Actor Matt Berry who plays Laszlo in What We Do in the Shadows posing for picture
Movies - TV
What We Do In The Shadows Snuck A 245-Year-Old Joke Into Season 2
In Season 2 of “What We Do in the Shadows,” Nandor and Laszlo hypnotize Sean and give him “brain scramblies,” which cause him to murmur the phrase “No soap? Radio?”
Hollywood insiders know “No soap? Radio?” as a classic in-joke that’s been used by comedians and actors as a prank since the mid-twentieth century.
A veteran actor in an established troupe would say, “No soap! Radio!” as an intentionally meaningless punchline to a joke, and the other vets would break into laughter.
The group would then look to the new performer to see if they “got” the joke. If the person laughed, the group knew they fooled them into acting like “No soap! Radio” had meaning.
If the new performer didn’t get the joke, sometimes the established performer would force the issue by asking the initiate, “Don't you get it? No soap! Radio!”
Sometimes the initiate would be hounded until they admitted they understood, even if they didn't. This pressure was an ideal way to study the psychological pressure to conform.
References to early uses of the joke can be found in the psychological journal “Social Psychology: Revisiting the Classic Studies” by Joanne R. Smith and S. Alexander Haslam.
Smith and Haslam found the "No soap! Radio!" gag to be a perfect way to document social pressures and group mentality.
Why the phrase “no soap radio” was selected is unknown, although some scholars have traced the origin of “no soap” as an absurdist joke punchline all the way back to the 1770s.
It seems “no soap” was used by writer Samuel Foote in the nonsense poem “The Great Panjandrum Himself,” published in 1775. The original usage was as follows:
“So she went into the garden to cut a cabbage leaf to make an apple pie; and at the same time a great she-bear, coming up the street, pops its head into the shop. ’What! No soap?’”
Foote wrote the poem as a difficult memory exercise for his friend Charles Macklin, the famed 18th-century actor who played Shylock in “The Merchant of Venice.”
Macklin claimed he could memorize any piece of dialogue instantly, no matter how strange or difficult. Wanting to test this boast, Foote penned “Panjandrum” to bamboozle Macklin.
The fact that “no soap radio” finds its origins in memorization speaks to how cannily the writers of “What We Do in the Shadows” wielded the phrase.
The writers didn’t just make a winking reference to an old showbiz ruse as a fun piece of trivia, but cleverly used “no soap radio” to comment on Sean having no memory.