Mike Reiss Interview: Jokes In Vast Quantities

 

and talk about a preachy book

Now available wherever fine books are sold!

Mike Reiss’ new book, “Springfield Confidential: Jokes, Secrets, and Outright Lies from a Lifetime Writing for The Simpsons” is a biography and tell-all of sorts about his years working on “The Simpsons”, and much more. He’s honest, friendly, funny, and blunt when he wants to be in recounting stories from his career as a comedy writer. Reiss has earned 4 Emmy Awards for his work on The Simpsons, as well as an Edgar Award for “Cro-Magnon, P.I.” from Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. 

With the FOX buyout likely coming soon from Disney or some other entertainment mega conglomerate, his book couldn’t have come at a better time, it’s a chance to check in with one of the founding members of The Simpsons’ braintrust. I also got to ask about different phases of his career, including a couple other shows he’s worked on that have informed my love of comedy and storytelling. 

Trust me, I know what I'm doing

The 80s cult classic,
SLEDGE HAMMER!

FLIM Springfield: I know you wrote for “Sledge Hammer” early in your career as well as “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show”. Even though the shows were wildly different they’re both very experimental in how bluntly they handle their fictional world and use that to get laughs. Do you have any particular memories or thoughts about how those early tv writing experiences shaped your work (and your partnership with Al Jean who you were already writing with)? Did your skills and comedy style translate well from National/Harvard Lampoon?

Mike Reiss: Al Jean and I were both good at parody. When we wrote at the “Harvard Lampoon”, we did mostly parodies and at National Lampoon we did the same. Then very luckily we were able to wind up on a lot of jobs that involved parody, starting with the film Airplane 2. Sledge Hammer was a tv show that was parody of Dirty Harry movies, and we were able to do a lot on The Simpsons. Then when we created a show, we did “The Critic” because we knew we could fill it with movie parodies. We can do lots of other kinds of writing, we can write for people and emotions, but we’re lucky to do what plays to our strengths.

Ted Phillips last name was given to Duke Phillips on The Critic as an homage.

1981 photograph of The Harvard Lampoon: Mike Reiss (seated left) and Al Jean (holding an iron). Patric Verrone juggles pool balls behind them.
Holding the axe is the late Ted Phillips, who became a lawyer.
Nixon mask, in the background, glowers vacantly.
(photo courtesy of Mike Reiss via Harvard Magazine)

FS: I loved the breaking of the 4th wall and little touches of Magical Realism that popped up on both Sledge Hammer and It’s Gary Shandling’s Show. It’s a creative effect that can really make viewers sit up and pay attention, but mostly seems to relegate those kinds of shows to smaller audiences. Even in the first few years of The Simpsons, a cartoon that could literally do anything, the show tread lightly on how far it pushed conceptual boundaries. Do you have any thoughts on why tv audiences can be so resistant embrace magical realism, why they reject having the fiction of tv stories pointed out? 

MR: The very earliest Simpsons episodes would have fantasy, flashback and that kind of thing and we saw that the public would accept those. If it became bigger in later seasons it was only because we saw that the public had no problem with  Magical Realism.

MR: The movie “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” involves Ferris just breaking the fourth wall constantly and people loved it, it’s a classic. In my script for the movie “My life in Ruins”, that was a running thing in the movie, where the main character was always turning to camera and talking. And the star of that cut it all out and it so hobbled the movie, hurt the storytelling, hurt the humor of the piece. I wish we’d left it in. The people in charge are often resistant to it, but the public enjoys it. The great modern example is “Deadpool”. He just keeps reminding you you’re watching a movie, but it never takes you out of the film. 

FS: I’ve read that in the 90s you had production deal with Walt Disney Company for a few years that was kind of rough—Do you cover that in your new book at all? 

MR: I had a production deal with The Walt Disney Company and it wasn’t a happy experience. Disney does great movies, and I love their theme parks but, at the time, 1998, they had a terrible television division: they meddled constantly in the creative process and never produced anything successful. If you read my book, there’s a chapter called “A Development Deal with the Devil” where I talk at length about the experience.

FS: Follow up, any thoughts on how things will go for “The Simpsons” and FOX now that it looks like they’ll be the new owners of the franchise?

