I started watching The Simpsons one day when I was flipping through channels, and was hooked by how funny it was, even though some of the plots made no sense.
Now, my family has a TiVo recording system just for The Simpsons. I have about 65 episodes on it. My parents don’t let me watch TV during the week, so I devour an episode every waking moment I can on the weekend.
My brother and I are Simpsons fanatics. When I’m sick of doing homework, I appear at my brother’s bedroom doorway and formally announce the secret password, "Two hardworking individuals must sometimes take a break." (These days, all I have say is "Two …" and he knows what comes next). Then we make a mad dash for the TiVo to view as many Simpsons episodes as possible before our parents yell, "Enough!"
I have seen hundreds of episodes, and can take any object and relate it to something funny from The Simpsons. Take "staple gun." I can relate that to when Homer left the staple gun on the table, and baby Maggie stole it and shot Homer, pinning him to the wall.
The Simpsons actually teaches me about history and real life. While I laugh at Homer as an American Indian, I learn about Sacajawea, the American Indian girl who joined the Lewis and Clark expedition. The Simpsons episodes teach about what other religions are like, and they do it in a fun way. In one scene, Reverend Lovejoy says, "… whether you’re Jewish, Christian or miscellaneous (points to Apu)." Apu, an Indian character, responds, "Excuse me, I’m Hindu and there are 700 million of us." Recently, when my parents glumly told me Johnny Carson died, I excitedly said, "I know who he is. He was Carnac the Magnificent on The Simpsons!"
But who does their voices?
I recently had the opportunity to visit a read-through of a Simpsons script, where I met the actors who provide the voices of The Simpsons and heard them rehearse their lines. It was amazing! Sometimes, I would be looking around to see who was talking, because the person would look so different from the voice he or she was doing. I realized that the voice of Bart Simpson actually belongs to actress Nancy Cartwright. Julie Kavner does the manly voices of Marge’s sisters Patty and Selma.
Almost all of the actors do more than one voice. Harry Shearer does the voices for the corrupt power plant owner Mr. Burns, Principal Skinner, Otto the bus driver, Reverend Lovejoy and other citizens of Springfield, the fictional city where the show takes place. I watched him switch in seconds between different voices.
The Simpsons started as 30-second skits on an 80s variety show called The Tracey Ullman Show, and was so highly regarded that it became its own half-hour show. Almost two decades later, the 350th episode will air this spring. How could the show go from a short feature to the longest running animated prime-time series in history?
The main reason is because it’s hilarious. How can you not laugh when the greedy businessman Mr. Burns says, "One dollar for eternal happiness? I’d be happier with the dollar." Or when Homer is a car salesman and a customer says, "Get a load of that salesman, he farted and then he turned on the radio to cover up the smell."
Nancy Cartwright, the voice of Bart Simpson, said, "I think that people can relate. If they can’t relate to the family members, there are people in the community of Springfield they can relate to. Say they have an aunt that reminds them of Aunt Patty, or say they have someone at the car wash that reminds them of Moe."
Another reason for the show’s longevity is that it’s animated. "The fact that it is animated really helps because it means that the characters never get older, so when you watch a show in the 15th season, it is still the same show that you liked in the first or second season," explained executive producer Al Jean.
Plus, it’s fun to see the big celebrity guests, including baseball stars Mike Scioscia, Wade Boggs and Jose Canseco, basketball stars like Magic Johnson and Lisa Leslie, skateboarder Tony Hawk, author Stephen King and hundreds of others.
Some people say The Simpsons can be politically incorrect, but I think the risqué jokes are the reason the show is so funny. They make fun of everything. After seeing a statue of Apu’s god, Ganesh, which looks like an elephant with multiple arms, Homer tells his Hindu neighbor, "No offense, Apu, but when they were handing out religions, you musta been out taking a whiz." Someone else might get attacked for saying that, but from Homer, it’s funny. When asked if anything was too politically incorrect for The Simpsons, Al Jean noted that, "There are some things that just aren’t funny, like terrorism, and there are some topics we just wouldn’t tackle, but we tackle quite a few!"
Considering what a popular show The Simpsons is, it doesn’t surprise me to see what a powerful effect the show has had worldwide, with hundreds of Web sites and books dedicated to the show. Merchandise ranges from Pez dispensers to Rubik’s cubes to an actual replica of the Simpsons house (built in Las Vegas as a promotion for KB Homes). Even Stephen Hawking, the brilliant wheelchair-bound scientist, was glad to be on The Simpsons because he thought it gave street cred to science. Homer told him, "Wow. I can’t believe someone I never heard of is hanging out with a guy like me." When I was at a doctor’s office, I flipped through a magazine and saw an article about Stephen Hawking—and I actually read it!
Recently I saw a play called MacHomer, a performance of Shakespeare’s Macbeth using over 50 Simpsons characters, with one performer playing the entire cast! At the beginning of the show, the actor asked how many people had watched The Simpsons in the last 30 days. Everyone cheered. Then, he asked how many people had read Macbeth in the last 30 days. About three people cheered.
One of the most remarkable things about the Simpsons’ writers is their seeming ability to predict the future. In a 1991 episode Homer shares a jail cell with Michael Jackson. Now, 14 years later, Michael Jackson may possibly go to jail. In a 1999 episode, Homer and Mel Gibson make a controversial movie. Later Gibson went on to make the hotly debated film, The Passion of the Christ.