The Dancing Itos with "Marcia Clark," center

From its opening statements in January to its October verdict, the O.J. Simpson trial dominated 1995. And while millions of people were transfixed on the actual day-to-day workings of the trial—watching it unfold live on TV like a twisted real-life soap opera—the trial’s ephemeral tentacles trickled into all sorts of other entertainment, from two different TV movies to the pages of Mad magazine. And as The A.V. Club demonstrates in the examples below, while the trial’s contribution to mass media may have been mighty, some of the most interesting pop culture responses to the legal proceedings were pretty damn punk.

1. The Tonight Show finds big ratings with its Dancing Itos

Perhaps nothing encapsulates the media’s O.J. Simpson-themed mania better than The Tonight Show With Jay Leno’s Dancing Itos, who, apropos of basically nothing, would perform choreographed dances that were both absolutely ridiculous and loosely Simpson themed, in that they’d occasionally feature other dancers dressed up other key players from the trial. As stupid as the concept seems now, it was a hit at the time, and Leno rode both the Dancing Itos and the Simpson trial to big ratings. Interestingly enough, a 2014 study found that Simpson was the celebrity that drew the most barbs from the talk show host, followed not so closely by the late Michael Jackson. Bill Clinton drew about six times more jabs, but that should go without saying. [Marah Eakin]


2. Broadcast TV milks tragedy with not one but two tawdry TV movies

Broadcast television milked the O.J. Simpson trial for everything it was worth, with incessant news coverage that reportedly outstripped that of the Oklahoma City bombing. The barrage of Simpson-related content made TV movies-of-the-week seem like an obvious extension, given the networks were already in the habit of converting the latest lurid true crime or celebrity fall from grace into tawdry Saturday night filler. But in a rare show of restraint, NBC, CBS, and ABC resisted the temptation to be first out of the gate with a pre-verdict dramatization of the Simpson trial. CBS reportedly fast-tracked a project and was pitted against Fox in a bidding war for leading man Michael Dorn—Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Lieutenant Worf—but ultimately abandoned the project amid concerns such a project would flout basic standards of taste. Only Fox, which was solidifying its reputation as the post-taste television network, went ahead with its film with Bobby Hosea in the lead role. It aired a week after opening statements began. Not to be totally outdone, CBS pressed forward in 2000 with its own miniseries, American Tragedy, which focused on the trial itself and starred Ving Rhames as Johnnie Cochran. [Joshua Alston]


3. Faye Resnick writes two books in two years then poses for Playboy

One of Nicole Brown Simpson’s best friends, Faye Resnick played a key role in the O.J. trial. She had checked into rehab just days before Brown Simpson’s murder, leading to defense speculation that maybe her dealings with drugs had something to do with the case. Resnick refuted all that in not one but two books published around the trial. First, there was Nicole Brown Simpson: The Private Diary Of A Life Interrupted, published in 1994, which New York Magazine hailed for its trashiness and which received a first printing of about 750,000 copies. Then, in 1996, after the trial, Resnick published Shattered: In The Eye Of The Storm, which used New Age themes to talk about domestic abuse and how Resnick viewed the trial as a related observer. Before her fame could die out, the former model also took it all off for a spread in Playboy, in which the magazine touted her 34C bust and “beguiling figure… among the players in the O.J. Simpson trial.” [Marah Eakin]


4. The Simpsons parodies the O.J. media circus as it’s happening

“Homer Badman,” the ninth episode of the sixth season of The Simpsons, was probably in some stage of development before June of 1994, when O.J. Simpson was arrested for the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman. But five months was more than enough time for Matt Groening’s team to work several references to the resulting media circus into the episode, in which Homer becomes public enemy number one after being falsely accused of sexually harassing a teenage babysitter. Most blatant of the nods are scenes of a helicopter capturing round-the-clock footage of what Kent Brockman calls “the Simpson estate.” Glimpses of a TV movie starring Dennis Franz as an outrageously villainized Homer could also have been inspired by the then-forthcoming The O.J. Simpson Story, whose director adopted the Alan Smithee pseudonym. Mostly, however, “Homer Badman” just offers a hilariously accurate depiction of the kind of shady infotainment “news reporting” and talk-show oversaturation that hit peak absurdity with the O.J. case. Coming from Fox, such satire felt more than a little ironic; the network would hit a new low in O.J. exploitation the following May, when it encouraged viewers to watch its original programming instead of Simpson’s civil trial using a shameless jingle: “Fox is hot hot hot. O.J. is not not not.” [A.A. Dowd]