MR: We just don’t know what the future holds for us with Disney buying Fox—and it may not be Disney, it may be Comcast.

nazi supermen are our superiors

Should have sold out
to KrustyLu Studios.

“The Simpsons” has just had a very secure run making a show for Fox Studios, airing on Fox Network, and syndicated on Fox Stations. It was beautiful synergy and we just don’t know how that’s going to change under new ownership.

FS: So, you spent a few years at “The Simpsons,” co-created “The Critic”, and “Queer Duck”. All shows you’ve worked with some iconic actors who have one-of-a-kind voices—ShandlingBullockKavner to name a few. You can hear their voices just by saying the name. Do you ever find yourself thinking in the voice of the character you’re writing for—or when it gets hard to do, do you have a trick to find your way back to it? Or is it just a real benefit to working with a team of creators who can help with that?

MR: I don’t think in the characters voices. It’s still just a job, I’m still writing, I never go into character or anything like that.  I think that’s a romantic notion.

reused backgrounds

Romantic Notions:
1992 Simpsons Writer’s Room, 1993 Itchy & Scratchy Writer’s Room.

MR: My one experience like that was writing “Queer Duck”. For some reason those characters spoke to me, and every day I would wake up excited to see what they’d do next. There was something about the nature of that cartoon and the characters that made it fun for me. Because it was the first first gay cartoon ever, everything was wide open and I could do everything new again. We are so hemmed in on by our past on “The Simpsons” and that was not a problem on “Queer Duck”.

FS: As a follow up to that—and I’ll approach this cautiously—I’ve heard you say on Simpsons’ commentary tracks that you weren’t happy with The Critic as a project. The cast was great, the animation was distinct and beautiful, the stories were a riot, but it didn’t last. It’s fondly remembered by everyone now, but looking back on it do you have any kind of an A-HA realization. “It would have connected with audiences IF . . .

look at my range!

Hotchie motchie! What a cast!

MR: I was not happy with “The Critic”. I’m glad it’s so popular, and watch it again and I see that its funny, it’s definitely funny but that’s it. I don’t think it’s well designed, because it was designed by committee. I don’t think the plots are that good, the characters lack the of depth of—let’s say—Simpsons characters. And it’s rarely touching, reaching the emotions the way “The Simpsons” has. I’m delighted people like it, I’m glad it’s so funny, but I wish it had been more than that.

FS: I didn’t realize you had written so many children’s books? It must be a nice change of pace to have control of a whole story and world, compared to the hoops you have to jump through in movie and tv production. In a case where it’s just you and a single artist, where do you like to go—What grabs you about writing children’s books?

MR: I love writing children’s books, I’ve written 19 of them. And yes, I like ‘em because I can just write them and they don’t take that long and they’ll either publish them or they won’t. They meddle very little in it. But he choice of illustrator is entirely up to the publisher. There’s a chapter in my book called “The Sleazy Nasty World of Children’s Books” where you can see all the answers to this.

in truth Santa would be suffering from gall stones hypertension, impotence, and diabetes.

Santa’s Eleven Month’s Off
by Mike Reiss and Michael G. Montgomery.

MR: In terms of illustrators, I have no input on Illustrators or illustrations, I sell a manuscript and then see I the book when it comes out. And in 16 out of 19 books I wish I had just a little input so I could have fixed things that were done incorrectly. It’s a crazy way to do the business. One gentlemen has illustrated 7 of my books and I’ve never met him. I don’t know who he is, or where he lives.

FS: What would you call the Mike Reiss zeitgeist? When people say “Get me Mike Reiss NOW!” or “This needs more Mike Reiss!” What are they asking for? Is the answer to that in Springfield Confidential: Jokes, Secrets, and Outright Lies from a Lifetime Writing for The Simpsons”?

MR: I’m a guy who brings the funny. I can do other things, I can write heartfelt, I can grapple with big issues.  But people come to me and they want parody, and they want silly, and they want jokes in vast quantities and that’s what I give them. That’s the work I’ve done uncredited on 24 animated films.

FS: As an atheist, what are some words to live by?

Mike Reiss: lot of people think atheists live in the dark amoral world, but it’s just the opposite: we believe this is the one chance we have in life, so we better be nice on this go around. If people are suffering you better help them now because there’s no afterlife where they’ll get a better shake when they die. Be good to everyone now, be a nice person, because we only have each other.

