This isn't done all the time. Sometimes obscure references are subtle, so that anyone who doesn't get them can just enjoy the show. Doing it once in a while can give the audience a bit of curiosity about the reference, but not slow down the show with them wondering about every single one.
This trope can be done by the lampshading character talking to other characters, or by the character Breaking the Fourth Wall.
See also "Not Making This Up" Disclaimer (when someone might not even think the reference is real).
Contrast Small Reference Pools.
Not to be confused with characters not getting a commonly known thing (unless it's meant to invert this).
- The Reference Overdosed Nyaruko: Crawling with Love! pulls this on occasion, with Mahiro admonishing Nyarko for dropping references that nobody could possibly get.
- Pop Team Epic:
- One strip has Popuko cheering Pipimi on, by playing the taiko drums and shouting "Bettora!" (in a reference to an ad for fish cakes). Pipimi tells her to stop making references to obscure regional TV ads. In the official English translation, she simply points out it's "Way too obscure a refeence."
- In the anime's "Let's Pop Together" song, one of the comments scrolling by during the video is "what are they even parodying?". For the record, the music video for "Let's Groove" is not as well known in Japan as it is overseas.
- The April Fools' Day special references this again by having Popuko and Pipimi briefly sing about how nobody gets the references they make if they go too hard — in the middle of a parody of "I Want to Love You Tender" by Armi da Jany.
- Dennis Miller constantly uses obscure pop culture references in his stand-up routine. He occasionally mentions that he's doing so and that many of the people watching won't get them.
- Patton Oswalt also did this after making an H. P. Lovecraft reference.
- In Dressed To Kill, Eddie Izzard called out his audience for not knowing who Lafayette was. Of course, Eddie will also do this for stuff that really isn't obscure: after mentioning a few places that aren't America in front of an American audience, to minimal effect, he pauses and asks, "Do you know there's other countries?" note
- In his HBO special Complaints And Grievances, George Carlin mentioned pussy farts as something people don't talk about in public. He opened his next HBO special by saying the very same thing, adding "apparently some people don't know what a pussy fart is, because I got some inquiries." He then explained the concept.
- In the Total Drama story, Legacy, Trent identifies Utopia, Limited — one of the least known of the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas — only as "some old musical" because he didn't remember the name and couldn't be bothered to look it up. The narrative expressly notes that the song from Utopia, Limited that became the basis for Trent's tribute song is quite obscure.
- Yu-Gi-Oh! The Abridged Series did a scene which referenced Rickroll, The Incredible Hulk and The Legend of Zelda. Tea said she was leaving due to getting annoyed by all the obscure references.
- Marik Plays: Slender: The Arrival includes a reference to Richard Linklater's Before Sunset. Marik immediately points out it's the most cultured and obscure joke he's ever made. "Drink that in, 'cause it's never going to happen again. From now on, it's just poop and fart jokes."
- hbi2k calls some of his jokes "2 percenters" based on how much he thinks his viewers get them.
- In Dragon Ball Z Abridged, after they'd been talking about Raditz, Nappa asks, "But then you have to worry about the Fraggles." Vegeta answers "Goddammit, Nappa, no one is going to get that!"
Tien: As a matter of fact, I did.
- In Episode 11 of Teen Titans The Abridged Series, Robin wondered who declared it obscure reference day.
- In episode 13 of Code MENT, Lelouch calls himself "a regular Dick Tracy." Suzaku says back, "Five people left on the planet know who that is and I'm not one of them!"
- In I'm a Marvel... and I'm a DC, "Ways to Screw Up the Avengers Movie", it's mentioned that the villain is "not Loki, but Sean Connery and his weather machine". Deadpool appears to say "Obscure reference for the win!"
- One of the two main villains of Angel of the Bat: Times of Heresy uses the title, "Odmience." Odmience are demons in Slavic Mythology, but are so rarely referenced that Batman himself claims the name tells them almost nothing about his MO.
- In The LEGO Batman Movie, the Joker forms a supervillain team including characters from entirely different franchises. He introduces his new Legion of Doom to Gotham, but when he gets to the Daleks:
The Joker: British robots! (Ask your nerd friends.)
- What makes it funnier is that they're not robots, they're aliens that control robot bodies, so the Joker doesn't even know that much about them.