5. Kato Kaelin gets his 15 minutes of fame

Kato Kaelin is the poster boy for fame (or infamy) by association, most notorious as the type of freeloader who would crash on your couch and never, ever leave. He happened to be staying at a guesthouse on the Simpson estate the night of the murder. An aspiring actor who had appeared in a few low-budget beach and slasher movies, Kaelin’s trial appearances as a witness brought him more fame than his film roles ever did. He was a witness for the prosecution over four days, and testified that he could not account for Simpson’s whereabouts at the time of the murders. But his sarcastic delivery led Marcia Clark to declare him a “hostile witness.” Kaelin’s inability to come down on either side of the O.J. debate lost him friends on both sides: O.J. Simpson’s son changed the name of the family dog from Kato to Satchmo. After the trial, Kaelin sued a tabloid for libel and won after a headline proclaimed, “Cops think Kato did it!” In 1995, his celebrity snagged him guest-star spots on comedy shows like MadTV and Mr. Show, as well as on Howard Stern’s radio show. His subsequent stand-up act featured the following joke: “Knock, knock.” “Who’s there?” “Kato.” “Kato who?” “Believe me, in six months, that’s my biggest fear.” But that joke turned out to be prophetic, as a 2004 reality show in which Kaelin would do what he was most famous for—crashing at people’s houses—failed to materialize. [Gwen Ihnat]


6. Spy magazine calls trial the“most absurd event in the history of America”

Spy was called “the most influential magazine of the 1980s” by Dave Eggers, and “a piece of garbage” by its frequent target Donald Trump. The magazine, which dawned in the 1980s, was a bit of an anomaly: hilarious satire highlighted by hard-hitting news reporting. No single event brought Spy’s two sides together like the O.J. trial, which the magazine un-ironically called “The Most Absurd Event In The History Of America.” In 1995, O.J. Simpson was featured on the cover of the annual Spy 100, as well as a cover depicting him as George Washington with the headline, “By George, He’s Guilty!” That particular issue, released about a month after the verdict, went on to list 1,001 facts (not an exaggeration) that pointed to O.J.’s guilt. Sure, some were weak (Johnnie Cochran doesn’t really have a middle name; Kato Kaelin’s daughter is named Tiffany) but others were compelling, like number 15: “More than a dozen DNA tests link O.J. to the crime scene.” According to Spy, there was no way in hell O.J. should have been found innocent, making it all the more unreal that he was. The disheartened magazine lasted only a few more years after the trial; fortunately, the Spy archive is now available on Google Books, where readers can re-live Spy’s outrage all over again. [Gwen Ihnat]


7. Dana Carvey adds the O.J. lawyers to his arsenal of impressions

Mixed in with reprisals of George Bush, Johnny Carson, and “Choppin’ Broccoli,” and riffs on Hugh Grant’s blowjob, Dana Carvey devoted a solid 10 minutes of his 1995 HBO special, Critic’s Choice, to the equally timeless comedy of the O.J. Simpson trial. Carvey wasn’t exactly known for controversy—and saying he believed that Simpson was guilty wasn’t exactly controversial, especially before the verdict was actually rendered. But other than joking about the implausibility of a vast conspiracy against Simpson, which Carvey imagined reaching all the way from Bill Clinton to James Bond, and referring to racist L.A. detective Mark “De-Führer-man,” Carvey mostly stuck safely to his wheelhouse of silly impressions. It’s perhaps the first—and last—time someone ever worked an impersonation of prosecutor Chris Darden into their act. [Sean O’Neal]


8. Mad magazine mints Pogs, takes on Police Squad

Nothing has ever been sacred to the writing staff of Mad, and a double homicide was no exception. The Usual Gang Of Idiots regularly skewered the mania surrounding the O.J. trial, ranging from a December 1994 cover that placed Alfred E. Neuman’s face as a key piece of evidence, suggestions for how networks could incorporate Simpson coverage into regular programming, a list of memorabilia to collect afterwards, a do-it-yourself guide to writing a newspaper story about the trial, Martha Stewart’s tips for spicing the proceedings up, and even a set of Pogs featuring the key players and props. In April 1996, following the trial’s conclusion, Mad’s legendary film/TV satirist Dick DeBartolo wrapped things up by bringing in a similarly chaotic example of law enforcement: “Police Squad: O.J. On The Rocks,” a spoof of a spoof that saw Simpson teaming up with Police Squad!’s Frank Drebin to locate the real killer. The guilty party? None other than Simpson’s character in the Naked Gun films, Nordberg, who perfectly matched the description of the most likely perpetrator. [Les Chappell]