Flim Springfield: Thank you Mike for giving us your time. We earnestly recommend that Simpsons fans pick up or download a copy of the new book, it’s great Summer reading. And fans, Check out some of the other stories Mike Reiss has told on tv, film and books too, you’ll get a laugh, enjoy how inventive they are, and appreciate the escape.

buy my book!

Say it like you mean it!

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Posted in Al Jean, Classic Simpsons, Contemporary, Cultural Impact, interview, The Simpsons, TV | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Love in the Time of Scurvy; As You Wish

- Not just your basic, average, everyday, ordinary, run-of-the-mill, ho-hum fairy tale.

Heroes. Giants. Villains. Wizards. True Love…
It all happened at the beginning of that turbulent decade known as the ’80s.

FLIM Springfield hasn’t done a recasting in a long while, but one genre we’d been talking about covering was comedy. What surprising is, it’s a little hard to recast a comedy with characters from a comedy show. Luckily, our buddy Johnny Grind from The Grind Corps Podcast had the perfect candidate, a film he loves, and is universally loved as one of the best modern comedies. Without further ado, we’ll let Johnny himself introduce our recasting of 2018…

Hi, I’m Johnny Grind! You may remember me from such podcasts as The Grind Corps Podcast. Uncle Diana/Weener, JRC, Frost (one of the hosts for GCP) and myself have done a couple of episodes on the podcast where we talked about The Simpsons and they informed me/us about this game where they recast an entire movie with Simpsons characters. We took a shot (no pun intended) at Aliens with not much in-depth thought just to see if we could whip up something quickly. We then talked about other movies they did and somehow, The Princess Bride came up and I said that I would LOVE to help out with that movie. So, on that note…

Whenever a book is adapted into a movie, people always say, “The book was better.” At first glance, this was exactly that. It bombed in ticket sales at the theaters. It wasn’t until VHS and home viewings became a thing that it really ignited the spark for this one. That’s how I came across this movie. It starts off as a child, played by Fred Savage, is home from school due to sickness. That’s probably how I found out about this movie, too. Just a regular kid, home from school, can’t sleep from being under the weather, so let’s watch a movie… Little did I know, this would be a movie that would keep me awake for the duration because it was so captivating! (Essay continued after gifs)

Bart-as-The-Grandson-(Fred-Savage)

Bart Simpson as
the Grandson (Fred Savage)

Bart’s just lucky his grandpa didn’t buy this book at the bait shop!

Abe-as-Grandpa-(Peter-Falk)

Abe Simpson as
the Grandfather (Peter Falk)

Abe loved Matlock, no word on if he was a Colombo fan. Think warm thoughts, boy, because this book is mighty cold!

Malloy-as-Westley

Malloy as Westley (Carey Elwes) 
Yeah, I know, but picture Malloy about 50 years younger and it’s perfect. No one else in Springfield is this suave.

Marge-as-Buttercup

Teenage Marge as Buttercup (Robin Wright)
Why do birds Suddenly appear…

Hans-and-Montoya

Hans Sprungfeld as Inigo Montoya
(Mandy Patinkin)

Sort of heroic yet sleazy, Montoya would definitely kick the shit out of George Washington if he was his father’s killer.

Dr.-Hillbilly-as-Fezzik-(Andre-the-Giant)

Dr. Hillbilly as Fezzik (Andre the Giant)
A kind giant, not like the Iron Yuppie, who thinks he’s so big.

Artie-Ziff-as-Vizzini

Artie Ziff as Vizzini (Wallace Shawn)
Diminutive, annoying, and thinks he’s the smartest guy in the room.

Cecil-as-Humperdink

Cecil Terwilliger as Prince
Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon)

Evil, but able to mask it temporarily with his refined demeanor.

Monroe-as-Rugen

Dr. Marvin Monroe as Count Rugen
After his success with his controversial life-sucking device, he went on to develop the Monroe Box to test his theory that torturing a child would make them maladjusted and resentful.

Willie-as-Yellin-(Malcom-Storry)

Groundskeeper Willie as Yellin
(Malcom Storry)

“Willie! Guard the castle doors!”
“Willie hears ya, Willie don’t care.”

