The 5 Geekiest Cleveland Appearances in Pop Culture


Now that LeBron James has come home, Cleveland’s star is rising among jocks, with Kevin Love joining him and making the Cavaliers a team to watch in the upcoming NBA season.

This is great news for sports-loving Clevelanders, but not so great for the nerdier residents of the Mistake By The Lake. For the past few years, Cleveland nerds had been able to hold it over Cleveland jocks that, while LeBron wasn’t here anymore, Captain America was, thanks to the tax incentive that helped our fair city stand in for New York, Berlin, and Washington, D.C. in the Marvel Cinematic Universe films.

As an underdog city, Cleveland has always held a special place in nerd culture. But if you want to be a real Cleveland nerd, brush up on these five examples where Cleveland has popped up that most people aren't aware of:

1. Howard the Duck

People who think the worst thing George Lucas ever did was The Phantom Menace or The Star Wars Holiday Special only think that because they’ve never seen 1986's Howard the Duck. With its deeply creepy protagonist, bizarre shifts in tone, and gross sexual humor, this flick is a crown jewel of bad cinema.

The best part is that Howard the Duck is based on a long-running Marvel comic book series and it broke the fourth wall and mocked comic book conventions long before Deadpool ever did it. Even though it was universally hated by critics, Howard the Duck was the highest-grossing film based on a Marvel Comics property until Blade in 1998, showing just how bad things used to be for comics adaptations.

And where else would an anthropomorphic duck from another dimension land when he arrived on Earth but in Cleveland, Ohio? It is, after all, the ideal setting for a self-aware, self-deprecating, intentionally terrible concept for a “superhero” to live.

Fun fact: When Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created Superman in 1934, he originally hailed from their home city of Cleveland. However, when they finally got accepted by a publisher in 1938, National Comics insisted on changing Superman’s city to the fictional “Metropolis” to give him a broader appeal. Now the comics character Cleveland is irrevocably associated with is Howard the Duck. How the mighty have fallen.

2. American Splendor

Fine Line Features

The more your works include superheroes in spandex and capes, the geekier you are, with only one exception: Comic books, where it’s reversed.

Thanks to the many successful film adaptations, superhero comics are more mainstream than ever. But the true hardcore fans of comics—or, as we prefer to call them, “sequential art”—are the ones who laud the medium for its capacity to tell small, human stories about working stiffs like you and me who can’t shoot laser blasts out of any part of their bodies.

One of the leading lights of the underground comics scene was Harvey Pekar, whose autobiographical American Splendor series was a grim, painful look at life as a VA file clerk in the Rust Belt.

No one embodies the whole “Cleveland: You’ve Gotta Be Tough” masochistic machismo more than Pekar, whose “Life is a war of attrition” motto made him Cleveland’s “poet laureate.”

The film adaptation of American Splendor, released in 2003, is a must-see gem starring Paul Giamatti, and remains neck-and-neck with The Avengers for the title of “Best Comic Book Movie Filmed in Cleveland.”

3. Calvin & Hobbes

It’s a bit of local lore that Bill Watterson, the J.D. Salinger of newspaper comics, grew up in Cleveland suburb Chagrin Falls, and still lives in the area to this day.

Watterson has been open about Calvin & Hobbes being based on his own childhood, and even though few clues are given, all the detailed natural landscapes Calvin barrels through on his wagon will look extremely familiar to anyone who’s walked through the woods in Northeast Ohio.

The clincher is this classic panel showing a King-Kong-sized Calvin destroying a very faithful reproduction of historic downtown Chagrin Falls. The building he has picked up and is about to throw is Chagrin Falls’ perennial tourist attraction, the Popcorn Shop.

4. The second Hellmouth in 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer'

References to Cleveland as a less-than-stellar place are old hat in in pop culture—quoth the great sage Yakov Smirnoff: "Now, I make fun of Cleveland because everybody makes fun of Cleveland. I mean, every country has one city that people make fun of. In Russia, we used to make fun of Cleveland.”

The one that sticks out in my mind most, though, is Joss Whedon repeatedly dissing Cleveland by mentioning it as the location of the second Hellmouth in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Not only does it poke fun at the convenient Hollywood logic behind the first Hellmouth, the one Buffy is assigned to patrol, being under the incredibly telegenic idyllic LA suburb of Sunnydale, but it also serves as a kind of understated joke. No one outright talks about what’s going on with that other Hellmouth in Cleveland, but clearly there is no vampire slayer protecting Clevelanders from their city being above a dimensional gateway to Hell, and nobody in Cleveland seems to notice.

My favorite time this was referenced? The Season 3 episode “The Wish,” where we see an alternate universe where Buffy went to Cleveland instead of Sunnydale, causing Sunnydale to become a grim dystopia ruled by vampires (implying that that’s what Cleveland is like in our world). When alternate-universe Buffy arrives in Sunnydale, this version of her is, unlike the lovable Slayer we know, a brutal, merciless killing machine incapable of friendship or trust. Cleveland will do that to you.

5. The Ghost Whisperer

Melinda Gordon, as played by Jennifer Love Hewitt on TV's The Ghost Whisperer from 2005 to 2010, may have lived in the fictional town of Grandview, New York, but she was based on the real-life Mary Ann Winkowski, who lives in North Royalton, Ohio—right next door to my hometown of Broadview Heights.

A paid consultant for the show, Winkowski has been a local Ohio celebrity and exorcist-for-hire for decades. There haven't been any climactic battles between good and evil in her life, but Winkowski has monetized her special talents by giving self-help classes on how to de-haunt your own house, offered to dispel the curse on the Cleveland Indians for a fee (they haven’t taken her up on it yet), and, the crowning touch, has published a cookbook containing all the best recipes passed to her by departed spirits.

