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15 Educational Facts About Back to School

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No one expected Back to School to be a hit. But the Rodney Dangerfield comedy—which saw the legendary comedian starring as Thornton Melon, a self-made millionaire who attends Grand Lakes University with his son, Jason, and becomes the most popular man on campus—ended up becoming the second highest-grossing comedy of 1986 (only Crocodile Dundee made more). To celebrate its 30th anniversary, here are some facts about the only film that ever dared to pair Dangerfield with Robert Downey Jr., Sam Kinison, and Kurt Vonnegut.

1. HAROLD RAMIS MADE A KEY REWRITE.

In the original draft of the script, Thornton still tries to motivate Jason by attending his college, but he was a "poor schmo." It was Harold Ramis who suggested it would be a funnier movie if Thornton were rich. Dangerfield convinced Orion Pictures to delay production and hire Ramis to rewrite the script.

2. JIM CARREY WAS CONSIDERED FOR SAM KINISON'S ROLE.

Jim Carrey was eventually deemed too young to play Professor Terguson. Years later, producer Chuck Russell remembered Carrey when he was tasked with directing The Mask (1994).

3. IT WAS THE FIRST TIME WILLIAM ZABKA REALIZED HE MIGHT BE GETTING TYPECAST AS A VILLAIN.

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When William Zabka—who played Johnny Lawrence in The Karate Kid and Greg Tolan in Just One of the Guys—landed the part of Chas in Back to School, he started to notice a pattern forming. "When Back To School came around, that was the first time I thought, 'Hey, wait a minute. This is starting to happen too much,'" he said.

4. ROBERT DOWNEY JR. WAS SHOOTING SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE AT THE SAME TIME.

The then 20-year-old actor burned the candle at both ends then. He told Rolling Stone, "I'd fly back to Los Angeles for a couple of days during the week to shoot the movie and then fly back and, 'Live, From New York, It's a Tired Young Man!'"

5. SALLY KELLERMAN ONLY KNEW RODNEY DANGERFIELD FROM HIS BEER COMMERCIALS.

Sally Kellerman admitted to Orange Coast Magazine in November 1986 that she "didn't really know who Rodney Dangerfield was," only having seen him in his Miller Lite commercials. Therefore she "wasn't just flipped out of my mind at being the woman who lifts him up. I thought, 'Oh, whoopee! You're going to get to play his love interest.' Ye gods, I knew I'd made it." But the two got along. "The second day we met, he said, 'Did you change your hair?' And I said, 'No, did you?' After that I liked him so much. He's such an odd guy."

6. GRAND LAKES UNIVERSITY WAS REALLY THREE DIFFERENT COLLEGES.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Southern California, and California State University, Los Angeles teamed up to portray the fictional Grand Lakes University. The one college Dangerfield applied to for his higher education was the University of Wisconsin. He said, “It took 40 years, but I finally got here.”

7. THE MOVIE'S LOCATIONS PROBABLY LOOK FAMILIAR.

The big oral exam was in the Nimitz Room of Bob Hope Patriotic Hall, where Jennifer Beals (well, her body double) danced in the final scene of Flashdance (1983). Dr. Diane Turner's residence is the same home where Jamie Lee Curtis gets terrorized by Michael Myers in Halloween (1978).

8. ZABKA TRIED TO MAKE CHAS FUNNIER AND LESS OF A BULLY.

"I actually tried to have more fun with Chas, because I thought, 'I’m going to be funny now. I really don’t want to just play a jerk,'" Zabka explained to The A.V. Club. "So I actually put on a funny walk and I had a scarf a bunch of times. I made him way more funny than he actually turned out in the film. They cut out most of my funny. In fact, the director [Alan Metter] pulled me aside one day and said, 'We need you to be more like the guy you did in The Karate Kid. You’re coming off too likable and funny.'"

9. ZABKA AND DOWNEY JR. MADE MUSIC TOGETHER.

Chas and Derek Lutz hung out in Downey's hotel room, where Downey would play his keyboard and Zabka would play his guitar. The two also watched movies and tried to figure why Christopher Walken was "so genius."

