Christopher Guest has been in charge of some of the funniest movies of the last 50 years, and a big part of what makes them so great is how quotable they are. Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, A Mighty Wind, For Your Consideration, and Mascots all have lines that I bounce back and forth with my friends all the time, not to mention one movie he didn’t direct that might have the most of all, This is Spinal Tap.
“Kids don’t like eating at school, but if they have a Remains of the Day lunchbox they’re a lot happier.” – Waiting For Guffman
Waiting For Guffman is filled with completely absurd scenes, but maybe the most ridiculous is when Christopher Guest’s character, Corky St. Clair is walking through the collection of bizarre Broadway show-inspired toys, like the iconic Remains of the Day lunchbox.
“He went for her like she’s made outta ham.” – Best In Show
Any fan of Best in Show will tell you that the late legend Fred Willard almost steals the whole movie. The first time I saw the movie, I literally fell off my couch laughing at his lines like when the Weimaraner jumps on the judge.
“I used to be able to name every nut that there was.” – Harlan Pepper
In addition to breeding show-winning Bloodhounds, Guest’s character Harlan Pepper in Best In Show just loves naming all the nuts. Pine nuts, peanuts, Macadamia nuts…
“You can’t really dust for vomit.” – This Is Spinal Tap
If you’re a drummer, you may see This Is Spinal Tap as a tragedy, not a comedy, because all of the band’s drummers die. Poor “Stumpy” Joe died by choking on someone else’s vomit, and we’ll never know whose.
“People say, ‘You must have been the class clown.’ And I say, No, I wasn’t. But I sat next to the class clown, and I studied him.” – Waiting For Guffman
Eugene Levy has had an amazing career that has lasted decades. Of the many things he’ll be remembered for are his kind of nerdy, nebbish characters in a slew of Guest-led films, like the dentist-turned-performer Dr. Allan Pearl in Waiting For Guffman.
“I’ll always have a place at the Dairy Queen.” – Waiting For Guffman
Parker Posey plays so many different kinds of characters in the Guest movies that it’s hard to pick a favorite, but for me, it has to be Dairy Queen employee Libby Mae Brown in Waiting For Guffman. Her deadpan deliveries of lines about life in the small town of Blaine, MO, are pitch perfect, as is the actor’s love for Guest’s character Corky.
“We met at Starbucks. Not at the same Starbucks but we saw each other at different Starbucks across the street from each other.” – Best In Show
It’s a joke that seems ridiculous on its face. Could there really be two Starbucks this close to each other, as Parker Posey’s character Meg Swain claims? I used to live near Astor Place in New York City and there were, indeed, two Starbucks across the street from each other and yes, this joke came up a lot.
“We’re gonna be in Philadelphia for 48 hours, how many tea services can you do?” – Best In Show
Michael McKean has been an artistic partner of Christopher Guest almost since the beginning, and in Best In Show, he can hardly hide his dismay at his partner’s insistence of packing a week’s worth of kimonos for a weekend in Philadelphia for the dog show.
“The numbers all go to eleven” – This Is Spinal Tap
There is nothing more rock n’ roll than amplifiers that go to eleven. There is no more iconic line in any movie than Nigel Tufnel (Guest) explaining why his amps all go there. Because it’s one louder. The line is so iconic, that even the legendary Eddie Van Halen reportedly ordered custom amps that went to eleven.
“We consider ourselves bi-costal if you consider the Mississippi River one of the coasts.” – Waiting For Guffman
For someone like me who grew up in the midwest where the largest body of water around was the mighty Mississippi, this line from Fred Willard sure hit home. One of my homes, I guess. The other is a coast, of course.
“We could talk or not talk forever and still find things to not talk about.” – Best In Show
There is no doubt that Jennifer Coolidge was born to play the parts she plays in the Guest movies, especially Sherri Ann Cabot. Sherri Ann is the seeming prototype for Coolidge’s Emmy Award-winning role of Tanya on White Lotus and the interview with her sitting next to her aging husband is simply the best part of the movie.
“It’s like, how much more black could this be? And the answer is none. None more black.” – This Is Spinal Tap
In 1991, Metallica released their self-titled album Metallica with a basically all-black cover. Surely they understood the jokes that would be made after Spinal Tap’s Nigel Tufnel (Guest) was seen commenting on the rushed cover for their album Smell The Glove. Right?
“Man, I tell you something, if you live in my neighborhood and you’re dressed like that, you’d better be a hotel doorman.” – Best In Show
Buck Laughlin (Fred Willard) says some amazingly silly things as he attempts to understand the nuances of the Mayflower Dog Show, but none more ridiculous than comparing Scott’s (John Michael Higgens) outfit for the final event of the evening. Buck isn’t wrong, the outfit does make me want to ask Scott to grab my suitcase.
“It’s such a fine line between stupid, and… clever” – This Is Spinal Tap
It might be the most self-aware quote on this list. As Nigel and David discuss their album cover, they strike a moment that can sum up all these movies, “It’s such a fine line between stupid, and… clever.” In every case here, it’s the latter.
“Yeah. I wouldn’t worry about it though, it’s not a big college town.” – This is Spinal Tap
Ian Faith (Tony Hendra) is the hapless manager for the hapless band Spinal Tap and in one of his most ridiculous moments, he informs the band that their Boston gig has been canceled, but not to worry because it’s “not a big college town.”