Dr.-Nick-as-Miracle-Max-(Billy-Crystal)

Dr. Nick as Miracle Max (Billy Crystal)
Dr. Nick is a quack, but occasionally performs miracles that other doctors are too “qualified” or “ethical” or “expensive” to pull off. Both have upgraded a victim’s condition from “dead” to “mostly dead”.

Mrs.-Glick-as-Valerie-(Carol-Kane)

Mrs. Glick as Valerie (Carol Kane)
When you need someone to put their foot down, you can’t do better than an old crone, Florin and Springfield’s finest.

 

Agnes-as-the-Ancient-Booer-(Margery-Mason)

Agnes Skinner as the Ancient Booer (Margery Mason)
Shrill and excessively negative, but this lamb of god ultimately tells it like it is: Buttercup will never be Princess of the line.

Reverend-Lovejoy-as-the-Impressive-Clergyman-(Peter-Cook)

Reverend Lovejoy as the Impressive
Clergyman (Peter Cook)

Religious figureheads who’re asleep at the podium. Lovejoy also had some sweet sideburns when he was still young and optimistic.

Can-I-Come-Too-Lady-as-the-Queen-(Anne-Dyson)

“Can I come too?” lady as
The Queen (Anne Dyson)

Both seem like nice ladies who honestly deserved better. I bet “Can I come too?” lady’s kids never even take her to the liquor store to buy beef jerky, or a nice royal wedding.

Old-Jewish-Man-as-the-King-(Willoughby-Gray)

Old Jewish Man as
The King (Willoughby Gray)

“It’s a royal wedding,
put on your tuxedo.”
I want some taquitos.”

Smithers-as-The-Albino-(Mel-Smith)

Smithers as the Albino (Mel Smith)
Totally unscrupulous because his boss is too. Probably partial to Jolly Ranchers.

Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles…

So what makes it so “captivating,” you ask? The story had and has everything: humorous one liners, a great cast of colorful characters and icons of the decade (E.G. Fred Savage, Andre the Giant, Billy Crystal, Carol Kane), and of course, as the grandfather says: Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles…

Side Note: Director Rob Reiner just finished This is Spinal Tap, a mock-umentary of a fictitious band that everyone thought was the real deal. You may know the bassist, Harry Shearer, as many of the voices provided for The Simpsons! Christopher Guest is also in This is Spinal Tap and portrays “The 6 Fingered Man” in The Princess Bride.

and we thought they knew how to rock in Shelbyvill!

The Taps on tour in Springfield USA, circa 1991.

Fun Trivia: Guest has a scene in “Tap” about amplifiers that go to 11… in The Princess Bride, he has a total of 11 fingers. Coincidence? You be the judge.

I wanna take this time to thank Diana and JRC for allowing me to do this and I hope we can do this again in the future! Also, if you haven’t already, please check out the episodes featuring these 2 lovelies on The Grind Corps Podcast (Grind Corps on Itunes)

“As you wish.”

Posted in Film, gifs, Movies, podcasts, recasting, The Simpsons | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

New Recasting: Love in the Time of Scurvy

I know it’s been a really long time since we’ve done a recasting, the ostensible purpose of this blog. That’s because Diana works like a Japanese beaver and rarely has the time. But! In honor of our friend Johnny Grind, who runs The Grind Corps podcast, we recast his favorite movie. Here’s the poster, can you guess what it is? Stay tuned for gifs and essay soon!

LoveScurvy

Posted in coming soon, Love, podcasts, recasting, The Simpsons | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Simpsons in Mourning: Bell, Forman, Ermey (updated, Barbara Bush)

If you don’t have a hero in your life, you at least have someone distant that you look up to. We hope that our heroes never grow old, that they stay strong, vibrant and important forever–just as they are in our minds. We want our icons to be forever iconic. We want our heroes to never fail–to never fail us. Sadly, it is an inevitable truth that all people will gray, they will lose a step, they will stumble, and the luster will chip. It is in those times that we can at least take solace in their great works left behind, and the inspiration they continue to bring. . .