10. RODNEY WAS IN HIS ROBE A LOT.

Zabka and Dangerfield first met early one morning in a Madison, Wisconsin hotel elevator. Dangerfield wore a blue robe with his hair sticking up. After Zabka introduced himself he asked Dangerfield why he was in a robe. “I gotta get in the sauna," Dangerfield replied. "I gotta get the pot out of my lungs.” [Laughs.] “You, you’re young. You can handle it, but me I gotta get it out.”

Kellerman got the impression that the star of the movie was a "very serious guy on set." She noted that he wrote notes in his script every night, sitting in his robe.

11. THE DIVERS WERE EXPERT COLLEGE DIVERS.

Director Alan Metter asked the divers to "do their worst" to play the Grand Lakes diving team.

12. DANNY ELFMAN WAS THE COMPOSER.

Danny Elfman and his band, Oingo Boingo, were in the movie playing "Dead Man's Party." "It was just a quick thing. I can’t even remember if it was one or two days," Elfman tried to recall. "It was funny because Robert Downey Jr. was sitting there at a mock mixing board to mix the band and we were essentially lip synching the tune."

13. IT WAS DEDICATED TO ESTELLE ENDLER.

The "For ESTELLE Thanks For So Much" message that appears before the end credits was dedicated to Rodney's manager, and Back to School's executive producer, Estelle Endler, who died during filming.

14. EVERYONE SHOULD HAVE PAID MORE ATTENTION IN LAW CLASS, BECAUSE THERE WERE A LOT OF LAWSUITS.

A husband-and-wife screenwriting team claimed they wrote the basic plot of the movie in their screenplay Second Season, which they submitted to Orion Pictures in 1979. Alan Metter sued Orion for not paying him all he said he was due. Dangerfield later counter-sued for suing without reasonable cause. Casting director Caro Jones sued the producers of Back to School and said she did not receive full pay or the proper screen credit.

15. RODNEY MIGHT NEVER HAVE GOTTEN RESPECT, BUT KURT VONNEGUT DID.

In 2002, Kurt Vonnegut told Indianapolis Monthly that he was a fan of the film, and remembered all of the lines about him. "'Hey, Vonnegut, can you read lips? F**k you!' I loved it. And it earned me more respect from my druggist and my dry cleaner here in New York than anything I’d ever done."

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Colleen Hayes, NBC
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10 Forking Facts About The Good Place
Colleen Hayes, NBC
Colleen Hayes, NBC

On September 19, 2016, NBC started airing the comedy The Good Place, an unusual sitcom about dead people who have been sent to the heaven-like The Good Place. Kristen Bell stars as Eleanor, who should be in The Bad Place (hell) but mistakenly got sent to the former. Michael (Ted Danson) is the architect of The Good Place, and his job is to pit (and torture) some of the members against one other, including the namedropping Tahani (Jameela Jamil), the at-first silent monk Jianyu, who’s later revealed to be a dimwitted DJ named Jason (Manny Jacinto), the indecisive ethics professor Chidi (William Jackson Harper), and the Siri-esque Janet (D’Arcy Carden).

[Spoiler alert!] The season one finale dropped a bombshell on the audience—Eleanor and company had been living in The Bad Place all this time. Season two showed the characters grappling with the situation and trying to become better people so that they can eventually end up in the real Good Place. Showrunner Michael Schur—who co-created Parks and Recreationtold The Hollywood Reporter the show isn’t about one religion’s interpretation of the afterlife; he said it’s about ethics. “It is very flatly stated that this is not any one religion,” he said. “Spiritual and ethical is how I thought of it.” Academics Todd May and Pamela Hieronymi consult on the show, like on “The Trolley Problem” episode.

As you await the arrival of season three later this year, here are 10 forking facts about the enlightened sitcom.

1. MICHAEL SCHUR USED REAL-LIFE “ANNOYING BEHAVIOR” TO CREATE THE PREMISE.

In an interview with Marketplace, Schur said after Parks and Recreaction finished he found himself driving around L.A. and observing “a lot of annoying behavior, as you do.” He saw people rudely cutting others off in traffic and people littering. Disgusted, he created a game he’d play with himself, based on points. “Like if anyone was keeping score—‘What you did right there, sir, cutting me off in traffic, you just lost eight points,’” Schur said. “And I started thinking about a world where actions have actual point values that can be measured and analyzed and broken down, and that led me to the afterlife. And I thought what if it’s a game and the people with high scores get into the good place and people with the lowest scores get into the bad place.”

