A Simpsons Legend Gives His First Interview

Former show writer John Swartzwelder talks to the New Yorker
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted May 8, 2021 7:00 AM CDT
A Simpsons Legend Gives His First Interview
The Simpsons gang.   (Fox via AP)

(Newser) – If you like the Simpsons, the name John Swartzwelder might ring a bell from the credits in the show's first years. Swartzwelder wrote 59 episodes, more than anyone in show history, notes Mike Sacks for a Q&A with Swartzwelder in the New Yorker. He's responsible for classic lines such as Homer's ode to beer as "the cause of, and solution to, all of life's problems." In fact, the headline of the piece dubs him "The Sage of The Simpsons" and calls him "one of the most revered comedy writers of all time." Swartzwelder left the show in 2003 and now self-publishes novels, most of them featuring an incompetent private detective named Frank Burly. (Sacks calls Burly "one of the most wonderful creations in printed comedy.") So why isn't the world more familiar with Swartzwelder? The 72-year-old keeps a low profile: He's rarely photographed, and this is his very first major interview. Some snippets:

  • Swartzwelder recalls that Fox execs couldn't meddle in the show. "This is a very dangerous way to run a television show, leaving the artists in charge of the art, but it worked out all right in the end," he says. "It rained money on the Fox lot for thirty years. There’s a lesson in there somewhere."
  • He worked out a deal after season 4 to work from home. And he had a diner booth installed there, mimicking one he wrote at near the show's offices. "Later, I added a second one, in a different part of the house. Diner booths are a great place to write. Try it."
  • His method was to write a rough first draft of a show quickly, in one day. "Then the next day, when I get up, the script’s been written," he says. "It’s lousy, but it’s a script. The hard part is done.... All I have to do from that point on is fix it. ... I advise all writers to do their scripts and other writing this way. And be sure to send me a small royalty every time you do it."
  • The trick to writing for Homer is to think of him as a "big dog." In a mess one second and delighted by a shiny penny the next.
(Read the full interview for much more.)

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