Art Bell was an odd man, but he is an icon, and definitely hero to lots of people. As many kids do, Milhouse Van Houten enjoyed spooky nights alone, tuning into to warbling AM radio signals to hear Art Bell’s Coast to Coast AM talk show, an radio program like no other, specializing in all manner of mystery.

The greatest question of all is whether our experience on this planet is 'it' or whether there is something else. Things in the supernatural realm give support, strangely perhaps, to the things we take on faith.

We’re through the looking glass here, people.

When Art Bell passed away at age 72 this past weekend, he’d spent almost his entire career as a radio show host. As he’d retell the story many times over the years, one night in 1984 he just got bored with all the same interviews and fluff he’d been doing, and based on a personal itch opened the station’s call in phone lines to ask if any listeners had ever experienced anything unexplainable. The show caught on quick and for the next 20-odd years–very odd years— he hosted all manner of unique guests: “Experts” in UFOs, cryptids, time travel, parallel dimensions, ghosts, and anything else under the moon that legitimate broadcasters wouldn’t treat seriously–let alone give hours of airtime too. Bell was able to delicately thread the needle between giving his guests a platform on which to hang themselves, and endorsing the most outlandish ideas.

Most kids go through a phase where they’re obsessed with aliens, Bigfoot, the supernatural or other things that go bump in the night. Some kids will form tight friendships that last long after the obsession fades. Most kids grow up and grow out of these fascinations, while others, well… some critics cite Art Bell as a key influencer in the reason Americans have so much distrust for the government and the media today. In any case, Milhouse will probably pull out his collection of tape-recorded episodes, turn down the lights, and take a final ride with his hero.

The Quickening, The Art of Talk, The Coming Global Superstorm

Believe it or not, Art Bell’s books usually had more subdued titles than this.

modified by FLIMSpringfield.net

If he’s crazy, what does that make you?

Miloš Forman died having won two Oscars for Best Director, for the breathtaking historical drama “Amadeus” in 1983, and for the heartbreaking adaption of Ken Kesey’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” in 1975. These films are sure to get a rewatching by noted film critic Jay Sherman, as he mourns the loss of such a huge talent.

Forman was a Czechoslovakian expatriate who was locked out of his home country in 1968 when Soviet tanks invaded, closing it off behind the iron curtain. As a perpetual outsider, Forman spent his career championing underdogs and flawed iconoclasts who rebelled for what they believed in. In addition to “Cuckoo’s Nest” and “Amadeus”, Sherman is likely to rewatch “Man On the Moon”, Forman’s overlooked but well-liked biopic about Andy Kaufman, as well as the director’s sympathetic look at the life and works of infamous pornographer Larry Flynt, “The People vs. Larry Flynt”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Barney Gumble recreates the climactic scene from
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

That noted New York film Critic Jay Sherman would be an aficionado of such classics isn’t surprising. It’s worth noting though, that Springfield’s own award winning filmmaker Bernard Gumble also counts himself a fan of Miloš Forman. It doesn’t take a Pulitzer Prize winning critic to understand how the hard-drinking creative savant behind the autobiographical documentary “Pukahontas” would look at Forman’s oeuvre and find inspiration, and perhaps a bit of sympathy.

Finally, late today we learned of the passing of R. Lee Ermey. Ermey was a former Marine Sergeant who spent a decade in the service, including 14 months in Vietnam. Ermey later went on to a notable career in films playing the type of tough-as-nails character he’d lived his life as. His first role was in “Apocalypse Now”, where he also helped director Francis Ford Coppola get the maddeningly absurd details of life in country right. Ermey played military men nonstop, across a wide breathe of media, from the doomed asshole drill instructor in “Full Metal Jacket” to satirical versions of the same type in comedies and animated shows.

R. Lee Ermey

In 1995 he guest starred on The Simpsons as the steely but flummoxed Colonel Leslie  “Hap” Hapablap against Kelsey Grammer in “Sideshow Bob’s Last Gleaming,” and the rest of the cast. He returned to the role in 2015, in “Waiting for Duffman.”

now this is my kind of meeting

We have searched every square inch of this base and all we have found is …

Among the residents of Springfield who’ll be feeling this loss the most are the military-obsessed Herman, the delusional one-armed owner of Herman’s Military Antiques, as well as visiting out-of-town lawman Rex Banner who always appreciates a steely resolve and stiff lip.