2. LOST AND THE LEFTOVERS INSPIRED THE SHOW.

Schur admitted The Leftovers impressed him so much that he coerced his agent to set up a meeting for him with Damon Lindelof, one of the creators of Leftovers and Lost. Over breakfast, Schur asked Lindelof if his pitch for The Good Place was anything good. “Damon Lindelof saying, ‘This is something’ is the reason that show exists,” Schur told Vulture. “So thank him, if you like it.”

Schur told Lindelof about the season one twist, and Lindelof helped Schur with the scenarios. “I needed a person who is conversant in the language of science fiction or genre writing, which I am not, to say to me, ‘Here are some things that are gonna happen that are dangerous. Here’s what’s gonna happen, here’s how to avoid it.’ So that was a huge part of how I operated going forward.” Schur paid homage to Lindelof to the point that the show is littered with Easter eggs, including a photo labeled October 14, 1972—October 14th is the date of the departure in The Leftovers.

3. BECAUSE A 16-YEAR-OLD NAILED THE AUDITION, D’ARCY CARDEN DIDN’T THINK SHE’D GET THE ROLE.

Ted Danson and D'Arcy Carden in 'The Good Place'
Colleen Hayes, NBC

D'Arcy Carden, a member of sketch comedy group the Upright Citizens Brigade, had wanted to work for Schur. So when she got the email for the audition, she prepared. She didn’t think she’d get the part, though, and had even considered quitting acting. She was intimidated to audition in front of Schur and executive-producer Drew Goddard. “But for some reason, the second I walked in, they were calm and smiling and laughing and it felt very comfortable,” Carden told GQ. “It felt too comfortable, because I was expecting, I don’t know, snobby a**hole Hollywood dudes? But they were very cool. I walked out feeling, ‘Sh*t, that was actually the best.’”

A 16-year-old boy also auditioned for the part of Janet. “So they really didn’t know what they wanted,” Carden said. “A 16-year-old boy! Who, by the way, is a genius. When I saw him, I remember texting a friend who had done a movie with him and I was like, ‘I’m auditioning after him. Why am I even here? He’s of course going to get it.’” But Carden got cast as Janet, a role she said is “shocking to me that it was so difficult” to play, because Carden doesn’t have emotions or much to react to.

4. SCHUR NAMED MICHAEL AFTER AN ARCHANGEL.

When Schur wrote the pilot he didn’t know what to name Ted Danson’s character, so he wrote in “Ted.” However, while taking a tour of Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, he discovered the archangel Michael, “the angel who weighs people’s souls and decides whether their souls are good or bad,” Schur told Vulture. “I was like, ‘What’s the name of that archangel?’ And the tour guide said, ‘That’s archangel Michael.’ And I was like, ‘Well, that’s the answer.’ The answer is that he’s named Michael because in the world of the afterlife that makes perfect sense.” Schur said people commented on how the character is also his name. “Immediately, everybody was like, ‘Oh this is an interesting meta-commentary on the creative process because the main character has the same name as the guy who created the show,’” Schur said. At first he thought it was a silly assumption but later realized “maybe they’re right.”

5. MANNY JACINTO BELIEVES HIS CHARACTER SUBVERTS ASIAN TV STEREOTYPES.

Vulture asked Manny Jacinto if he thought “Jason subverts stereotypes” and Jacinto said he thought so. “I think when they were coming up with Jason/Jianyu, they were trying to figure out something different and one of the things that popped up was that you don’t really see a lot of dumb Asian guys on mainstream television,” he said. “He’s usually intelligent or the model minority. I’m not saying playing Jason is pioneering, but it’s so great for me to do because it’s not a stereotype.” Jacinto liked the fact his characters weren’t just the IT guy. “And I’ve had my fair share of those, so I guess you just have to go through the ranks before you get to be Jason Mendoza.”

