviously.) To this day, their Mormonism tends to be mentioned whenever any of them are interviewed. In fact it may be the one salient detail most people know about them, along with the fact that Donny has a sister named Marie.
Season 8, Episode 15
"Sofa So Good"
This show ran for eleven seasons – it was the first prime-time sitcom to air on the newly launched Fox network n 1987, and remains the network's longest-running live-action sitcom.
Context: Al Bundy (Ed O'Neill) and his wife Peggy (Katey Sagal) are leaving town for the weekend to attend Peg's family reunion. Their son Bud (David Faustino) and daughter Kelly (Christina Applegate) have each faked illness to avoid joining their parents on the trip. Once their parents leave, Kelly invents an enormously implausible story about volunteering to film a public service announcement to combat child illiteracy in their living room, and therefore needs Bud out of the house. Bud points out that Kelly herself is illiterate, and therefore a poor spokesperson, but ultimately buys her story. Once he leaves, Kelly calls to her boyfriend (Gunther) who has been hiding outside. He enters and declares that he was so bored waiting outside, he decided to "take some pictures," (which turn out to be framed paintings he's stolen from neighbouring houses.) He gives them to Kelly, and after we are suddenly privy to the sarcastic thoughts of the family dog, Kelly explains that Bud bought her story about the public service announcement...
Exegesis: Like the clip from Beavis and Butthead, here is a character that makes the implausible homophonic leap from Mormon to Moron. There are worse associations that could be made, and the reference isn't malicious - at least not towards Mormons. Usually the substitution of "moron" for "Mormon" is a commentary on the speaker, not the religion. This is the case here, where everything Gunther says or does is meant to reinforce the notion that he is astonishingly dim-witted.
As I said about the more plausibly homophonic Family Ties clip, "Mormon" to "moron" isn't the most flattering association, but considering there is actually someone named "Moron" in the Book of Mormon, I suppose we can't complain.
1986, Dir. Leonard Nimoy
This is another one that's stuck with me, despite the fact that the reference to Mormonism is ambiguous at best, and more than likely unintentional. Although for me, in the theatre as a little boy, there was no doubt that I was sharing a secret, highly esoteric joke, and that mixed-up Kirk was inadvertently linking Spock to the Mormon Church at Berkley in the 1960s. The Internet has reassured me that I am not alone in my Mormon-centric view of this exchange between Captain* Kirk and a blonde whale doctor from 1986 San Francisco. Thanks Internet!
*I know he was an admiral when the scene took place; he wasn't demoted back to Captain until the end of the movie... So what if I was a Star Trek nerd? Thanks to J.J. Abrams, that's cool now...
Context: In the future, the earth is threatened because apparently the song of humpback whales placated some destructive alien force, but the whales are long since extinct. So the crew of the USS Enterprise dutifully travels back in time to the year 1986. They have some difficulty in adjusting to life in mid-eighties San Francisco, and Spock in particular sticks out like a sore, alien thumb. For instance, while on a tour at an aquarium, Spock dives into a whale enclosure and performs a Vulcan mind-meld with the giant mammal. Understandably upset, Dr. Gillian Taylor (Christine Hicks) who works at the aquarium, kicks Kirk and Spock out. Later, she passes them on the road in her truck. Kirk attempts (unsuccessfully) to explain why his companion acts so weird and Vulcan-y.
Exegesis: As I mentioned earlier, it's entirely possible that this scene doesn't belong on this site. Essentially, Kirk transposes two letters when he makes reference to the psychotropic drug LSD, rendering it LDS. As a young boy when the film came out, I was convinced that the writer had intended Kirk's malapropism to change the meaning of the acronym from its intended "lysergic acid diethylamide" to "Latter-Day Saint", a shorthand I was familiar with, but which it occurred to me much later, few others would be. It's perhaps more likely that the joke was merely Kirk's fuzzy 23rd century mind comically misremembering the order of three letters. He could have said "DSL" and achieved the same effect. Nevertheless, I am including the clip on this site, on the slim chance that when Nicholas Meyer (et al.) wrote the screenplay, they had "Latter-Day Saints" in mind when they put those words in Kirk's mouth, even if the resulting acronym makes no sense in the context of the sentence.
Season 7, Episode 20
"Call Me Irresponsible"
Cheers is one of the all-time classic sitcoms. Of all the clips and references I've tracked down for this website, this one is probably my favourite. The set-up and execution of the gag is flawless, and reminds me of a classic comedy routine; it's the "Who's on First" of Mormon references, which is appropriate for a show that often had the rhythms of a classic farce. (Its spin-off, Frasier, is a master-class in the sitcom-as-farce.) The escalation of the gag in this scene is tremendous, and I still smile when I see it.