9. Harry Shearer becomes entangled with another Simpson

Comedian Harry Shearer was already well versed in farces involving people named “Simpson,” so it made a certain sense for Shearer to cover O.J.’s civil trial for Slate, which he did over the course of 36 reports he filed from 1996 to 1997. But he also got into it in a (only slightly) less journalistic way on his long-running public radio program, Le Show, where he’d engage in skits about the Simpson case that riffed loosely on its principals and took them to goofy, mostly imaginary places. Those skits—including bits like “F. Lee Bailey Buys Orange Juice,” The Lance Ito Christmas Special, and “John Tesh And Kaito’s Peter And The Wolf”—were collected on two CD compilations, O.J. On Trial: The Early Years and O.J. On Trial: That Endless Summer, which are probably of interest solely to Shearer completists and people who find references to 20-year-old courtroom minutiae amusing. Meanwhile, Shearer has remained one of the most constant, unlikeliest commentators on O.J., arguably as devoted to him as he is to any other Simpson. [Sean O’Neal]

10. The Chris Rock Show stumbles onto prescience

“O.J. Simpson did it” jokes may have been low-hanging fruit by February 1997, but that didn’t stop Chris Rock from slipping one into the very first sketch of the first episode of his HBO talk show. Set in the future, the bit has Rock sharing memorabilia from his show’s run, including a crack pipe left behind by Marion Barry and an instructional VHS that Simpson stopped by to plug, I Didn’t Kill My Wife! But If I DID, Here’s How I’d Do It. It’s not a particularly inventive joke, but it’s noteworthy for its prescience: Nine years later Simpson stirred outrage by actually publishing a work called If I Did It. Clearly the Simpson trial was on Rock’s mind at the time. He returned to the subject in depth later that episode with the show’s very first guest, Johnnie Cochran. [Evan Rytlewski]


11. The Cat NOT In The Hat! A Parody By Dr. Juice gets its own day in court

In 1995, writer Alan Katz and illustrator Chris Wrinn attempted to publish The Cat NOT In The Hat! A Parody By Dr. Juice, a Seussian play on the O.J. trial that promised, “From Brentwood to the Los Angeles County Courthouse to Marcia Clark and the Dream Team, The Cat NOT In The Hat tells the whole story in rhyming verse and sketches as witty as Theodore [sic] Geisel’s best.” And while that sounds as delightful as any other Dr. Seuss-style parody or double homicide trial, the book soon landed itself in the courtroom, where Penguin Books was forced to answer to Dr. Seuss Enterprises on its claims of copyright infringement. The judgment: Rhyming stanzas such as “One Knife? / Two Knife? / Red Knife / Dead Wife” merely mimicked Seuss’ original works while simply retelling Simpson’s tale, and therefore offered nothing new or transformative (certainly in the way of comedy). Ironically, the decision to prevent the book from being published—and its appearance in its own landmark trial on what constitutes parody—gave The Cat NOT In The Hat a greater shelf life than it ever would have had otherwise. [Sean O’Neal]


12. Howard Stern milks the O.J. trial for shock value

The early ’90s were a good time to be Howard Stern. Flush with “shock jock” confidence, Stern relished the opportunity to comment on the O.J. trial, frequently using it—and the concept of white women dating black men in general—as a punchline on his show. The approximate taste level of said commentary is reflected in a trio of song parodies that aired on the show. The first is set to the tune of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” and openly calls for Simpson to be lynched. (“String him up, string him up, string him up, string him up,” the background singers croon.) But that’s tame compared to the second song, sung by Stern character Baba Booey to the tune of “Old MacDonald.” Let’s just say it repeatedly uses a contraction for the word “raccoon” that is not acceptable to say. Compared to that, “Why Did I Knife Her?,” set to the tune of Tom Jones’ “Delilah,” is wholesome family fun. [Katie Rife]