6. KRISTEN BELL NOW USES ETHICS WHEN DEBATING WITH PEOPLE.

Kristen Bell in 'The Good Place'
Colleen Hayes, NBC

“The subject matter is ethics, all the things we need to fix,” Bell told the Los Angeles Times. “Earth’s current bad mood—it’s all in this show.” She explained she takes lessons taught in The Good Place and adapts them in her conversations. “Everyone is debating something nowadays, and now, I can actually say at a dinner party: ‘Well, I disagree with that because, you know in moral particularism, cited by [British philosopher] Jonathan Dancy’—like, I actually have a sound argument as to why I believe certain things.”

7. TED DANSON IS "THE BIGGEST CHILD" OF ALL ON THE SET.

Manny Jacinto told Vulture an on-set story of a time Danson ate Swedish Fish in an unconventional manner. “I don’t know if this was a party trick or if it just came to him on the spot, but he was able to eat the Swedish Fish through his mouth, take a piece of it, and then snort it through his nose like a booger,” Jacinto said. “Witnessing that moment right there was like, ‘Oh my goodness, if anything, Ted Danson is Jason Mendoza. He’s just the biggest child out of all of us.’ I just remember that, and I don’t think I’ll ever forget that moment, Ted Danson taking a booger out of his nose.”

8. IT TOOK A WHILE FOR JAMEELA JAMIL TO WARM TO TAHANI.

Jameela Jamil, William Jackson Harper, Kristen Bell, and Manny Jacinto in 'The Good Place'
Colleen Hayes, NBC

Jamil—a TV host in England who hadn’t acted much before she landed The Good Place—told Vulture she didn’t think Tahani deserved to be in The Bad Place, but instead maybe “a Passive Aggressive Narcissistic Place.” She described Tahani as “a nightmare. I could never be friends with someone like Tahani, but that makes her all the more fun to try and love. I’ve grown to love her over season two. I couldn’t stand her in season one—I love playing her, but couldn’t stand her. But in season two, I’m warming to her, and that’s the power of Mike and the writers.”

9. WRITER/PRODUCER MEGAN AMRAM CREATED SEVERAL PAGES OF PUNS FOR AN EPISODE.

In the season two episode “Dance Dance Resolution,” which aired in September 2017, Michael tried to reboot The Bad Place hundreds of times, so restaurant names kept changing. The pun-loving Amram conceived restaurants like From Schmear to Eternity, Biscotti Pippen, Sushi and the Banshees, and Hot Dog on a Stick on a Stick. Schur told Vulture the script contained six to seven pages of puns. “Partially she was doing it to lean into her stereotype as a person who loves puns,” he said. “But also, it was just straight-up impressive.” On Twitter, Amram shared her abridged list of eatery puns, including Miso-Gyny and Polenta to Go Around.

10. DANSON FELT “GUILTY” BECAUSE HE KNEW ABOUT THE TWIST.

From the beginning of the series, the only actors who knew about the season one twist were Danson and Bell. Danson explained to Entertainment Weekly that when he told his friends the plot of the show—“it’s about the afterlife and I play a middle management person there, and someone gets in there on a clerical error and everything goes nutty”—he could see their eyes glaze over with boredom. “And I could just see that flicker in their eyes and it pissed me off, so I immediately told them the twist ending and they were totally impressed,” he said. “But to tell you the truth, I was wracked with guilt, but luckily the people I told, I called them and said, ‘Please, dear God, [don’t tell anyone],’ but all of my friends are so self-obsessed that they’d probably forgotten already what I had told them.”

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Matthias Clamer, FX Networks
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10 Winning Facts About The League
Matthias Clamer, FX Networks
Matthias Clamer, FX Networks

On October 29, 2009, FX premiered a semi-improvised show about six Chicago suburb-based friends in a fantasy football league. Husband-and-wife team Jeff and Jackie Schaffer originally pitched the idea to HBO, and they ordered a pilot. But the catch was the Schaffers had to wait at least a year to develop the show. They didn’t want to wait a year, so they took the idea to FX.

