Principal Skinner and Comet Revenge

Tuesday, August 11, 2020 - 12:53 AM

3 minutes read

A subtle Simpsons joke gets uncovered during Comet NEOWISE's visit

The Simpsons was a huge part of my childhood. I would come home from school and watch the 5:00 PM episode on CBC each day and then religiously watch new episodes on Sunday nights, my second batch of church-going for the day.

Nothing new to say in this next sentence: the show was brilliant because as a young kid it was fun to watch, and when you rewatch it as an adult, you get a whole new layer of jokes your pre-teen brain couldn’t possibly have understood. 

How many jokes about U.S. presidents flew over my head? How many film references I didn’t get until a couple decades went by?

I recently found a new one and I feel like I’m part of a special club now.

Comet NEOWISE

Last month, the Comet NEOWISE was visible in the night sky (a bit hard to see in urban skies, but it was possible). Of course, all the talk about comets reminded me of the Simpson’s episode where Bart accidentally discovers his own comet, to the dismay of Principal Skinner. Let’s watch the clip:

Bart: “Who names these things anyway?”

Skinner: “Whoever discovers them. I’ve been hoping I could find something that would be named after me.”

Bart: “And you've never found anything?”

Skinner: “Once. But by the time I got to a phone my discovery had already been reported by Principal Cahotech.”

* sinister music plays *

"Ca-ho-tech"

I have watched this clip dozens of times, even before NEOWISE came around, and I never gave any thought to the name of the person that Skinner got revenge on, Principal "Ca-ho-tech". I didn’t even know how to spell the name.

Welp, ‘90s-era Simpsons has a joke for people just like me, and I’m only getting it about 25 years after I saw it for the first time.

When NEOWISE was visible in the sky, I began reading about the last major comet I saw as a kid, Comet Hale-Bopp. On the Wikipedia page, the Early Observation section has this line, warning us back then about expectations for viewing:

However, comet scientists were wary – comets can be extremely unpredictable, and many have large outbursts at great distance only to diminish in brightness later. Comet Kohoutek in 1973 had been touted as a 'comet of the century' and turned out to be unspectacular.

A tiny little bell ran in my head when I read that name: “Comet Kahoutek”. My brain probably pronounced it Ka-hooooo-teck, at first, but where have I heard that before?

I visited the Wikipedia page about the comet and it was a comet discovered in 1973, by Czech astronomer Luboš Kohoutek.

And then it clicked! That’s who the Simpsons is referencing! It’s not just some name they made up. Scroll down to In Popular Culture section and it even mentions that episode!

About Comet Kahoutek

I mean, you know how to read Wikipedia pages. But in short: Luboš Kohoutek discovers the comet in March 1973 and it was hailed by the press to be the “comet of the century”. But comets are fickle objects, prone to breaking apart when swinging around the Sun. From the comet’s Wikipedia page:

“Because Comet Kohoutek fell far short of expectations, its name became synonymous with spectacular disappointment.”

I have to assume the writers of this episode had this in mind when choosing the name of Seymour’s celestial rival. The best discovery that Skinner could make — and snatched from him — would be a comet that turned out to be unspectacular.

Skinner: "Well this was a big bust. C'mon kids, let's go home to our mothers."

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