13. Jackie Chiles becomes a fixture on Seinfeld

In the fall of 1995, Seinfeld introduced Jackie Chiles (Phil Morris)—a fast-talking, showboating lawyer clearly modeled on O.J. Simpson defense team member Johnnie Cochran—in “The Maestro,” an episode that wound up airing just two days after Simpson’s acquittal. “The Maestro” doesn’t specifically riff on the O.J. case; it actually spoofs the real-life 1994 incident where a woman sued McDonald’s over serving her too-hot coffee, with Chiles taking Kramer’s similar case, then despairing when his client agrees to a free-coffee settlement before any cash enters into the deal. It was the second Chiles episode (“The Caddy,” from January 1996) that made the Cochran/Chiles parallels even more clear by putting Chiles in a courtroom, asking Elaine’s nemesis Sue Ellen Mischke try on a bra, instead of a glove; when it “doesn’t fit” (crucially, over her clothes), she is exonerated from her role in a traffic accident. Unfortunately for Chiles, he’s the prosecution in this case, rather than the defense. The Cochran parody felt unusually affectionate because of a clever runner in the Kramer/Chiles relationship: though Chiles would clearly take any number of ridiculous cases, they were often undermined not by their absurdity or his grandstanding, but by Kramer’s own impulsive bumbling. In “The Caddy,” for example, it’s Kramer who insists that Chiles ask Sue Ellen Mischke to try on the bra. It seems unlikely the Seinfeld team was working out any strong satirical ideas about the Simpson case, but that Kramer/Chiles dynamic nonetheless offers sly commentary on the way even a shamelessly theatrical attorney is at the mercy of an unpredictable or unstable client. It’s also impressive that the tabloid-friendly Simpson case was able to influence the most popular and distinctive sitcoms of its time: Chiles became a fixture on the last three seasons of Seinfeld, boosting the show’s diversity while also calling attention to its general whiteness, given that a Cochran spoof could so easily become the show’s most prominent black character. [Jesse Hassenger]


14. Wesley Willis calls O.J. Simpson “a fucking asshole”

Wesley Willis found fodder for his inimitable songs in current events (and bands/people he liked), and the lead-off track of his 1995 self-titled album begins with a song about the story dominating the news cycle at the time. “O.J. Simpson murdered Nicole Simpson and Ronald Goldman,” Willis states in his signature monotone. In typical Willis fashion, the verses state information, and the chorus is just the subject’s name repeated over and over again. But in the third verse, Willis unleashes, saying, “O.J. Simpson was a no good jerk / He’s a fucking asshole / He had no business killing his ex-wife Nicole and her friend Ronald Goldman.” Hard to argue with that. [Kyle Ryan]

15. Saturday Night Live stuns with its post-verdict cold opening


The O.J. Simpson trial led to numerous memorable Saturday Night Live moments, but insofar as actual sketches go, the one that earned the biggest laugh by far arrived on October 7, 1995, kicking off the first SNL to air after the delivery of the “not guilty” verdict. Written by Jim Downey, the sketch initially looks to have a straightforward premise, with O.J. (portrayed by Tim Meadows) returning to NBC’s football coverage and delivering lines like, “You really went for the jugular,” while everyone interacting with him is visibly squirming. But it’s the conclusion of the sketch which proves to be—if you’ll pardon the expression—the real killer: As O.J. uses the Telestrator to discuss the Buffalo Bills’ performance with coach Marv Levy (Will Ferrell), you can hear the studio audience shift from gasps to laughter and applause as they realize that the on-screen notations made with the light pen are forming the words “I did it.” [Will Harris]

16. O.J. gets Norm Macdonald fired from “Weekend Update”

From 1994 to 1997, Norm Macdonald ruled the “Weekend Update” desk at Saturday Night Live, where he was called the best anchor since Chevy Chase by no less an authority than Chase himself. In the wake of the December 13, 1997 episode, Macdonald was relieved of his duties by order of NBC executive Don Ohlmeyer. Although Macdonald himself has indicated that his firing was mostly due to Ohlmeyer just not finding him funny in general, as he related during his instantly infamous appearance on The Late Show With David Letterman, rumors immediately began to circulate that Ohlmeyer had finally gotten sick and tired of Macdonald’s incessant jokes about O.J., with whom the executive had been friends for almost 30 years. Ohlmeyer denied that the Simpson-bashing had anything to do with his decision, but given SNL writer Jim Downey has acknowledged that “we did, like three solid years of, like, 60 shows of O.J. jokes in a row,” it’s hard to imagine that there was no correlation. [Will Harris]


17. A Tribe Called Quest and Tupac Shakur draw material from the trial’s rich font

In the last half-decade, Lil Wayne, Kendrick Lamar, Young Jeezy and (most notably) Kanye West have referenced elements of the O.J. Simpson trial, either directly (his “isotoners”) or figuratively (references to his murder charges). During and directly after the circus, however, a few musicians took the bait and cited it in their lyrics. In A Tribe Called Quest’s “The Hop,” Phife name-drops trial characters to illustrate his rapping prowess (“I work for mine, you, you’re freeloading like Kato Kaelin” and, “Watch me stab up the track as if my name was O.J. Simpson”), while Tupac Shakur’s “Picture Me Rollin’” is more literal: When he raps, “Free like O.J. all day” on 1996’s “Picture Me Rollin’” he actually is only a few months removed from jail. The varied approach to these lyrical references reinforced the complexity of the trial itself, and the flexible way it could be interpreted. But these lines also kickstarted O.J.’s status as an ideal hip-hop pop cultural reference: In the coming years, he’s considered a figurative hero for beating the charges, and also referenced as a killer. [Annie Zaleski]


