I learn frequently of upcoming guest stars, but seldom do they warrant their own post.
Tom Waits warrants his own post.
Unfortunately, when Tom Waits guest stars on The Simpsons in December, he won’t be singing. (But you know what? That’s fine. Just having him on the show is wonderful. This is something my friends and I have talked about for years.) In the episode entitled “Homer Goes to Prep School,” Waits will play a prepper who introduces Homer to a community of survivalists, according to Simpsons writer Michael Price, who also indicated that Mr. Waits was a “delight.”
In the episode, as you might have guessed from the title, Homer will become a prepper. “We did a lot of research into the ‘prepper’ phenomenon, where people are convinced that some horrible catastrophe – like an electromagnetic pulse – is going to occur, and that people will have to survive without the grid,”Al Jean told TVLine. (TVLine is reporting that Waits will play himself, but Price indicates that’s not the case. I’m inclined to believe Price over TVLine . . .)
Tom Waits and Simpsons fans know that the connection between the genius and the show actually predates the show by a decade. When in grad school at UCLA, David Silverman worked as an animator on the short film Tom Waits for No One, which won an Academy Award for Scientific and Technical Achievement for its innovative use of rotoscope.
What? You’ve never seen it? What’s wrong with you‽
What? You don’t know what rotoscope is? Well, Google it then. I’m not your mom.
When I learned of the news on Friday night, I tweeted a simple “damn.” Michael Price tweeted this to me:
and Simpsons production planner Nikki Isordia said,
It’s a good one!! I was excited to work on it!
Harder than Chinese algebra,
In my Google alerts today, I saw a discussion thread on which users were chiming in with their least favorite episodes of The Simpsons and “You Only Move Twice” (the complaint: there were no jokes) and “Homer at the Bat” were listed.
In the word of Moe, “Whaaaa‽”
The other night, I saw a talk given by Mike Reiss after which I overheard a fan telling Reiss that his all-time favorite episode is season 14′s “I’m Spelling as Fast as I Can.”
Another fan told Reiss that his least favorite is “Mountain of Madness.”
I butted in, “What‽ That episode is brilliant. It’s a Swartzwelder gem!”
“Yeah,” he said, as if he wasn’t committing heresy, “I don’t really like his episodes.”
Aside from the tackiness of fans telling a Simpsons creator what they don’t like (which I’m not even going to get into, but really, who does that?), these events all just serve to remind me that tastes are subjective. The idea that someone’s favorite episode (out of 501) could be one that I think is pretty good and that someone can actually hate an episode in my top five shows that all of us who argue this stuff (yes, “us”) are wasting our time–time that we could be using to read! Or watch The Simpsons! Or make lesson plans! Or bake cookies for the boys!
Find out in this article I wrote for OC Weekly.
And watch The Simpsons‘ 500th episode on Sunday!
I wrote this article for OC Weekly for which I got to talk to a bunch of Simpsons writers, artists, and crew to ask them what THEIR favorite personal contributions to the show are. Because, hey, isn’t the blogosphere full enough of fans’ opinions?
Also, my pal Stacey Harrison interviewed Alf Clausen and Michael Price, who wrote the 500th episode!
My friend Paul had this idea for Mokena Patch, a website he edits, collecting a list of resolutions to apply to other people. Along with demanding others learn the difference between reply and reply all, he says this:
You will stop going on about shows I “have to see.” Unless a sniper will kill a puppy a day until I catch up on critically acclaimed cable dramas, I think I can continue not watching Dexter.
I approve of his list (although he should really be watching Breaking Bad and I have told him as such), but I’ve got some more of my own.
1. Stop saying “It is what it is.” That phrase is circular, annoying, and completely meaningless. It’s annoying as an invisible eyelash in the eye or a gumsmacker behind you during a test.
2. Learn the difference between “less” and “fewer.” The word “less” is not always the opposite of the word “more.” It’s not completely your fault that you don’t know the damn difference because ad copywriters, for everything from Gardasil to Mercedes, keep insisting on using “less” for count nouns, but that’s wrong. They’re doing us all a disservice by using improper grammar.
3. Be nicer on comment threads. Your rudeness under the cloak of anonymity is often upsetting to people on the other end, and it’s also carrying over into other parts of life. Reel it in and use some respect. (This is one of my own resolutions, too, by the way).
4. Stop saying The Simpsons should be canceled, that it used to be better, or whatever mean thing you say about it. This one is going to be contentious, but hear me out.
First off, I don’t go around saying that I think your favorite show should be canceled. It’s mean-spirited and moot. If I don’t like something, I mostly just turn the channel or leave the room. Its existence doesn’t bother me because no one is making me watch said shows just like no one is making you watch The Simpsons.
Also, some of my friends work on The Simpsons, so when you say that, it’s actually hurtful to me because you’re saying that people I care about should lose their jobs.
Next, TV, like all art, is subjective. I have no interest in Harry Potter, but I totally get that the books and movies are terrific. I have a hard time with the violence in Tarantino films so I avoid them (except Pulp Fiction, of course), but I know he is phenomenal. Archer does nothing for me. Nothing. I thought Inception completely sucked. Now, I am positive that these are all my issue, my shortcoming. Thus, I don’t insult others who like these things.
Are many of my favorite Simpsons episodes from the ’90s? Why, sure. But many of them are more recent, too. And how do I know that my affection for certain episodes isn’t because of the emotions, memories, and events surrounding them? I won’t know until I’m gray and post-menopausal.
Finally, when you say mean things about The Simpsons, I know you’re full of crap. How do I know? Well, because if you’re not watching the show, then you don’t know how good it is and therefore, you’re full of crap and should be quiet. If you are watching it, you’re enjoying it (why else would you watch it?) and therefore, you are simply saying you don’t like it to sound cool, which also makes you full of crap.
