Did you know that I wrote a book on teaching with The Simpsons with my best friend? We’re so lucky that people at The Simpsons and Futurama like it–the book hasn’t sold so many copies, but it has enabled us to visit The Simpsons. Twice. In my book, that’s a win.
It’s true: as if our trip to Fox in January to hear an orchestral recording for the Season 22 episode “Flaming Moe” weren’t enough, in August, my co-author and best friend, Karma, her son Alexander, and I were invited to visit a voice recording for an upcoming episode, “The Spy Who Learned Me.” This trip was a birthday present for the three of us (all of our birthdays are within a week) and a graduation gift for Alexander, who is now a college freshman. We owe huge gratitude to music editor for The Simpsons Chris Ledesma, who put it all together for us. Nicest guy ever– you can read his blog about doing music for The Simpsons here.
In the car on the way to Fox from the hotel, I realized with terror that I had not put antiperspirant on that morning, and looked frantically for a drugstore. Unfortunately, L.A. isn’t like other cities, like Chicago and Tallahassee, where there are Walgreens and CVS stores on every block, so except for a Target that hadn’t opened yet, my only option was to stop at a convenience store. I purchased cucumber-scented Dove antiperspirant for $5. A bargain.
We met Chris and his wife Michelle near the Galaxy parking ramp. I was so excited to meet Michelle, who we would have met in January but she couldn’t come to the recording at the last minute because of a family emergency. But since then, we had communicated over Twitter and Facebook and I knew I’d love her. She writes a food blog and is a health and wellness coach. (I could learn a lot from her!)
And then we were there: in the booth, being introduced to producers, bumping into writers we had seen in January (Mike Price, Matt Warburton, Bill Odenkirk) and some we hadn’t met yet (John Frink). I teased Warburton that he had been wearing the same shirt when we met in January and he said, “I’m like Bart; I only have one shirt.”
We observed from the booth at the Marge Simpson Sound Stage as Dan Castellaneta performed not only the voices of Homer and Grampa but Burns’ lawyer and Santa’s Little Helper as well. We watched with glee as Nancy Cartwright conducted a conversation between Bart and Nelson. (She has to do this coughing thing to prep her voice to do Nelson and then drink a lot of water). We heard Pamela Hayden (Milhouse) and Tress MacNeille (Dolph) do multiple voices. We chatted with Nancy and Tress in the green room and were so impressed with how kind and genuinely interested they were in us and our book, especially Nancy who said that she was going to buy it. We talked about Weird Al with Tress (who is a longtime friend of Al’s and provided the voice of “Lucy” in his song “Ricky”) and I was so happy to be able to tell her in person how much I loved Animaniacs and especially the Warner sister, Dot. (Sadly, she said she doesn’t remember how to do Dot’s voice anymore, but she said positive things about working working on that show). No, there is not photographic evidence and I’ll tell you why: Because they were at work. They were kind enough to chat with us while they were taking quick breaks between scenes. They had not left their homes that morning knowing they were going to meet freaky fanatics, thus we didn’t put them in the position of being asked to be in photos. Of course, they did sign the cover page of the script for us. We didn’t have a chance to talk to Dan because he never got a break, but our friend Chris brought the sheet in for the actors to sign for us.
As a lover of the show, I’m not a giver of spoilers. Being there was a huge honor and I haven’t spilled anything about the episode except what’s already been published in Entertainment Weekly, and I won’t do that here, either. While we were watching everyone get set up, I kept looking for Hank Azaria (I have a crush). Mike Price, a writer I met in January who I have since kept in touch with via Facebook and Twitter, said, “Good day to be here! Bryan Cranston is coming!” (Lady Gaga was there exactly one week later). I did make Mike Price go into the hall with me for a photo because I’ve been having so much fun with him on Twitter that I really wanted a picture together. (Plus, he probably looks pretty much the same every day).
So, while not seeing Hank was a bummer (Yeardley Smith was also absent as she was working in New York, and Harry was also not there that day), seeing Bryan Cranston as Stradivarius Cain was quite the consolation. When he arrived, a producer announced that he was there but that he was “in makeup.” Dan quipped that “someone should tell him this is an animated show,” to many giggles. (Cranston was in makeup because he was filmed doing his lines for the DVD extras). Seeing Cranston looking healthy and with hair was heartening– Cranston is much better looking than Walter White.
We had the honor of hearing the actors do many scenes under the direction of Carolyn Omine, including a particularly hilarious ad lib by Dan as Grampa (I’ll tell you via Twitter when it’s on). Julie Kavner was also asked to ad lib as Marge and, not surprisingly, after all these years, she knows the kinds of things Marge would say as well as Dan knows how to ramble as Grampa or babble as Homer. I was impressed by Kavner’s perfectionism–at one point, she was not happy with the way she delivered a line for Marge and wanted to do it over. (I was also surprised at how tiny Kavner is–although I have seen her in film and in photos over the years, I still picture her as Brenda for some reason). The script for the episode, called “The Spy Who Learned Me” and written by Marc Wilmore, is hilarious (even before the adlibbing) and I don’t know how I’ll wait until May for it to air.