- Before that, after introducing his original Legion of Doom to the pilot of a plane he just hijacked (who accuses him of making some of them up), he states that they're all realnote , and adds, "probably worth a Google".
- Moana: In his Villain Song "Shiny", Tamatoa sings to Maui, "You can't expect a demigod to beat a decapod (Look it up)!"
- Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. When two goons appear to accost Harry, one of them introduces himself and his colleague as "Ike, Mike, and Mustard"note . Harry doesn't get it, and even the other goon outright agrees that it's pretty damn obscure, and the two start arguing over it.
- Inverted in The Avengers (2012). Almost all of the modern well-known cultural references, such as Stephen Hawking and Pilates, are lost on Steve Rogers, who had been frozen since World War II. When Nick Fury makes a reference to The Wizard of Oz, he's delighted to be able to point out that he actually got it. In Captain America: The Winter Soldier it's revealed he has a list of pop cultural things he has to experience, like Star Wars (or Sherlock in some versions), and Thai food — and he managed to watch WarGames.
- Bakemonogatari: This is a common gag in the characters' Seinfeldian Conversations.
Nadeko: "I watched it on DVD."Araragi: "Ah, I see...we live in such a world of convenenience. But still, that's a difficult reference to get. You could have at least compared it to a flash step."Araragi: "That's persistence of vision!"
- In Tsubasa Cat, Nadeko compares Kanbaru's running speed to the takkyudo technique from Bikkuriman. Araragi is baffled that someone her age knows what that is, claiming that even he only knows it because he's obligated to as the "designated quipper" of the group.
- In The Dresden Files novel Skin Game, Goodman Grey can't believe Harry prefaces their underworld heist with a quote from The Black Hole, which he says no one even remembers (Harry, on the other hand, thinks it's a classic). It also doubles as Foreshadowing via Author Appeal—none of the real villains ever get Harry's references.
- Played with in an episode of The Middleman, where Middleman '69 (who has been in cryonic stasis for the past four decades) makes a Star Trek reference and notes the unlikeliness of Wendy getting it.
- 30 Rock:
- Liz tells her writers not to use Krang from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on sketches. "No one knows who Krang is! It would be a waste of time to talk about Krang on television! No more Krang!"
- Another instance, this time when Liz is having a fake argument with Dot Com her pretend-boyfriend to make her new roommate move out (It Makes Sense in Context):
Dot Com: I feel ANGRY! Like Warren Moon must have felt back in 1995!
Liz: As I have told you many times in our relationship, no one gets that reference.
- In the House episode "Perils of Paranoia", House's team doubts that their Patient of the Week was a victim of chlorine gas poisoning. House, however, says that there still might be a toxin involved because "Arceus created a universe with three states of matter and 300 solid or liquid poisons that could cause his symptoms." Puzzled, Taub asks, "Arceus?" House casually replies, "Look it up."
- In Father Ted, Ted makes a reference to the Jeff Bridges movie Fearless. When Dougal remarks that he hasn't seen it, Ted replies, "Not a lot of people have, Dougal, so it's probably a bad reference."
- Mystery Science Theater 3000. The episode Gamera vs. Guiron has what is usually acknowledged as the most obscure joke in the entire show's history. Tom Servo makes a reference to head writer Mike Nelson's recent break-up with his girlfriend (and the fact that she took his Casio when she left):
[a girl runs away from the camera]
Tom Servo: Look out, Mike, she's got your keyboard!
Tom Servo: Oh, it's obscure.
- In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, "New Moon Rising", Buffy threatens to "pull a William Burroughs" on MacNamaranote , earning a lot of blank looks until Xander speculates she intends to "bore him to death with free verse".
Buffy: Was I the only one awake in English that day? I'll kill him.
- In one episode of Whose Line Is It Anyway?, a game of Scenes from a Hat had the cast doing redneck versions of Shakespeare plays. Wayne Brady enters and, in a thick hillbilly accent, recites a line from Two Gentlemen of Verona. When the audience fails to respond, he admonishes them with "Read a book, people!"
- A line about a character's Native American heritage in the Angie Tribeca episode Commissioner Bigfish leads to a cutaway parodying the "Crying Indian" PSA from the early 1970s. Cue Geils' remarking, "Wow, that's a really old reference."
- During an episode of Conan, Patton Oswalt is called out for continuously making obscure, geeky movie references.
