“30 Rock” had its share of subversive jokes that weren't meant for all audiences to understand. You'd be forgiven if you didn't catch the dirty reference when Liz Lemon's dad Dick proclaimed, “Wouldn't be a Lemon party without ol' Dick!”
But it appears “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” the followup series from “30 Rock” producers Tina Fey and Robert Carlock for Netflix, has upped the ante with an incredibly rarefied reference to a fabled writers' room story from the set of “Roseanne.”
In episode 10 of “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” when the character of Dong (Ki Hong Lee) comes back to his restaurant to learn that immigration officials have apprehended his coworkers, he apologizes to his boss and says, “I'm so sorry, Hu Zha Qi!” His boss responds, “It's your fault. I hope you die, become ghost, fly around the room. That make everybody happy.”
The key to understanding this reference is realizing “Hu Zha Qi” is pronounced “Who Jackie,” a direct reference to a story about how Roseanne, who allegedly had a history of choosing mysterious, under-qualified people for her writing staff, once hired a (non-)writer who never bothered to learn the name of Laurie Metcalf's character. The dubious hire reportedly asked in one memorable exchange, “Who Jackie?” Watch Norm MacDonald, an alum of the “Roseanne” writers' room, relay the famous anecdote to Fred Willard.
MacDonald stops short of telling the rest of the much-bandied tale. According to several different rumored versions, that writer (named “David” in MacDonald's version) tried to appease his coworkers by saying Jackie should be replaced with a Roseanne twin character, adding that Jackie should “die, become a ghost, fly around the room. That'd make everybody happy.”
The “Who Jackie” reference has been used on sitcoms before. “My Name is Earl” routinely used “Who Jackie” as a line of dialogue. “30 Rock” even dropped a quick “Who, Jackie?” in a conversation between Liz and Avery about Jack Donaghy.
I guess we can add “obtuse, bizarre references” to our list of underrated “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” treats.