Simpsons Mania In Britain

by Andrew Osmond

"Why did Paul McCartney do Wings?"

-- Matt Groening on why he followed The Simpsons with Futurama

The Simpsons. © & TM 1997 20th Century Fox Film Corp. All rights reserved.

This August saw Britain invaded by the First Family of Springfield, as The Simpsons and their creators enjoyed several packed-out engagements to celebrate the longevity of The Simpsons. The first was at the Edinburgh Fringe festival where the show's voice actors appeared at the Assembly Rooms, a venue which previously hosted Disraeli, Gladstone and Charles Dickens. According to the Guardian newspaper, the August 14th show opened bravely with a montage of Scot-themed clips from the show. No surprise that the focus was on Willie, the dubiously-accented school groundsman. Luckily these shennanigans were accepted by the locals in the audience!

This was followed by the actors performing a script from the series. Unfortunately, Julie Kavner (Marge in the series) could not attend, but she was "ably substituted" by Tress MacNeille. MacNeille, of course, voices numerous Simpsons characters, including Agnes Skinner and Bart's long-suffering Sunday School teacher. A cartoon veteran, she was the voice of Babs Bunny (Tiny Toon Adventures) and Dot Warner (Animaniacs) to name but two, and figures in Futurama in such parts as Hattie the landlady.

The other Simpsons were voiced by their regular players: Dan Castellenta as Homer, Nancy Cartwright as Bart (sporting Scottish regalia, complete with sporran) and Yeardley Smith as Lisa. Series creator Matt Groening was present, as was Hank Azaria (Moe the barman), Pamela Hayden (Millhouse) and Harry Shearer (Mr. Burns and his adoring underling Smithers).

The show was followed by question and answers with the audience. Dan Castellenta, in Homer persona, was asked if he could say "no" properly and replied, "Sure I can say doh...DOH!" Festival attendees wanting further Simpsons fixes could catch comedian Rick Miller's unauthorized one-man show MacHomer, which played through the month. As the title suggests, the show places the yellow-skinned characters into a certain Scottish play.

The bona fide Simpsons, meanwhile, travelled down to London for two further performances at the Playhouse Theatre. These were held on August 17th and 18th, with the second event being a gala show attended by celebrity fans. Earlier on the 17th, there was a separate Simpsons event at the National Film Theatre. Groening was interviewed on stage by Jonathan Ross, best known as the host of the BBC Film programme and a rabid animation and Simpsons fan.

Among the topics covered was whether there would ever be a Simpsons movie. Groening replied, "There'll be one, one of these days, but the series will have to be cancelled first. So if you want the movie, stop watching The Simpsons!" He also confirmed The Simpsons would appear on DVD at some point, in series order with extra material. Groening also confided other inside information like the fact that Krusty the Clown was inspired by a Christian-preaching Oregon TV clown called Rusty Nails. "He was actually a very gentle clown, but with the creepiest name..."

On recent adult-oriented animation, Groening praised King of the Hill and South Park, and noted they escaped factory-style animation. "None of these shows look anything like each other." Other topics of conversation included The Simpsons' origins, the show's anti-authority philosophy and Groening's embarrassed confession that, as a one-time music journalist, he panned Danny Elfman's group Oingo-Boingo. Then again, Groening had no qualms about offending Simpsons viewers who didn't "get" the show. "It's like we're Daffy Duck and they're Elmer Fudd. When someone reacts to us like Elmer, there's no feeling like it..."

In the same vein, Groening gleefully read out his favourite censor notes from Fox -- "Where we get our inspiration!" For example: "Although it is only a dream, it is not acceptable to show Homer holding a sign saying, 'Kill My Boy.'" Or a highly specific directive about Itchy and Scratchy: "It is not acceptable for Scratchy to stab Itchy in the gut, yank out his intestines and use them as a bungee cord." Groening presented a montage of favourite Itchy and Scratchy moments, along with choice Simpsons extracts. The latter included Homer's ill-fated effort to skateboard a ravine, the gay steel mill episode and a "full-frontal nude" Bart from a European commercial.

Midway through the session, there was a surprise bonus as Groening called down fellow Simpsons creatives from the audience. These were supervising director Jim Reardon; casting director Bonnie Pletila; writer-producer Al Jean; executive producer Mike Scully; writer-producer George Meyer; animation director Mark Kirkland; stage director Ian Maxtone-Graham; and Lisa Simpson herself, Yeardley Smith.

The funniest anecdote from the subsequent discussion was about a spoof corporate ad in one episode. The steamy, meaningless ad images were attributed, with typical irreverence, to that well-known corporation the Catholic Church. After a storm of complaints, Fox timidly suggested, "Change it to Methodist?" On another theological note, George Meyer confessed he had no idea why God had five fingers in his episode "Homer the Heretic." Then again, perhaps that was the point...

The session ended with the team giving generally favourable reactions to Blighty. Yeardley Smith offered, "British reaction has been overwhelming, and you have great yoghurt." Groening reflected he was now walking three simultaneous treadmills -- Simpsons, Futurama and his Life in Hell strip. He also had a cryptic comment on what might happen when The Simpsons finally does reach its end. "I've always had an idea of what the last part could be," he said. "But it's rather twisted. I don't know if we'll have the nerve."

The Simpsons-Mania Tour 2000 in Britain was organized by the satellite channel Sky One. British viewers enjoyed a special weekend September 2-3, when the channel delivered special events celebrating ten years of Simpsons screenings.

Andrew Osmond is a freelance writer specializing in fantasy media and animation.