Update:

they're so much alike!

Ms. Bush and Marge enjoying each other’s company in a quiet moment.

We’ve just learned that former First Lady Barbara Bush has passed. Ms. Bush guest starred along with her husband, on Season Six’s episode, “Two Bad Neighbors“.

It may seem hard to believe now but there was a time when The Simpsons was a ferociously controversial tv show (wink). Republicans attacked the series, most FOX programming, MTV, rap music, and anything else they didn’t like. This debate came to be known as The Culture Wars. In 1990, an absurd war of words grew between the two families: first Barbara lashed out at the show in an interview with People Magazine, she called The Simpsons “The dumbest thing I had ever seen.” Upset by this The Simpsons fought back, graciously, through Marge who penned this polite letter to Ms. Bush . . .

now apologize for the tax hike!

Marge’s letter to the First Lady

Surprisingly, the First Lady replied:

Dear Marge,

How kind of you to write. I’m glad you spoke your mind; I foolishly didn’t know you had one.

I am looking at a picture of you, depicted on a plastic cup, with your blue hair filled with pink birds peeking out all over. Evidently, you and your charming family — Lisa, Homer, Bart and Maggie — are camping out. It is a nice family scene. Clearly you are setting a good example for the rest of the country.
Please forgive a loose tongue.

Warmly,
Barbara Bush

P.S. Homer looks like a handsome fella!

That’s amazing! Can you imagine if a member of the President’s family felt the need to directly respond to their critics these days?! All would have been well, if not for Ms. Bush’s husband needlessly rekindling the feude with some fiery words at the National Religious Broadcasters convention, “We are going to keep on trying to strengthen the American family, to make American families a lot more like the Waltons and a lot less like the Simpsons.“

Here’s a video that elaborates on the whole ugly affair . . .

That kept the back and forth going until Bush lost his reelection campaign, and the couple returned to private life. Which also would have been the end of it, had the Bush’s not decided to move to the part of the country with the lowest voter turnout. Although Marge and Mrs. Bush had patched up there differences, the same couldn’t be said for Homer and George W. whose egos erupted from cold to hot war in no time. Bar seemed to genuinely like Marge, and Springfield, but there’s nothing that could smooth over the hatred between their husbands. But for her efforts, Barbra will always be Marge’s favorite member of the Bush family.

Barbara Bush passed away April 17th 2018 at the age of 92.

2018 looks like it is going to be a long year, and as we wrote above, we will lose heroes–that is as inevitable as time itself. Maybe it won’t be through death, perhaps the person you love will just grow old, or fail, make a mistake, or turn out to be not as noble and thoughtful as we hoped. The best most we can expect–and it’s a lot if you get it–is that the art they’ve created in the past will continue to speak true, and prove useful and enriching to you.

Posted in Classic Simpsons, Contemporary, Cultural Impact, Film, Movies, politics, RIP | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Merriam-Webster Embiggens Our Lives with New Word

You never know what your lasting contribution to the world will be, if that thing you create will be your legacy. The Simpsons has gifted pop culture with many indelible moments: pink donuts, the monorail episode, the show’s years long “war'” with President HW Bush, and even the recent prominence of the Steamed Hams meme. Heck, the entire series is a lesson to the importance of excellent storytelling and design that’s influenced television and pop culture for almost 30 years!

Very few shows have been credited with adding a new* word to the English language and dictionary, though. 1996’s season seven episode LISA THE ICONOCLAST, did just that. Before the opening credits even end, while the children are watching a filmstrip on the life of Jebediah Springfield, two neologisms are coined. One was cromulent, the product of David X. Cohen’s imagination.

Their destination: New Sodom.

“A noble spirit embiggens the smallest man.”

The other, Embiggens, created by show writer Dan Greaney was just added the Merriam-Webster online English dictionary. Validation on the level of receiving an Oscar (or at least a Grammy) award. Flim Springfield was pleased to speak with a representative from the esteemed reference resource (this transcript has been lightly edited for clarity).

Flim Springfield: Hello and thank you for taking time to speak to us today, please introduce yourself, and tell us what your job is?

Merriam-Webster: My name is Emily Brewster, I am an Associate Editor at Merriam-Webster, my job is General Definer which means that I define non-scientific vocabulary.