We had to leave when the session was not quite over, but since Cranston had somewhere to be (he had “a hard 1″–yes, there were giggles), we knew we wouldn’t have been able to meet him anyway, and we were excited for what our surprise was going to be– all Chris and Michelle would say is that we were having lunch in Burbank and a surprise afterward. On the way off the Fox lot, we stopped by Matt Groening’s office to drop off a gift for him. Groening was not there, but his secretary allowed us to check out his office, where we saw quite the collection of bootleg Simpsons products, including a case of Duff Beer, various other Simpsons-related beverages in mysterious languages, figures, and toys. There was also a stack of outgoing mail–fans send items for Groening to sign and he sends things back (in self-addressed, stamped packages, of course). I wanted to sit in his desk and snap pics, but I exercised self-control out of respect (and also, I was being supervised).
Next we drove to Burbank where we had lunch and a wonderful chat with Chris and Michelle; they are one of my favorite couples of all time. After lunch, we pulled into the parking lot of Film Roman. They share a building with the Hub, so I made a joke that we were going to meet Kevin Arnold even though my heart was pounding super hard when I realized what we were doing. When we entered Film Roman, none other than David Silverman was there to give us a personal tour. This, my friends, is a rare honor (we were told). Since Karma had arranged this trip (first for Alexander, who couldn’t come in January, then for me for my birthday), I kept asking if I was dying.
We did already have the pleasure of meeting David back in January, but that didn’t make being in his presence any less intense. He was the first Simpsons person we had contact with, he followed us on Twitter and chatted with us before the book was even published. David has been an animator/director of The Simpsons since The Tracey Ullman Show and is the reason the characters look the way they do. He also saved the show when what was supposed to be the premiere back in 1989 came back from Korea looking terrible. David directed The Simpsons Movie and has worked for Pixar. David is also ridiculously dreamy (even Alexander understood, saying, “it’s his eyes”).
David walked us around and introduced us to various people while they were working. I was charmed by the posters placed all around with notes from employees that read things like, “Please sign for my sister’s birthday.” It was awesome (in the real sense, not the 80s’ definition of the word) to have faces to match with the names we’ve been seeing all these years in the credits. I got to say hi to Nikki Isordia, who I met via Twitter. Unfortunately, Erika Isabel Vega, a scene planner I know also thanks to Twitter, was out of town. I would have enjoyed meeting her in person.
We finished the tour in David’s office where he showed us some old and some upcoming clips of things he animated (he’ll still do sequences when they absolutely have to be perfect, like important facial expressions or movements. No one makes the characters move like David). David’s office was warm and I was grateful I stopped for the $5 Dove antiperspirant. Then David drew us each a picture– he cranked out five that were each perfect. Even Chris, who has also worked on the show since the beginning, and his wife Michelle, were tickled to get David Silverman originals. Chris said it was his first! I asked for Lisa, something I kind of regret. I mean, when David Frakking Silverman is drawing a picture for you, you should shut up and take what you get. But, see, from David I have two Homers, a Bart, and a Maggie already and I really wanted a Lisa. So this is the beautiful drawing of Lisa he came up with for me.
The next day, we had been invited to a Futurama table read, but sadly, it was canceled the week before because of an actor’s scheduling conflict. But our friend Josh Weinstein still took some time to walk around with us and get coffee. He gave Alexander a bag of swag to bring to college, including a poster that he signed. Josh signed my Futurama Season 5 package for me. We were introduced to David X. Cohen, which was a delight for me, and several other Futurama writers.
We brought Alexander back to the Simpsons bungalow and forced him to pose for pictures with the donut and Santa’s Little Helper. I saw Mike Nobori through the open door and we chatted with him a bit. (He’s a writers assistant and wrote the delightful Season 21 episode “To Surveil With Love”). We could hear the writers watching and talking in the writers room and I wanted to go in and ask for my tin back (I had sent cookies to the writers a couple months before) but had the sense not to do so.
I hope my tone portrays a person who, although she is laughably poor, feels stupid lucky. (If I were religious, I’d call myself “blessed”). I realize I am so incredibly fortunate–how many people get to see how their favorite thing in the whole wide world is made? This is better than 10 visits to the Lakefront Brewery Tour. And how many people get to write a book with their best friends, a book that makes all this happen? How many people get to meet the writers, music composer and editor, and actors who create their favorite show? I thought we had reached our Simpsons zenith when I got my first Twitter @ reply from David Silverman, and since that day, it’s gotten more and more amazing and incredible. I think, too, the fact that everyone at the show is so warm and kind (and at Futurama, too), makes it all even more delightful. I do think Karma and I do kind of deserve the benefit of meeting our heroes, as it’s not like the book’s sales are making us rich, nor has it gotten us terrific teaching gigs or job security . . . but I wouldn’t trade our visits to The Simpsons for lots of money, I must say.
If you’d like to see Karma’s take on the same event, see the column she wrote about it last week.