The Ten Most Obscure ‘Archer’ Jokes — Explained

UPDATE: Check out all new Archer on FX coverage and features.

The Season 2 premiere of “Archer” airs tonight, and if you’re like me you have been releasing tiny anticipatory urine leaks throughout your day. In an effort to make sure the hilarity of the first season has been fully appreciated before we move on to the second course, here are a few jokes in slo-mo replay to make sure you got whatever lofty reference show-runner Adam Reed and the boys were tossing your way:

1. Johnny Bench Called (S01E01)

A little extra research shed quite a bit of light on this doozy. In the pilot episode, Archer drops the phrase “Johnny Bench called” in order to let his mother know he caught her doing some fuzzy flounder fishing. But where exactly was he going with that?

Johnny Bench is a Hall of Fame catcher who played for the Cincinnati Reds. According to Adam Reed the joke was to imply the next line: “He wants his mitt back,” thus comparing Malory’s vajayjay to a well worn in catcher’s mitt. Funny. Decent. But the story continues.

After the initial episode aired Adam Reed was informed that Johnny Bench was also known for having giant fingers and was famous for a parlor trick he did where he held seven baseballs in one hand. This made for a reemergence of the Bench reference aimed at Lana Kane’s monster hands (Truckasaurus!) and her “Johnny Benchian fingers” (S01E04).  I feel like the second Johnny Bench joke revises the first, like a humor time loop.

2. Greenmantle by John Buchan (S01E10)

In the Season 1 finale, Malory Archer is shown grabbing a gun from under the book Greenmantle by John Buchan. There isn’t really a joke here as much as Adam Reed is paying homage to one of the books that inspired the Archer character to begin with. Says Reed:

I read tons of books all the way back to Greenmantle by John Buchan. And I read a lot of the James Bond novels, which are a lot darker than the movies. They really sort of put a smile on that guy’s face. In the novels he’s pretty misogynistic. There’s definitely some racist tones in those novels. And so that was part of the inspiration… trying to see how much of a jerk I could make this guy and still make him likable. I don’t know if “likable” is the right word. Maybe “sympathetic” – even though he’s a total tool. [source]

That is probably the end of the intended reference there BUT if one were to look a little deeper… There was once a famous racehorse named Greenmantle that was ridden by jockey John Cutts. Cutts is best known for winning several Australian horse races in the 1860s. And what was the name of the horse he rode for the majority of his wins? Archer! Coincidence? Yes. That is the definition of a coincidence right there.

3. Buddy Rich and Gene Krupa

What can she say? Malory Archer has a thing for drummers. She may be a little hazy on who exactly planted the seed that would become her son Sterling, but she is sure clear on liking men who know how to beat the skins. While it makes more sense for super spy Sterling Archer to actually be spawned from either Len Drexler or Major Nikolai Jackov, we need to remember to keep these two famous beat-boys in the mix.

Just so you don’t have to Google them yourself, here are videos of Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich, doing what they do best: banging.

4. Bartleby the Scrivener?

This whole reference gets pretty well explained in the show. Bartleby the Scrivener is a short story by Herman Melville and it really is a hard read, or at the very least a tedious read. I did some paper on Melville in the 10th grade and retained absolutely nothing except for the chapter about whale semen in the middle of Moby-Dick (really, not worth getting into).

The story of Bartleby is about a guy who starts using the phrase “I’d prefer not to” as an existential plea for solitude and ends up driving everyone around him crazy. It was made into an ultra weird indie movie starring Crispin Glover in the titular role. “Scrivener” is an old-timey word for “scribe” but — based on this book and movie — could just as well mean “lazy assh*le.”

Here’s a clip from the Crispin Glover rendition:

And here’s the whole friggin short story if you want to impress no one with your reading prowess.

5. Hey, Eugene Debs (S01E08)

In episode 9, Lana seems surprised when the striking drones still haven’t resolved their labor problems with their gin-soaked manager. Archer points out that her time scale is off by evoking the name of a famous Union reformer, Eugene V. Debs, a Labor party organizer, socialist Presidential candidate and all around Pinko. Debs was finally arrested and sentenced to prison for pissing off Woodrow Wilson. At his sentencing he uttered these semi-remembered words:

Your Honor, years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.

Eugene Debs is actually a pretty cool guy and doesn’t deserve to have any of my sass splattered on him. So we’ll move on to number 6.

6. “I bet he wishes he had Bilbo’s Coat of Dwarven Mithril” (S01E03)

When Lana and ISIS’s diversity double whammy, Conway Stern, are arguing over the completion of several missions they watch as a troop transport is blown up during “Operation Frodo.” Lacking the nerdular knowledge to come up with one of his famous riffs, Conway just makes an off-handed reference to hobbits. This gives the tubby nerd behind the controls to drop this heady gem. But what exactly is a coat of Dwarven Mithril?

