But wait! There’s Balthazar!

(Definitely a Mary, Queen of Scots Not Dead Yet posting, signaling that I’m still here, after several deeply awful days of medical afflictions — an experience I’ll record in a separate posting, rather than get in the way of an egregious pun for today’s celebration of the Three Magi.)

To get the joke in this Epiphany texty circulating on Facebook (hat tip to Evan Randall Smith) you have to supply background from two (unrelated) domains of cultural knowledge — (A) the Christian mythic tale of the Three Wise Men and the gifts they bring to the baby Jesus; and (B) the pop-cultural splendor of the Boardwalk product pitch famously used by tv adman Billy Mays:

(#1) To understand the thing at all, you need to know (A); but if you don’t know (B), there’s no joke, just a flat-footed recital of the Wise Men’s gifts

But if you recall, say, Billy Mays flogging cleaning products on tv, using the classic pitchman’s routine to salt the offer —

(#2) Billy Mays, about to make an offer even better

— then you’re got a majorly egregious pun, more / myrhh. A decidedly imperfect pun (a half-rhyme parallel to core / cur, with phonetically pretty distant vocalic nuclei). So: groan.

Background: texties. From my 8/7/18 posting “Two texties, in two tonalities”:

Texties are cartoon-like compositions in which a pictorial component is entirely absent or merely decorative, not essential to the point of the composition — in effect, words-only cartoons; they can be intended as humor, like gag cartoons, or as serious commentary, like political cartoons.

Background: the Magi. I’ll assume you’re familiar with the basic outline of the Epiphany story, starring the three Wise Men and their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrhh. The mythology around them assigns them to their origins and to their gifts in various ways in different traditions, but Western painting — see my 1/9/22 posting “The Burne-Jones Adoration” — has largely settled on

— Melchior, an old white man, bearing gold

— Caspar, a young white man, bearing frankincense

— Balthazar, a young black man, bearing myrhh

Meanwhile, the texty in #1 has these characteristics distributed in some other fashion, but the punch line seems to be being delivered by Melchior, bearing a box of frankincense (assuming that the kings are in the order gold – frankincense – myrhh from left to right).

Background: the boardwalk product pitch. From my 6/30/09 posting “Pitchmen”:

from the obituary for Billy Mays:

a beloved and parodied pitchman who became a pop-culture figure through his commercials for cleaning products like Orange Glo, OxiClean and Kaboom

The Atlantic City “boardwalk product pitch” plays a big role in the development of the television infomercial, from its beginnings with Ed Valenti and his business partner (Ginsu knives, “But wait! There’s more!”, and “Call now!”, among other things) through Ronco’s endlessly inventive Ron Popeil (the Chop-O-Matic, among other things), Billy Mays, and Offer “Vince” Shlomi (aka Vince Offer, peddling ShamWow! absorbent towels and the Slap Chop food chopper; as I was typing up this posting, he came by on television wielding the Slap Chop and talking a mile a minute, punchily).

“But wait! There’s more!” From TV Tropes on the formula:

(When reading this entry, please instruct the voice in your head to use a tone of rapid, breathless excitement to properly convey the importance and amazement involved, a la Billy Mays.)

A common phrase often heard in infomercials that resemble a high pressure sales pitch! After demonstrating why the product is the best thing ever, how it lets people who don’t know how to use a strainer to drain pasta without burning themselves and does your taxes for you! A price is set! But wait! There’s more! In addition to the product, you can get more of them, in a handy travel size, along with this other product that helps you sort your drawers and store food, and costs far more than a couple of mason jars or some of those Glad disposable tupperware things!

All this for only 69.99, or four equal payments of 49.99! Operators Are Standing By! But only if you act now! Don’t think, it’s a great deal! Buy now! Offer Void In Nebraska.

(Your mental voice may calm down now, if it wants to.)

A stock phrase uttered by infomercial hosts after telling you all about the great product they’re hawking. They proceed to sweeten the deal by adding a few more things, or refills, or another product that’s not selling so well on its own, or “double your order” when that’s how much they intended to sell for the price in the first place. But only if you act now! Now! Now!

I confess to a fondness for boardwalk product pitches as an art form, and to Billy Mays and his boundless enthusiasm for cleaning products as an especially enjoyable practictioner of the craft.


2 Responses to “But wait! There’s Balthazar!”

  1. Mark Mandel Says:

    What I think of in connection with “But wait, there’s more!” is Count von Count on Sesame Street and his song “Bats in my Belfry”:

    Vun bat hanging in the steeple.
    Vun more flies in through the door.
    That makes two bats in my belfry.
    Vonderful! But vait, there’s more.

    Two bats hanging in the steeple.
    Vun more flies in through the door.
    That makes three bats in my belfry.
    Vonderful! But vait, there’s more.

    Three bats …

    Et cetera, et cetera, ad nauseam. As he goes on and on, the other inhabitants of Sesame Street lose their initial encouraging enthusiasm, and by the sixth or seventh verse they’re shouting at him to stop.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      Yes, lovely. But the number of uses of, quotations of, and
      takeoffs on the formula is mind-boggling. Among other things, I see (by searching in my own files) that it is a feature of my expository style. Where it serves as a playful allusion to the product pitches.

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