Patton: You guys saw the end of Halloween III, right? Put your masks on...wow, that was for four people.
Conan: Your references are getting narrower and narrower. As we get closer to me telling people to change the channel, I don't think I'm gonna have to tell them.
- The Late Show with Stephen Colbert: Colbert is something of a nerd, especially when it comes to The Lord of the Rings, and he will sometimes make references and jokes he doesn't expect his mainstream audience to get. For example, when discussing the fact that you can name your Tesla, he states he named his "Vingilótë", and adds, "If you understood that, I'm sorry you also had a hard time in high school."
- The Darkside Detective: A Fumble in the Dark: After a brief incident involving a nightstand with a woman's screaming face in one of the drawer knobs, which comes out of nowhere and contributes nothing to the plot, Dooley remarks that anybody in the audience who doesn't know what it's a reference tonote is going to be very confused.
- Mass Effect 3: If James talks Shepard into buying some fellow marines a round, the soldiers start a toast based on Robert Burns (that was also used in the videogame Return to Zork). Shepard's half is based on a Renegade Interrupt — hit it, and James admits he wasn't sure they'd know the line.
- Tsumugi in Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony is a Cosplay Otaku Girl who frequently makes references to anime and video games that always flies over the others' heads. When she references Fate/stay night on one occasion, Kokichi retorts "Wow... Another reference we don't get. Heh, you must be a hardcore loser."
- Homestar Runner frequently makes jokes about obscure Halloween costumes, either during the annual Halloween cartoon or during the fan costume commentaries:
- In "Halloween Fairstival", Strong Bad comments on Bubs dressing as one of The Three Most Important People in the World from Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, saying, "Your approach this year was to ensure that absolutely no one recognized your costume?"
- In "Fan Costumes '09", Strong Bad fails to recognize one fan costume, and Strong Sad explains that it's based on a sketchbook drawing of a humanized version of Gunhaver of Cheat Commandos.
Strong Bad: That is A) amazing, B) depressing, and C) amazingly depressing.
- In "Fan Costumes 2016", Strong Bad finds a fan costume so obscure ("Anonymous Contributor" from the Strong Bad Email "rock opera") he complains about having to look it up on the Homestar Runner wiki.
- In "Mr. Poofers Must Die", Strong Sad starts dropping the names of songs and albums by Dinosaur Jr. in reference to Marzipan's J. Mascis costume, and Strong Bad complains that no one's going to get it. Meanwhile, Strong Mad dresses up as Kano from the 2000 AD feature Bad Company, and is distraught when no one can guess who he's supposed to be. Even the caption box describing his costume isn't exactly sure who he's dressed up as.
Strong Mad: FUNNY JOKE ABOUT MY COSTUME?
Strong Bad: No, big fella. There are no jokes about your costume. Because no one knows who it is.
Strong Mad: BUT JUDGE DREDD!
Strong Bad: Yeah, but you didn't dress up as Judge Dredd, did you?
Strong Mad: BUT...PROXIMITY TO JUDGE DREDD!
Strong Bad: I'm sorry. It's not enough. You're just blue Frankenstein. Better luck next year.
Strong Mad: (disappointed) D'AWWW...
- "The Homestar Runner Enters the Spooky Woods" is full of this.
- The King of Town dresses as Charlie from The Mighty Boosh, but admits he only went with the costume when he fell asleep trying to chew eight packs of bubble gum at once.
- Strong Bad guesses that Strong Sad (dressed as the Loughton Candidate from Cremaster 4) is "the love-child of Dobby the House-Elf and Ron Weasley", and Strong Sad replies that his costume is way more pretentious than any of his Harry Potter fanfics.
- Coach Z dresses as The Fresh Prince's Mom from the intro to The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and admits to be running out of mid-90s rap references for costume ideas. "I'm grawrsping at straws here!"
- Marzipan stops Homestar from misidentifying her costume (Maetel from Galaxy Express 999) to admit that she got the costume idea from Strong Sad, who saw the movie once when he was ten.
- The Order of the Stick:
- Not as old nor as obscure, but the Sudden Videogame Moment featuring Centipede is lampshaded.
Chief: Man, that brought back memories.
Rookie: I don't get it.
Chief: Before your time, kid. Before your time.
- One comic ends with gladiators being torn apart by a giant version of Ollie from Kukla, Fran and Ollie. The comic's title is "Ask Your Grandparents".