So see, in Middle Earth… mithril is a type of metal found in the J.R.R. Tolkien universe, and it’s basically the Bruce Lee of magic metals. Gandalf explained it thusly:

Mithril! All folk desired it. It could be beaten like copper, and polished like glass; and the Dwarves could make of it a metal, light and yet harder than tempered steel. Its beauty was like to that of common silver, but the beauty of mithril did not tarnish or grow dim.

So in these times of economic insecurity, the U.S. Treasury recommends buying Mithril! Except it doesn’t really exist.

Anyway, a shirt (or coat) of mithril was recovered from the dragon Smoug Smaug in the book The Hobbit and given to Bilbo Baggins. It eventually finds its way to Frodo who gets his ass saved five different times by the handy shirt, shielding him from Orc attacks and even once from Saruman the Douche.

Phew! I feel like I need a toke off an inhaler.

This nerdy piece of knowledge earns the drone who mumbles it the nickname “The Hobbit,” causing Archer to mistake him for a little person. (S01E08)

7. Beneath the Bridge of Spies (S01E06)

Major Nikolai Jackov and Malory Archer seem to have quite the historic romance. While vacationing together on the Chum Guzzler (“Ha ha ha. I am just now getting that”) they both reminisce about first meeting as young black-ops agents in Berlin under the Bridge of Spies. While this reference isn’t exactly a joke, the bridge is an icon of Cold War history, and learning about it adds a little depth to their long and complicated relationship.

The Bridge of Spies is actually called Glienicke Bridge, and it is indeed located in Berlin. The bridge was equally divided between Soviet and NATO territory, so neither party had full control of it. This made it the perfect meeting ground for prisoner exchanges — of which there were several between 1962 and 1986. It is easy to imagine these two meeting on a moonless night and, after swapping hostages, consummating their love, perhaps in a tank. I dunno, I’m just spit-balling here.

8. You’re just a dog in a manger (S01E07)

I had always just assumed that this was a completely random insult, but it turns out it is one of the most ancient references in the entire show!

After Pam and Carol (Cheryl, Cristal, etc) stow away on a rigid airship, Carol continues her psychological torture of Cyril by teasing him about the fact that they have had rug-burn-y sex. Pam, just learning this juicy tidbit of gossip, calls Carol “a dog in a manger,” prompting the response,”I don’t know what that means Pam, I didn’t grow up on a cheese farm.” (“It’s called a dairy!”)

A dog in a manger is actually a reference to an old fable of unverified origins, sometimes attributed as one of Aesop’s fables but more likely hailing back to the ancient Greeks. The story involves a dog (Cheryl) who sits on top of some grain (Cyril’s wang) even though he has no interest in it and spends his day barking at a horse (Lana), so she can’t eat the grain either.

Now that I think about it, I bet there are some pockets of America who have actually heard this fable. Like it’s really popular in North Dakota or something. Let me know if you already knew the reference and where you live. I have decided to do an impromptu sociology project.

9. You’re obviously into Greek, get it? (S01E01)

[Editor’s note: This is an email I got earlier this month: “In the first episode of Archer, Archer says the following: ‘You want breakfast? Try the diner. You’re obviously into Greek. Get it?’ I’ve thought about it. I’ve googled it. I don’t get it. I feel like I’m missing out. Can… you help me out?]

Greek sex is synonymous for butt sex because the Greeks invented butt sex. Get it now?

10. Chekhov’s Gun (S01E02)

This is maybe my favorite of all the (woefully) esoteric references in the show. When Archer tries to train Cyril to become a secret agent he employs the services of Trinette, a begrudging call girl, to help teach the would-be spy some moves. But when the cap slips off a pen that is actually a hypodermic needle full of a toxin called poisocane (not a real toxin), for like no reason, Trinette receives an inadvertent and apparently lethal dosing. Archer cuts off whatever excuse Cyril was going to make about his actions by telling him not to employ the Chekhov Gun argument.

The Chekhov Gun (or more popularly Chekhov’s Gun) refers to a maxim of theater based off a quote by Russian playwright Anton Chekhov who once said,

If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don’t put it there.

Since Archer had earlier implied that the pen would most likely at some point lose its cap and kill someone, and since television is actually a type of theater, the Chekhov Gun rule itself could possibly be blamed for the dead hooker (once they’re dead they’re just hookers) lying on the ground. Kind of.

The joke is not a perfect fit, but it such a wallop of a reference by the time you are done trying to extricate the one theater class you took from your pot-addled mind we are already rolling the hooker up in a carpet. What a great show.

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