“There was abuse in my family, but it was mostly musical in nature.” – A Mighty Wind
John Michael Higgins is one of the more unsung heroes of many Christopher Guest films, and he delivers one his best lines in an interview with his character Terry Bohner when he explains that his father would lock him in the closet and force him to listen to Percy Faith records.
“You know, if they didn’t have the model train, they wouldn’t have gotten the idea for the big trains.” – A Mighty Wind
If Amber Cole in A Mighty Wind wasn’t played by Jennifer Coolidge, the character would be too over-the-top the believe, but that’s right where the White Lotus star thrives.
“Someone’s killed their children and made them into cookies, and I want to go see that.” – For Your Consideration
Whitney Taylor Brown is yet another over-the-top yet brilliant character created by Jennifer Coolidge in For Your Consideration. When confronted with promotional material for the movie in production, “Home for Purim” her only thought goes seemingly to a children’s fairy tale nightmare.
“I believe virtually everything I read, and I think that is what makes me more of a selective human than someone who doesn’t believe anything.” – This Is Spinal Tap
While no one could have predicted how much information and disinformation we would face today, This Is Spinal Tap found a way to make something even more true all these years later. Don’t believe everything you read. Except this, of course.
“I thought maybe they shrunk you down or something.” – Mascots
Okay, even I can admit that Mascots fell a little short. Still, there are some laugh-out-loud moments, like the absurd conversation between Fred Willard’s incredibly stupid and insensitive character and a little person who plays the worm mascot.
“If there’s an empty space, just fill it with a line, that’s what I like to do. Even if it’s from another show.” – Waiting For Guffman
Fred Willard’s character, Ron Albertson, has a solution to any problem he faces on stage. There is no doubt he’s headed for stardom once a theater critic discovers him. I hope.
“I’d hate to go on a date with Judge Edie Franklin and have her judge me, that’d be no fun.” – Best In Show
There is a lot of Fred Willard on this list, but it’s all for good reason. Judging by the merits, like the judges at the dog show, he’s going to take best in show every time. Just brilliant.
“Dozens of people spontaneously combust each year. It’s just not really widely reported.” – This Is Spinal Tap
Another drummer, another tragic death. It’s just an endless cycle for Spinal Tap.
“You can’t throw the baby out with the bathwater because then all you have is a wet, critically injured baby.” – For Your Consideration
Lane Iverson (McKean) is For Your Consideration has some advice, and it’s not for the reasons you might understand it to be. He explains it quite clearly, but if you’re still as confused as I am, it might end up being something you tell a lot of people, like I do. It’s 100% true.
“And to think that in some countries these dogs are eaten.” – Best In Show
While it’s not as offensive as some of Fred Willard’s classics, talking about cultures that might eat dogs is at best insensitive. That’s why the bumbling character works so well, he’s too stupid to know he’s offensive.
“Oh, no! That’s the good card!” – Best In Show
You can’t help but feel terrible for Gerry and Cookie Fleck, played by frequent collaborators Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara, when they arrive at the hotel in Philadelphia for the Mayflower Dog Show and their credit card is declined. While Cookie insists that it’s “the good card” Gerry is resigned that there isn’t a good card anymore.
“We both love soup.” – Best In Show
It’s almost a throwaway line while Jennifer Coolidge’s character is being interviewed, but it makes me die laughing every time, as she lists off the things she and her much older husband have in common. Like peas. And soup.
“Right out of the Navy, fresh off a destroyer with nothing by my dance belt and tube of chapstick.” – Waiting For Guffman
Corky St. Clair in Waiting for Guffman is just full of surprises. Like, who knew he was in the Navy before he went to New York to hit it big on the stage? I certainly hope he was a better sailor than a star, but somehow that seems unlikely.
Larry Miller is another star who usually has more minor roles in the Guest films, but he manages to steal every scene he’s in. His role as the mayor of Blaine, MO, in Waiting for Guffman is no exception and he just kills it whenever he’s on screen, selling the finer points of Blaine.
“Well, I’m sure I’d feel much worse if I weren’t under such heavy sedation.” – This Is Spinal Tap
In the tumultuous world of rock n’ roll, life can be hard. Thankfully for David St. Hubbins, played by SNL alum Micheal McKean, there is relief of a pharmaceutical kind.
“The internet, that’s the one with email, right?” – For Your Consideration
Another line that comes out a lot with my friends comes from John Michael Higgins in For Your Consideration as he struggles to promote the film. It’s easy to understand why, as even in 2006 he was struggling with the new-fangled internet.
“It’s part of a trilogy, a musical trilogy I’m working on in D minor which is the saddest of all keys, I find. People weep instantly when they hear it, and I don’t know why.” – This Is Spinal Tap
D minor may be the saddest of all the keys, according to Nigel Tufnel, but nothing Christopher Guest makes is anywhere close to that key. It’s all like a C major, bright and triumphant. They are also unforgettable and endlessly quotable.
Mascots may have been the final mockumentary from this crew, who knows? Hopefully, even with the loss of Fred Willard, Guest will be inspired to get the gang together one more time.
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