Roy: (looking at the cutaway panel) ...Wow, that's, uh...that's a bit of a dated reference, don't you think?
Geoff: Tell you what, you get back to me after your first grandchild is born and we'll see how daisy-fresh YOUR pop culture jokes are, okay?
Ian: I told you we should of gone with one of those "Pokey-Men" the kids are always talking about.
- Start of Darkness has the Oracle calling Eugene "Ghost Dad". Eugene, still being alive, is confused. The Oracle replies it'll be funnier later — and far funnier than the film was.
- Not as old nor as obscure, but the Sudden Videogame Moment featuring Centipede is lampshaded.
- The commentary to Irregular Webcomic! strip #617:
Yes, to understand this joke you need to know relativity and image processing theory. No, I am unrepentant.
- In this strip of Unreality Sarah explicitly states that most general audiences wouldn't understand a reference to an obscure 80's Mexican comic book called Karmatron Y Los Transformables.
- This happens occasionally in White Dark Life. For instance: "Did you get your "all female cats are promiscuous nymphomaniacs" rhetoric from Exterminatus Now?"
- An xkcd comic depicts a future where even Star Wars has been forgotten to the point where a kid admits he doesn't understand the one quote he picked up from his grandmother ("May the Force be with you").
- The Dumbing of Age strip for May 15, 2019 is titled "Storge", in reference to the fact that the joke of the day is that Carla actually likes her parents. The Alt Text imagines "everyone googling to figure out what the strip title has to do with anything".
- "Nero fiddled while Rome burned" gets referenced in Schlock Mercenary, and it turns out that (maybe) only two people on the entire ship have an idea of what it means: the AI that set the joke up (and was originally geared towards entertainment), and a cook with a college degree in 'Terran Memetics'.
TAGON: You said she'd get the joke.
ENNESBY: She's smart. She really should have.
LIZ: Not really. "Nero fiddling while Rome burns" only plays with historians and memeticists these days.
ENNESBY: Oh, good. I'm not the only one who thought it was funny.
LIZ: Yeeeaah... I'm pretty sure you are.
- In Dino Attack RPG, after Rockford grumbled about Dino Attack Team's code being blatant Star Wars references, Mur just remarked that he was glad it wasn't a much more obscure Firefly reference instead, much to Rockford's confusion.
- Stuart Ashen has a recurring segment in his reviews, "Quincy: a caterpillar that sings obscure Beatles songs".
- The Spoony Experiment:
- The Spoony One occasionally succumbs to this:
Spoony: Actually my first thought was that he kinda looks like Locklear from Betrayal at Krondor... Oh God... I just made a Betrayal at Krondor reference in Two-Thousand-and fucking-Eleven... I don't get out much...
- He also feels the need to explain to his younger viewers what things like floppy disks and BBS were.
- The Spoony One occasionally succumbs to this:
- Psycomedia does this, often via the use of Venn diagram. Often involving the Star Wars Expanded Universe in one of the host's case.
- Linkara of Atop the Fourth Wall does this once in a while.
Linkara: My thanks to the three people who get that joke.
- In his "review" of The Dark Knight, MikeJ compares the flyover establishing shots in the film to the Disney attraction Soarin' Over California.
MikeJ: It's like Soarin' Over Gotham! (beat) Little uh, theme park humour for you there so uh, thanks to those three people out there who got that joke. (whispers) You're my favourites!"
- They Made Me Watch This thanked the 1% of his viewers who got one of his references.
- Guitar Masterx 7's Master Chief series pulls one in the retard daycare episode, racial stereotype and all.
Ali Baba: Nobody would be getting a Captain Planet reference!
- Diamanda Hagan's crossover review of "Zombeak" with JewWario has her make a comparison between the goth characters in the movie splitting up with Tarja Turunen leaving the band Nightwish. JewWario sums it up in one line:
JewWario: You lost me about five obscure references ago.
- Zero Punctuation:
- It describes the evil alien race that wants to invade Earth in Dark Void as "about two parts Combine, to two parts Covenant, to one part Snatcher (now there's an obscure reference; I'll probably bring up Flight of the Amazon Queen next)."
- Also, in his "Everybody's Gone to the Rapture" review, he says: "It's like The Archers meets Quatermass and the Pit. Blimey, no one's going to get THAT reference"!