FS: What draws the line between scientific and non-scientific vocabulary?

M-W: Sometimes it gets a little hazy and then we have to consult with each other and ask is this your territory or mine, but anything related to Math and Science, Astronomy, Biology, all of those things are considered science.

FS: If I could ask you to describe how the word embiggens came to the attention of Merriam-Webster?

cromulent word

Definition provided by
Merriam-Webster.

M-W: We are always looking for evidence that words are becoming fully established members of the language, [and embiggen] is a word we’ve been watching for some time. We are constantly looking for new words, we read a lot, and enter words into our personal corpus and database. We also make note of them in a big spreadsheet, keeping an eye on some particular words.

There are plenty of words that get coined and used in a very narrow field or by a very small group of people and those are not the words that we consider as eligible for the Merriam-Webster.com dictionary, because they’re really just too specialized. We’re looking for words that are full fledged words of the English language. We want to see evidence that they have widespread use, that they have frequent use, and they have a clearly established meaning and meaningful use. Embiggen has more than met those criteria.

stretch girl!

Marvel Comics breakout character Ms. Marvel uses embiggens as a catchphrase, which has increased its cultural capital in recent years.

FS: How many words did you add to the Merriam-Webster dictionary lexicon this year?

M-W: This release–we call them releases–was about 850 words.

FS: What were some notable ones that premiered alongside of it?

M-W: Blockchain and cryptocurrency. Initial Coin Offering (as well as the abbreviated form ICO). Those are words that are all the sudden very much in the public discourse. Mansplain and Manspreading got in new this year. They range from the technical to the playful, but in each case the word met our criteria for entry.

some elephants are just jerks

A dictionary perfect example of mansplaining.

FS: Can you give me some examples of where embiggen also appeared that make it notable? Any particular occurrences?

M-W: It’s an interesting word to me in that I was seeing used in all really these matter-of-fact situations. Most often encounter in in “click to embiggen” in tiny font for images on a web page, and I thought, as a lexicographer, it very interesting to see what I new to be a playfully coined word to appear in this very matter-of-fact context. And clearly the meaning of the word was very apparent, that always speaks well for a new coinage, when it’s very clear to your readers exactly what it means—nobody needs an explanation—with it’s appearing in this very dry unremarkable context. It also has been used in scientific journals without any kind of giggle or nod or anything. There was one on string theory that used it. It’s really handily met our criteria.

FS: Have you seen the episode of the show where it first occurred?

M-W: Yes I have. This is a terrible thing to confess to you, but I haven’t had a TV in a really long time and I am not a regular watcher of The Simpsons. If I had TV, I would watch The Simpsons.

FS: [friendly laughter] No need to apologize. Let me ask though, this isn’t the first time a word from a sitcom or cartoon or something like, that has entered the lexicon. Can you think of another word that is sits well alongside from those origins?

M-W: Television is an absolutely legitimate source or us when looking for new words and we often keep track of and observer what words are being looked up during particular times of the day. Often words will spike in usage that because a word has been used on a television show. So we know that people that pay attention to the vocabulary that they encounter on TV.  … Do you know about the 1884 letter to the British publication “Notes and Queries” that also used the word embiggens?

ye olde word

click to embiggen

FS: I’d completely forgot about that!

M-W: [Laughing] It’s pretty funny! I think it’s fascinating. It was also a playful coinage, and it was coined really to be ridiculous. This letter is basically talking about how awful it is to ‘verb’ words. It’s terrible, they called embiggen an ugly word! I’ve got the text, and it’s on google books.  I’ll send you a link.

FS: What words are you keeping an eye on now?

M-W: Oh, well cromulent** is definitely one word we’re still interested in. It doesn’t do the technical heavy lifting that embiggens does but it is clearly establishing itself in the language.

Jedi and padawan have both been featured as “words we’re watching”. They’re good candidates for entry, but aren’t in yet.

FS: One other question before we go. Because this word was created by persons, and their work is property of a corporation, is there anything owing to copyright of the word? Would FOX or whoever be owed royalties for its use or anything like that?