Context: It's Carla and Eddie's anniversary. Eddie is out of town and has failed to send Carla an anniversary gift. To keep her co-workers from feeling pity for her, Carla buys herself flowers and has them delivered to the bar as though they were from Eddie. Rebecca sees the flowers, and comments wistfully about the lack of flower deliveries in her life. Sam mishears her remark, leading to a modern-day Abbot and Costello routine:
Exegesis: Good, old-fashioned comedy. Mormons aren't being held up for ridicule or mockery, and our beliefs are actually accurately portrayed, insofar as Mormons can send flowers, and we can also dance. They even bother to correct one of Sam's misunderstandings (it's the Amish who "can't dance").
Norm's correction of Sam's statement about Mormons dancing is interesting. For one thing, it adds to the comic rhythm of the scene: more clarification and correction about Sam's misunderstanding of Rebecca's comment than clarification about the comment itself is highly amusing, especially as Rebecca becomes increasingly exasperated). It's also interesting because most shows don't seem interested in correcting inaccurate statements about Latter-Day Saint beliefs. They would rather let the misinformation stand, particularly when that misinformation is in service of a joke. I can sort-of understand this instinct, since after a joke about plural wives (for example), it kind of grinds things to a halt to point out that polygamy hasn't been practiced by Mormons in over a century, and that the practice in the modern Church is considered adultery, punishable by swift excommunication. But when there is misinformation that is not in the service of a joke, more often than not it's just sloppy/lazy writing. It's someone who knew a Mormon once, and sort of remembers something they think Mormons believe, wrote a scene about it and couldn't care less about its accuracy.
Since the subject has been raised, I'll say one last thing about misrepresentation. When we're egregiously misrepresented in the media, I have to wonder how difficult it is to go to lds.org, or even wikipedia, for a three-second fact-checking trip. Even the infamous South Park episode "All About the Mormons" got so many things wrong, some Mormon dude felt compelled to build an entire website dedicated to a thorough exegesis. I suppose I'll talk about it more when I get to that South Park episode, but in the meantime, why don't you enjoy that Cheers clip one more time?
Season 3, Episode 4
"Love Thy Neighbour"
It seemed appropriate to start with the first reference to Mormons I remember hearing, outside of my home life. My first blog post on this site (which was chopped up and sprinkled in the FAQ) touched on this clip briefly. I was searching the Internet trying to track it down when the idea occurred to me (and the need became apparent to me) to create this site. (The Internet is great for tracking down the sources of those indelible childhood memories and seeing how they look in the light of adulthood.)
Context: Jennifer's friend Scott is back after a five year absence. She is now eleven, and he is seventeen. (Apparently, when she was six and he was twelve, they used to hang out and play sports together...) Anyway, he's in town for a few days for a college interview, and apparently Jennifer's parents have no qualms about a seventeen year-old coming to spend time alone with their eleven year-old daughter. Creaky premise aside, Scott is all set to reminisce with Jennifer about old times (and maybe kick the soccer ball around) until he lays eyes on Mallory, who is also seventeen. (Why was he ever Jennifer's friend again?) Needless to say, he's smitten, and begins to ignore Jennifer in favour of her older, hotter, much more age-appropriate sister. A frustrated Jennifer approaches her brother Alex, who helpfully explains that boys Scott's age have hormones coursing through their veins. Later, Jennifer crashes the date that Scott has taken Mallory on, affecting "grown-up" mannerisms and misremembers Alex's words of wisdom...
Exegesis: This is a pretty inoffensive reference to Mormons. Jennifer misremembering Alex's line and repeating it to her sister incorrectly isn't gold-standard comedy (like, say, the Cheers reference is), but it's not bad, and as I said, pretty innocuous.
The humour in this Family Ties example is not at the expense of Mormons, which is rare when Mormonism is invoked for comedic effect. Typically, Mormons are referenced in TV or film comedies in order to get a cheap laugh out of our centuries-old polygamous history. And occasionally, as you may see on this site, polygamy is also dredged up for dramatic (or more often, melodramatic) effect.
Jennifer's declaration is absurd, and the humour derives from that unexpected homophonic juxtaposition of "Mormons" for "hormones". This gag is repeated elsewhere with different homophonic substitutions of varying plausibility, like "human" in Frasier, or "more men" in the aforementioned Cheers example. Most often, a character misspeaks by saying "Moron" instead of "Mormon" (Beavis & Butt-head) or vice versa (Married... With Children), which isn't the most flattering association, but considering there is actually someone named "Moron" in the Book of Mormon, I suppose we can't complain.