Jeff Schaffer worked as a writer and executive producer on Curb Your Enthusiasm and Seinfeld, so he wanted to create “Curb’s younger, rowdier cousin.” For each episode, he and Jackie created a loose outline and then the actors filled in the dialogue through improvisation. The Schaffers cast actors from the independent film world (Mark Duplass as Pete Eckhart, and Duplass’s real-life wife Katie Aselton as Jenny MacArthur); comedians Steve Rannazzisi (Kevin MacArthur, married to Jenny), Paul Scheer (Dr. Andre Nowzick), and Nick Kroll (Rodney Ruxin); and a French-Canadian musician (Jon Lajoie as Taco MacArthur, Steve’s brother).

Over the years several celebrities made cameos, including Jeff Goldblum, Brie Larson, and Seth Rogen. Sports figures like Deion Sanders and quarterback Jay Cutler played themselves. Every football season, the winner of the Shiva Bowl received a trophy called the Shiva—replete with a photo of a girl named Shivakamini Somakandarkram (Janina Gavankar), a woman Kevin lost his virginity to in high school—and a worst-player-in-the-league trophy named the Sacko. After seven seasons, the Schaffers decided to end the show; the final episode aired December 9, 2015.

“We wanted to finish the show with people going: Wait, why are you ending? And I think seven seasons felt right,” he told ESPN. “Like we’ve been on longer than World War I. We’ve been on longer than World War II. We’ve been on longer than the Civil War. Hell, we’ve been on longer than Ken Burns’ The Civil War. And that thing was endless.” Here are 10 winning facts about The League.

1. THE IDEA FOR THE SHOW WAS BORN IN THE FRENCH ALPS.

The Schaffers spent Christmas Eve skiing in the French Alps, and Jeff was in the middle of managing his fantasy football leagues. “This is 2005, pre-Skype, pre-smartphone,” Jeff told ESPN. “So I keep telling Jackie that this French food is making my stomach go a little haywire and I need to go to the bathroom. But I don’t go to the bathroom. Instead, I walk out the hall and into a snowdrift to call, at great expense to myself, back to the United States to see how I’m doing in my league. I just had to know.” Jackie walked in on him and surprisingly wasn’t too mad. “Here was this man, my darling husband, standing in the snow and screaming on the phone,” she said. “It was ridiculous ... but also entertaining to watch.” They agreed a show about obsessive men in a fantasy football league would make a good show.

2. IF IT WEREN'T FOR NICK KROLL, PAUL SCHEER MIGHT NOT HAVE AUDITIONED.

Because he didn’t know enough about fantasy football, Paul Scheer didn’t even want to audition for the show. “And so to opt out of not embarrassing myself, I said, ‘I won't do it. I’m not auditioning,’” he told ESPN. “It’s not like they offered me the show, but I thought it was not the show for me.” Eventually, Nick Kroll called him and told him to audition, saying the show wasn’t just about fantasy football. “He told me about what the show was like, and I called up the casting director, Jeanne [McCarthy], to see if it was too late ... It’s crazy to think that if I'd been left to my own devices, and I didn’t know Nick Kroll, I would never have auditioned for it.”

3. THE WOMAN ON THE SHIVA TROPHY WAS A REAL PERSON.

Kroll told The Daily Beast the origin story of the woman on the Shiva trophy. He said she was an actress “who got called in a random casting, and they took her picture and we just started using it throughout.” One night the cast was doing stand-up in L.A., and a woman walked in and said she was Shiva. “She’s a doctoral student at UCLA and she came and hung out, and we bought her drinks,” Kroll said. “And the craziest part was she brought a friend of hers who’s a big fan of the show, and he didn’t realize that his avatar for his fantasy football team was the Shiva, and did not realize that she was her.”

4. MR. MCGIBBLETS SCARED ELLIE IN REAL LIFE.

On the show, Kevin and Jenny’s daughter Ellie (Alina Foley, daughter of The Kids in the Hall's Dave Foley) is attached to an Elmo-like stuffed animal named Mr. McGibblets. During the fourth episode of the first season, Steve has Taco dress up in a Mr. McGibblets costume to try and frighten Ellie into not liking the toy anymore. However, Ellie loves the life-size toy, but Foley didn’t have the same reaction. “Honestly, it was very scary for me,” Foley told ESPN. “I was very confused as to what was happening. And Jon had to take off the mask a few times just to prove to me that he wasn’t actually a weirdo purple monster thing. Because I had a major fear of Barney at that time, so Mr. McGibblets was definitely, like, bringing out my phobia.”