- At one point in his review of Fatal Frame V: Maiden of Black Water he mangles the name into "Fatal Frame: Pirates of Dark Water." ("Who remembers that!?")
- In Todd in the Shadows and Film Brain's review of Alvin and the Chipmunks The Squeakquel, one of the scenes they show has Theodore being into Meerkat Manor. Matthew hopes they won't get a cameo of Aleksandr from the Compare the Meerkat commercials. Todd asks what the hell was that, and Matthew says the UK viewers will get the joke.
- In The Nostalgia Critic's review of The Swan Princess, he says that he hopes a scene of an arrow being shot at Prince Derek will lead to a Saint Sebastian homage. He then looks down on the audience for not knowing what that is and tells them not to Google it so they can pretend they do.
- Fat, French and Fabulous: After a joke about the failure of Enron, "Maybe if we started making jokes that have punchlines that come after 1997, we'll start doing better."
- Animaniacs did a short where the Warner brothers (and the Warner sister) met Rasputin. They did a pun involving "Anastasia" getting mixed up with "anesthesia", and Dot said "Obscure Joke. Ask your parents." (This was years before that Don Bluth film came out.)
- Family Guy mentioned Benjamin Disraeli in the episode "One If by Clam, Two If by Sea" to set up a Cutaway Gag. It cut to Disraeli working at his desk, when he suddenly glares at the camera and snaps "You don't even know who I am!"
- The Batman: The Brave and the Bold Grand Finale had a character from The DCU appear for the first time.
Bat-Mite: Ambush Bug? You're a pretty obscure hero, even for this show.
- The Simpsons has done this a few times.
- "In the Name of the Grandfather":
- "They Saved Lisa's Brain":
Lisa: (reading Comic Book Guy's shirt) "C:/DOS C:/DOS/RUN RUN/DOS/RUN". (laughs) Oh, only one person in a million would find that funny.
Frink: Yes, we call that the "Dennis Miller Ratio".
- "We're On The Road To D'ohwhere":
Chief Wiggum: Save it, Ma Peddle.
Lou: Ma Peddle?
Chief Wiggum: It's a reference to Ma Kettle, a movie character from the 1940s.
Lou: Chief, if you have to explain it, it's not very good.
- Robot Chicken:
- A sketch revolving around movie plot twists spoofed the ending to Sleepaway Camp. At the end of the skit, the director of Sleepaway Camp suddenly shows up, ecstatic that someone remembered his movie and decided to spoof it.
- One sketch parodying 80s cartoon M.A.S.K. has Miles Mayhem show up. One of the characters then has to remind one of the others that Miles Mayhem was the Big Bad of the series.
- On an episode of The Tick, a hand puppet compared The Tick to Achilles in his tent. When no one, even his ventriloquist, got it he said "The Illiad?" (looks around) "Homer?" (still no reaction) "READ A BOOK!!"
- A joke from Rocky and Bullwinkle:
- Archer: Archer is prone to making very obscure references that sail over the heads of everyone else, prompting him to call out the reference. These help show his Hidden Depths in spite of being a Psychopathic Manchild.
- In season 1, when Archer is training Cyril to be a field agent, he gives him a pistol (Chekhov 9mm) and a poison pen, both of which, he warns, go off for "basically no reason". Later, when a prostitute is accidentally killed by the pen, Cyril bemoans that he figured he have to watch out for the Chekhov's Gun. Archer dismisses this as "a facile argument" and Woodhouse chimes in that it's "also woefully esoteric".
- In another episode, Archer makes a reference to Bartleby, The Scrivener, and is annoyed when no-one else gets it.
- Parodied in Rick and Morty, where Rick makes a reference to "Redgren Grumbholdt" that his grandchildren laugh at. He then tells them that he just made it up and mocks them for not thinking for themselves.
- Phineas and Ferb: In "Sidetracked", while pummeling Dr. Doofenshmirtz, Canadian secret agent Lyla Lolliberry shouts "This is for William Hull and the War of 1812! Look it up, kids!"
- In the episode "Phineas and Ferb's Quantum Boogaloo", a version of Doofenshmirtz in a future where he finally gets to take over the entire tri-state area sings "Everyone else is the proletariat / And baby, I'm the bourgeoise!" Then he adds "Look it up, Joe!"