This 'Kimmy Schmidt' Joke Goes Deep Into NYC History

Eric Liebowitz/Netflix

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is following in the footsteps of 30 Rock, making every episode so dense to the point where almost everything is either an obvious joke or a slightly more subtle reference. And while the very real Trump University gets a quick shoutout while Kimmy is looking for what college she wants to go to, Robert Moses College isn't real. The institution of higher learning that Kimmy ponders attending is, in fact, not real — if the crossed out "Whites Only" didn't tip you off, the hastily added "Everyone" should have cemented the fact that this was an artfully created joke, not a real college.

But at the heart of this short gag is a reference to a major piece of New York City history. Seriously, this is a brief, you-might-miss-it joke that could have a dissertation attached to it, because Robert Moses is actually a famous New York city planner, and if you've ever been stuck in traffic on one of the greater NYC area highways, you probably have him to thank. Over the course of his career, Moses helped design and implement some of the city's biggest infrastructure projects, and allegedly perpetuated some serious discrimination against people of color. According to The Decider, Moses (who died in 1981) is responsible for quite a bit of the city's stratification. Meghan O'Keefe writes:

"He tore middle class neighborhoods in Brooklyn and the Bronx asunder to make way for his elevated highways. [...] He targeted minority groups in the city, chasing them out of their middle class homes, and displacing them into ghettos [...] squeezed the MTA’s budget to fund more roads and bridges, leaving the subway system practically to rot, [...] purposely built the clearances on bridges low so that buses — which were the only form of transportation for many blacks and Latinos — couldn’t leave New York City for the parks he built on Long Island."

The heyday of Moses' career was the '20s to the '60s, but it wasn't until 1975 until Robert A. Caro's Pulitzer-winning biography, Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York, was published, which documented the extent of Moses' influence on the city's structure. According to the New York Sun, in the course of Robert Moses' career, he "built 13 bridges, 416 miles of parkways, 658 playgrounds, and 150,000 housing units, spending $150 billion in today’s dollars," without ever once holding an elected office. When the biography was published, New York City's biggest period of expansion was behind it, but the book serves to explain how Moses "developed his public authorities into a political machine that was virtually a fourth branch of government, one that could bring to their knees Governors and Mayors (from La Guardia to Lindsay) by mobilizing banks, contractors, labor unions, insurance firms, even the press and the Church, into an irresistible economic force."

But how does this connect to Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt? Well, first of all, it fits with the show's overall message about gentrification and the changing face of New York City. ("Coming Soon: 9 Banks!") It also serves to highlight Kimmy's desperation to find a school she can get into with her unconventional education, and it's the type of historical ephemera turned into pop culture reference that makes the Kimmy Schmidt style a worthy heir to 30 Rock and all other densely nerdy comedies that can back up even a simple gag with decades of history.

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