It became cool for people to say they didn’t like The Simpsons sometime around 1994 because when something becomes widely popular, some early fans reject it. Happens all the time. It happened with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Swatches, tapas, Juno, and it might even happen to you.
5. Get off your phone when you’re doing something else. No matter how good you think you are, you actually suck as a driver when you’re on the phone. Also, you’re being disrespectful to your teachers, classmates, the people in line with you at the post office, your dinner companions, and the cashiers at Target when you’re on the phone. Being on the phone constantly doesn’t make you seem important; it just makes you seem douchey.
6. Stop forwarding that crap to me. I don’t want it. I’m gonna ask you now to stop forwarding me that crap.
Alrighty then, friends! That’s my list! What resolutions would you like others to follow in 2012?
Couldn’t they just use some of the BILLION DOLLARS they’ve gotten in profits off The Simpsons to pay for more? Yep, Fox has made quite the bundle off the show. Read about that here.
Fox vs. The Simpsons: Will they reach an agreement? Read my take here.
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.
I have lost count of how many times I’ve seen “Weird Al” Yankovic in concert. But Tuesday, after his show in the delightful town of St. Charles, Illinios, on a beautiful night, I met Al. I forgot that I had trading cards in my purse, and I had him sign my ticket (which isn’t as cool as the olden days when tickets were tickets instead of a sheet of rumpled printer paper).
I’ve been a fan of Al’s for years. He certainly wasn’t my first celebrity crush, however.
When I was in middle school, I felt like I finally understood those screaming, crying fans on the Elvis videos my mother would watch. I understood because I fell hard for Jon Bon Jovi. I loved his hair, grin, and eyes. I hoped he would wait for me to turn 18 and marry me. Gradually, I calmed down, and my condition was downgraded from obsession to basic celebrity crush. By 10th grade, my crush wasn’t even as strong as my friend Sarah’s thing for Cindy Crawford and the boys in my class who couldn’t stop talking about Kirby Puckett.
I like to think that in college, my admiration of celebrities picked up more sophistication. I picked my favorites based on their minds, not how good their strategically ripped Levi’s would look on my floor. Enter “Weird Al” Yankovic. Of course, I had always known who he was from sleepovers with friends who had cable and staying up late for the Dr. Demento show. But it wasn’t until college that I understood was satire was and realized that “Weird Al” is a genius. And not just a genius in France, an all-around everywhere anytime kind of genius.
I adore “Weird Al” for the same reasons I love The Simpsons. Both have something for everyone, both have layers that reward return viewings/ listenings. No one satirizes our culture and its delightful priorities and love of television than The Simpsons and “Weird Al.” And when Al is on The Simpsons, my excitement cannot be contained.
I have written before on Al, including two lists, one of my favorite original songs and one of my favorite parodies. (They both have the same intro paragraph; I get snippy about people calling him “just a parody artist”). I also got to write an article for OC Weekly last week.
I got to speak to Al only briefly after the show, so I had to be selective of what I said. The first thing I asked was if he ever got his copy of The Simpsons in the Classroom: Embiggening the Learning Experience with the Wisdom of Springfield. And he said, “Yes! I love it! Wait, was that you? Come here!” (And he hugged me.)
So I got to tell him that I co-wrote the book with my best friend, and that Jay (his manager) had said Al received his copy but I wanted to make sure. For that moment, it was like we were just two big Simpsons fans. Then I showed him my twine ball earrings (yes, they are the real deal from the biggest ball of twine in Minnesota), which he called “great.”
I try to think I am above being starstruck. I’ve met Elvis Costello four times. I talked to Cynthia Nixon at LAX and pretended I didn’t know who she was. But meeting Weird Al: neat.
There were several things I did not tell him, either out of good judgment or because of lack of time.
1. The thirteen-year-old boy next to me at the show had a fantastic time and said he was so happy Al was his first concert.
2. I use Al’s hilarious grammar videos in class.
3. I cried for him when his parents died. (I would not tell him that. I feel weird saying it on my own stupid blog).
4. Even though he probably should have married Karma, I am happy for him that he’s happily married and has a daughter, who I can only assume is beautiful, funny, and talented.
5. I listened to “One More Minute” on the way to every shift at Red Lobster during the last year of that job. It helped.
6. I did not give him my business card (the very one that reads “Simpsonologist”) even if he would have gotten a kick out of it. I also did not ask him to follow me on Twitter. I did not tell him all the people we have in common, as much as it would have been fun to say “Call me! Silverman has my digits!” I am proud of myself for refraining and not becoming a pain in his ass. Although he did say it was great to meet me (and I did believe him) he does not want to be my new BFF and get roasted vegetable panini with me the next time he’s traveling through northern Illinois. He just can’t become pals every interesting person he meets on tour, and I understand that.
Not that I wouldn’t be delighted to meet him for panini.
Last week on The Simpsons, Marge and Lisa bonded over some brownie sundaes and sad horse movies, so I thought, hey, what a fun idea for a contest. The episode, “Love is a Many Strangled Thing” is available for viewing on Hulu– it was a good one, including a controversial Precious parody and guest stars Paul Rudd and Kareem Abdul-Jabaar. In fact, I was so annoyed by people ragging on the Precious parody that I wrote a piece for Splitsider about it.
Surely, by now you know that my best friend Karma and I co-wrote a book on teaching with The Simpsons called The Simpsons in the Classroom: Embiggening the Learning Experience with the Wisdom of Springfield; Karma and I have the contest rules and the clip you need to see in order to enter on our book’s website.