For Simpsons fans who have a very strong opinion on which specific range of episodes constitute “the good ones,” the mere fact that legendary writer John Swartzwelder gave an extremely rare interview to The New Yorker should be enough to click that link ASAP and see if he has anything to say about “Homer’s Enemy” or the story that he got special approval to work from home and then bought the booth he used to write in at his favorite diner and had it installed in his house (yes, he addresses both things). For anyone else, here’s the pitch: Swartzwelder is arguably (maybe arguably) the best writer to have worked on The Simpsons, responsible for nearly all of the best jokes in the best episodes up until he left the show in 2003. He’s also famously reclusive and rarely ever gives interviews, meaning this is not only an insight into a brilliant writer’s creative process, but one of the few insights of this kind ever—and also the interview happens to be really funny.
In the interview, Swartzwelder explains that one of the reasons he got into comedy writing was because it seemed like an easy job, or at least a job where he could do whatever he wanted whenever he wanted. He talks about getting a big laugh from a play he wrote as a kid, but not from what he thought was the funniest part, and how he later mailed unsolicited packets of jokes to Late Night With David Letterman in hopes of getting hired. He briefly wrote for SNL and on a few sitcoms, but writing jokes for comedy zine (like: “They can kill the Kennedys, why can’t they make a cup of coffee that tastes good?”) got him noticed by Simpsons producer Sam Simon, who brought him in to work on the show.
The whole thing is pretty interesting, even if you’re inexplicably not a fan of classic Simpsons, and it includes details on how the writers worked, which episodes are Swartzwelder’s favorites, and how his approach to writing episodes would involve getting through it as fast as possible (even with bad jokes and placeholder lines) and then go back and revise it later. He takes credit for introducing the word “meh” to Simpsons canon, he explains that he writes Homer as if he’s a talking dog (“One moment he’s the saddest man in the world, because he’s just lost his job, or dropped his sandwich, or accidentally killed his family. Then, the next moment, he’s the happiest man in the world”), and politely dismisses Simpsons fans using “Swartzweldian” as an adjective because it sounds so awkward, setting up a fantastic one-word punchline:
So how would you describe your sense of humor, your comedic sensibility?
Swartzwelder also offers up some new perspectives on his legacy, saying that it was writers like him that actually convinced people to read the credits on their favorite shows, and he says that anyone else who’s interested in a career that involves making people laugh should just worry about making themselves laugh. “At least you’ll get a laugh out of it.”