5. THE PRODUCERS MADE THE FOOTBALL AS ACCURATE AS POSSIBLE.

Because the show centers around real-life football players and teams, the showrunners had to anticipate possible changes. “Every time we shot people’s computers, we see the roster and all that stuff,” Jeff Schaffer said during a Paley Center for Media talk. "We also shot a green screen so we can go into change it if we really need to, if someone’s injured or out. We’re trying hard to make it accurate.”

6. JASON MANTZOUKAS HAD AN ALLERGIC REACTION EGGS.

The second season starts in Vegas, where the group is assembling their draft picks. The episode was filmed on location. Mantzoukas ate a yogurt from Starbucks only to find out it had eggs in it. Apparently allergic, he fell sick and had to be rushed to the hospital. “It was a disaster,” Mantzoukas told ESPN. “I was supposed to shoot that whole day, but I wound up in the hospital for like seven hours. And then when I came back I was all pumped full of crazy drugs and had to shoot all of my scenes in like 90 minutes. Which was crazy. It was all the nightclub stuff in the episode, like when I say, ‘Chicks dig it when dudes kiss and bump stuff.” And I have no recollection of any of it.”

7. DIRTY RANDY WAS DESCRIBED AS “THE GROSSEST AND WORST PERSON EVER.”

In season 2, Mantzoukas joined the cast as Ruxin’s brother-in-law, Rafi, who has a friend named Dirty Randy. In season three, Seth Rogen made his first of six appearances as Randy. “I remember being told that there was a character that was always alluded to as the grossest and worst person ever, so it seemed pretty natural that I play it,” Rogen told ESPN. Instead of one of them playing the straight man and the other playing the crazier person, Rogen said their dynamic “turned it more into a game of idiotic one-upmanship. Instead of arguing, we were always building on each other's jokes, making them bigger and more elaborate and gross.”

8. THE SHOW CREATED ITS OWN VOCABULARY.

One of the glorious things about The League is how the characters created their own slang words. In addition to the Shiva Bowl, the series is full of words and phrases that are unique to the series and its characters. Frittata is one example, which is a term Kroll used to bypass FX’s Standards and Practices when making reference to a less-than-intelligent person. “That was never a word before this show, but now I hear other people saying it," Scheer told Esquire. "It encompasses a lot of different words and a lot of different insults.”

9. “THE BIRTHDAY SONG” EXISTED BEFORE THE SHOW.

In the pilot, the friends are gathered at Ellie’s birthday party. Taco sings a sexually explicit birthday song about how she came to be. Turns out, the song existed when the Schaffers cast Jon Lajoie to play Taco. “We met Jon Lajoie and told him about this character,” Jackie told ESPN. “And we told him that in the pilot Taco will sing an inappropriate song about how the child was conceived. And Jon Lajoie was like, ‘I’ve already written this song!’” He licensed the song to them. Currently, the clip has more than 4.6 million views on YouTube.

10. JEALOUSLY INSPIRED TED'S FATE.

During the fourth season, league member Ted (Adam Brody) wins the Shiva, and he finally makes an appearance in the first episode of the fifth season. He’s a friend from high school who the guys have always been jealous of. The Schaffers revealed to Slate why Jackie gave the character such a harsh disease. “I was literally making a chopped salad for dinner as our baby is asleep, and I said, ‘Let me just throw something at you: Ted has AIDS,’” Jackie said. “Because what is more insane that a bunch of guys trying to figure out if somehow the AIDS has made him more successful and more focused. Is it the drugs? Because that’s what our characters are like. They’re completely obsessive.”

“I do think that a lot of shows wouldn’t touch this, and we’re very happy to,” Jeff Schaffer said. “We’re not looking to shock, we’re just looking for what’s funny, but this is a real thing that you don’t see a lot of stories about.”

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