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Source Of 'The Simpsons' Savage Wit Revealed At Booth Library Talk

Published: February 10, 2019 at 08:00 am

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The Simpsons, the long-running animated television series that routinely skewers sacred cows wherever they are found, has a core cast of five family members who live in Springfield, a mythical American town which is a microcosm for the family’s exploits.

The antics of father Homer, mother Marge, son Bart, daughter Lisa, and baby Maggie for the past 30 years have consistently held up a mirror to human foibles, pointedly satirizing society to a degree possible on broadcast television when the characters are drawn figures, rather than live actors.

Mike Reiss, a comedy writer and author who has written Simpsons episodes since the show’s debut, visited Booth Library on January 26 to speak about his work on The Simpsons, the series that first aired on FOX-TV in 1989. Mr Reiss, with Mathew Klickstein, wrote the 2018 book Springfield Confidential: Jokes, Secrets, and Outright Lies From A Lifetime Writing For ‘The Simpsons.’ The program had been postponed one weekend, following an ice storm on January 20, the day Mr Reiss was originally scheduled to visit Newtown.

The normally staid atmosphere at Booth Library lightened up, with the about 35 people attending the talk repeatedly breaking into chuckles as Mr Reiss’s quick-fire delivery lampooned a range of subjects, such as those often parodied on The Simpsons.

Mr Reiss, who grew up in Bristol and now lives in Manhattan, noted that The Simpsons has on its staff seven writers who live in Connecticut, more writers than from any other single place.

“I am a comedy writer, not a comedian,” he said. In counterpoint, video clips of several Simpsons episodes were projected onto a large screen, some of which deftly compared the behavior of political parties with that of ominous animated space monsters.

“I write comedy because I can’t help myself,” Mr Reiss said of his instinct to find humor in situations. “I am now in my thirtieth year writing for The Simpsons,” he added. The collaboratively written show employs 23 writers who draw their comic ideas from the movies, from television, and from their own lives, he said.

The program has been in television syndication for more than 25 years, reaching a broad audience. Mr Reiss said The Simpsons started as a series of brief cartoons on The Tracey Ullman Show and then became an animated series in its own right, moving from “a small cult following to an international sensation.” The program has even become subject matter in some college courses, he added.

Mr Reiss said he spent four years working on The Simpsons Movie, a 2007 animated film based on the television series. Mr Reiss explained it takes between nine and twelve months to create a single episode of The Simpsons.

The writer quipped that the Venezuelan government cancelled the airing of Simpsons episodes, as “it highlighted bad American values” but then opted to replace the program with episodes of Baywatch, an ostensibly more wholesome series.

Before working on The Simpsons, Mr Reiss was a writer for talk show host Johnny Carson and for comedian Garry Shandling as well as for the television series Alf.

Following his talk, Mr Reiss fielded questions from the audience. Asked about the eternal youth of Simpsons characters, he responded, “Cartoon characters don’t age. It’s the best thing about cartoons.”

“Mickey Mouse is 90 years old. Can you imagine Mickey Mouse with a walker?” he asked.

 

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