18. Sicko tries (and fails) to use music to bust O.J. out of jail

It’s hard to imagine the three smartasses in Sicko were playing “The Juice Is Loose” straight, but there’s little indication that this pro-O.J. song from 1995’s Laugh While You Can Monkey Boy is a joke. The fantasy of busting an “obviously innocent” Simpson out of jail begins, “Do you read me / This is headquarters / And soon you’ll be free / We got commandos on the way / so just sit tight, O.J.” After commando-bearing choppers land on the roof of L.A. County jail, they “hand the Juice a gun / Stand back, boys / And watch THE MAN run.” The whole nation got to see a gun-toting Simpson do just that in his white Bronco. [Kyle Ryan]


19. South Park’s Johnnie Cochran unleashes the Chewbacca Defense

In the 1998 South Park episode “Chef Aid,” jolly crooner Chef accuses a record company of plagiarizing a song he wrote years ago, and the company responds by O.J.’s star defense attorney, Johnnie Cochran. The evidence favors Chef—he really did write the hit song “Stinky Britches”—but Cochran prevails by dazzling the jury with the “Chewbacca Defense.” For this litigative flourish, Cochran points out that Chewbacca, who is 8 feet tall, lives on Endor with Ewoks, who are 2 feet tall, and this does not make sense. (Chewbacca doesn’t actually live on Endor, but that only enhances the confusion.) Disoriented by Cochran’s absurdities, the jury decides in his client’s favor—although Chef emerges victorious later in the episode when Cochran switches sides and invokes Chewbacca-centric nonsense yet again. Airing three years after the original verdict, South Park’s send-up of Cochran’s closing arguments may not have been the timeliest O.J. satire, but it was among the most enduring. “Chewbacca Defense” has become shorthand for arguments that confuse an issue by introducing a slew of red herrings. It’s a cynical tribute to Cochran’s talent for reframing an argument even when the facts seemed to be against him. [John Teti]


20 O.J. Simpson enlists a soundalike for the I Want To Tell You audiobook

While his trial was still going on, O.J. Simpson released a book—and audiobook!—in which he claimed he’d answer the world’s questions. (It’s subtitled My Response To Your Letters, Your Messages, Your Questions.) Of course he didn’t answer any of the questions relevant to, y’know, the murder, but instead came up with feeble excuses about being railroaded while also communing only with letters from fans. He couldn’t even be bothered to record the whole audiobook himself; after a few minutes, he ducks out and leaves it to a soundalike—another weird wrinkle in this entirely weird moment in history. [Josh Modell]


21. The Walking Timebombs blends psych rock and soundbites for “Hey O.J.”

There was plenty of pointed commentary about the O.J. Simpson trial, and plenty that was ridiculous as well. This 7-inch single takes a little from both camps, blending psychedelic guitars—courtesy a member of the cult Texas band Pain Teens—and voices from news reports about the case. The A-side devolves into a swampy cover of “Hey Joe,” with details from the murders inserted; the flip features Dan Rather’s rolling commentary of the famous Ford Bronco chase. Each copy of the single is hand-numbered 32/1000, a reference to Juice’s jersey number. [Josh Modell]


22. Gilbert’s “100% Not Guilty” thinks “the dog saw it”

This two-song CD is the very definition of ephemera: It’s a thrift-store find from 1995 that doesn’t even mention O.J. Simpson by name, but its creator—the mononymous Gilbert—was clearly invested in the case. The vague lyrics (“He didn’t do it / You can’t prove it”) are delivered dispassionately, though recorded with a professional sheen that includes some serious studio-level sax playing. The indirect references to the case—both the title, which Simpson famously declared himself, and the line “the dog saw it,” referring to the bloody-pawed Akita that led neighbors to the grisly scene—would probably be lost on somebody not looking for O.J. references. But it’s simultaneously fun and sad to imagine Gilbert cooking up this song, recording it, and then releasing it—in two versions!—on CD, thinking maybe he’d end up with a worldwide hit. [Josh Modell]