If the show was a very New York-take on what a ghost whisperer’s life would be like, Winkowski’s career is Cleveland to the core.

Warner Home Video
10 Filling Facts About A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving
Warner Home Video
Warner Home Video

Though it may not be as widely known as It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown or A Charlie Brown Christmas, A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving has been a beloved holiday tradition for many families for more than 40 years now. Even if you've seen it 100 times, there’s still probably a lot you don’t know about this Turkey Day special.


We all know the trombone “wah wah wah” sound that Charlie Brown’s teacher makes when speaking in a Peanuts special. But A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, which was released in 1973, made history as the first Peanuts special to feature a real, live, human adult voice. But it’s not a speaking voice—it’s heard in the song “Little Birdie.”


Being the first adult to lend his or her voice to a Peanuts special was kind of a big deal, so it makes sense that the honor wasn’t bestowed on just any old singer or voice actor. The song was performed by composer Vince Guardaldi, whose memorable compositions have become synonymous with Charlie Brown and the rest of the gang.

“Guaraldi was one of the main reasons our shows got off to such a great start,” Lee Mendelson, the Emmy-winning producer who worked on many of the Peanuts specials—including A Charlie Brown Thanksgivingwrote for The Huffington Post in 2013. “His ‘Linus and Lucy,’ introduced in A Charlie Brown Christmas, set the bar for the first 16 shows for which he created all the music. For our Thanksgiving show, he told me he wanted to sing a new song he had written for Woodstock. I agreed with much trepidation as I had never heard him sing a note. His singing of ‘Little Birdie’ became a hit."


While Peanuts specials are largely populated by children, there’s usually at least an adult or two seen or heard somewhere. That’s not the case with A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. “Charlie Brown Thanksgiving may be the only Thanksgiving special (live or animated) that does not include adults,” Mendelson wrote for HuffPo. “Our first 25 specials honored the convention of the comic strip where no adults ever appeared. (Ironically, our Mayflower special does include adults for the first time.)”


Though early on in the special, viewers get that staple scene of Lucy pulling a football away from Charlie Brown at the last minute, that’s all we see of Chuck’s nemesis in A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. (Lucy's brother, Linus, however, is still a main character.)


Though they only had a single scene together, Todd Barbee, who voiced Charlie Brown, told Noblemania that he and Robin Kohn, who voiced Lucy in the Thanksgiving special, still keep in touch. “We actually went to high school together,” Barbee said. “We still live in Marin County, are Facebook friends, and occasionally see each other.”


One unique aspect of the Peanuts specials is that the bulk of the characters are voiced by real kids. In the case of A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, 10-year-old newcomer Todd Barbee was tasked with giving a voice to Charlie Brown—and it wasn’t always easy.

“One time they wanted me to voice that ‘AAAAAAARRRRRGGGGG’ when Charlie Brown goes to kick the football and Lucy yanks it away,” Barbee recalled to Noblemania in 2014. “Try as I might, I just couldn’t generate [it as] long [as] they were looking for … so after something like 25 takes, we moved on. I was sweating the whole time. I think they eventually got an adult or a kid with an older voice to do that one take."


While Barbee got a crash course in the downside of celebrity at a very early age—“seeing my name printed in TV Guide made everyone around me go bananas … everybody … just thought I was some big movie star or something,” he told Noblemania—Stephen Shea, who voiced Linus, still gets a pretty big reaction.

"I don't walk around saying 'I'm the voice of Linus,'" Shea told the Los Angeles Times in 2013. "But when people find out one way or another, they scream 'I love Linus. That is my favorite character!'"


As is often the case in a Peanuts special, Linus gets to play the role of philosopher in A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving and remind his friends (and the viewers) about the history and true meaning of whatever holiday they’re celebrating. His speech about the Pilgrims’ first Thanksgiving eventually led to This is America, Charlie Brown: The Mayflower Voyagers, a kind of spinoff adapted from that Thanksgiving Day prayer, which sees the Peanuts gang becoming a part of history.


In writing for HuffPo for A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving’s 40th anniversary, Mendelson admitted that one particular scene in the special led to “a rare, minor dispute during the creation of the show. Mr. Schulz insisted that Woodstock join Snoopy in carving and eating a turkey. For some reason I was bothered that Woodstock would eat a turkey. I voiced my concern, which was immediately overruled.”


Though Mendelson lost his original argument against seeing Woodstock eating another bird, he was eventually able to right that wrong. “Years later, when CBS cut the show from its original 25 minutes to 22 minutes, I sneakily edited out the scene of Woodstock eating,” he wrote. “But when we moved to ABC in 2001, the network (happily) elected to restore all the holiday shows to the original 25 minutes, so I finally have given up.”

Shout! Factory
The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Turkey Day Marathon Is Back
Shout! Factory
Shout! Factory

For many fans, Mystery Science Theater 3000 is as beloved a Thanksgiving tradition as mashed potatoes and gravy (except funnier). It seems appropriate, given that the show celebrates the turkeys of the movie world. And that it made its debut on Thanksgiving Day in 1988 (on KTMA, a local station in Minneapolis). In 1991, to celebrate its third anniversary, Comedy Central hosted a Thanksgiving Day marathon of the series—and in the more than 25 years since, that tradition has continued.

Beginning at 12 p.m. ET on Thursday, Shout! Factory will host yet another Mystery Science Theater 3000 Turkey Day marathon, hosted by series creator Joel Hodgson and stars Jonah Ray and Felicia Day. Taking place online at, or via the Shout! Factory TV app on Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire and select smart TVs, the trio will share six classic MST3K episodes that have never been screened as part of a Shout! Factory Turkey Day Marathon. Here’s hoping your favorite episode makes it (cough, Hobgoblins, cough.)


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