M-W: Well no, once you coin a word, unless you’ve had it registered as a trademark associated with some kind of product, you’re really just making a generous contribution to your fellow speakers [laughter]. There’s no ownership of these words, and they of course can take on lives of their own. People will coin a word with one meaning and it will get completely rearranged and turned upside down and used by the general populous and they can’t do anything about it.

It makes me thing of GIF. The man who apparently coined the word thinks it should be pronounced like the peanut butter, but the fact is that the [hard G] pronunciation is also fully accepted, and however much he may protest, you don’t own your words once you coin them.

F-S: Thanks for taking the time to talk with us today, and for adding some validation to Simpsons fans like us who treat the show like a sacred text!


Following our interview, Emily was nice enough to providing an additional pair of words whose usage originated in television…

M-W: I’ve got some terms for you: lone ranger comes from the radio and tv show; and email spam comes from Monty Python.

We reached out to some of The Simpsons staff who worked on Lisa the Iconoclast, many had already posted their reactions on social media. They credited the creative team environment, and directed praise to Dan Greaney who came up with the word that day.

pun

Dan Greaney revels in his crapulence.

*Yes, we know that the word was first used in 1884, keep reading.
**Hang in the David X. Cohen, your day of recognition is coming!
Posted in Classic Simpsons, Contemporary, Cultural Impact, interview, press, The Simpsons, TV | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Nina Matsumoto: The Rock Bottom Interview

awe crap.

Tonight on Rock Bottom

Here at Flim Springfield, we enjoy The Simpsons lots of different ways: from the classic cartoons and DVD commentary tracks, to collectible enamel pins, podcasts, and of course, live trivia shows. One of my favorite Simpsons supplements are the monthly comics published by BONGO, the comic company started by Matt Groening and friends 25 years ago.

Matt Groening got his start self-publishing his own comics, and over the years BONGO Comics has given new creators a chance to break into the industry. Breakout star Gail Simone (Secret Six, Wonder Woman, Leaving Megalopolis) wrote some of her earliest stories at BONGO, and couple years ago Coldplay frontman Chris Martin got the chance to publish his original non-Simpsons sci-fi miniseries “Mylo Xyloto” through the company.

Nina Matsumoto‘s story is one of the neatest we’ve heard: She’s a lifelong Simpsons fan whose 2007 manga-influenced take on the cast Simpsonzu, gained internet fame, which led to regular work with BONGO Comics, and eventually an Eisner award winning story in Treehouse of Horror issue 14! A combination of talent and knowledge of the show helped get her foot in the door and launch her career as a comics storyteller and designer.

a murderer's row of talent!

Treehouse of Horror #14 (2008)

 

Self-portrait by Nina Matsumoto (2018)

FLIM Springfield: Who are you, and what are you doing in my house?… Tell us who you are, and what your creative work is about? If you like, what your life like aside from your work and Simpsons fandom?

Nina Matsumoto: I have a hard time sticking to one style or theme because I love so many different kinds of art, but I draw a lot of manga-inspired artwork, and am drawn to dark themes with bright colours. I mostly just stay at home but have been doing muay thai for over eight years to offset my largely non-active life. I have a huge interest in linguistics and have done professional Japanese-English translation work on the side.

FS: It happened at the beginning of that turbulent decade known as the 80s… When did you first watch The Simpsons? What early episode/joke do you remember?

NM: I can’t remember the first episode I saw (and never had a chance to see the early Ullman era shorts since I live in Canada–not that I would’ve been old enough to remember those). I may have started from the Christmas special because that’s my earliest memory of it, but it very well may have been a rerun.

FS: Gee, I never realized TV was such a dangerous influence… How has The Simpsons been an influence in your life / creativity?

NM: It definitely shaped my sense of humour above anything else, and since I mostly draw manga, whenever I try to draw in a cartoonier “western” style, you can see my Simpsons influence. My admiration of Matt Groening has also affected my handwriting, because I would copy his handwriting when I was younger (you can still see it today in the way I write capital Ns).

from Simpsons Comics #245 (2015)

FS: You’ve talked about this online a bit before, but what was like to get that call from BONGO Comics? Was it your first pro work? (if not, what was it, tell us about it).

NM: The first call I got when “Simpsonzu” went viral was from a guy who worked in the merchandising department of Fox. He used to work as a layout artist on the show and he mentioned he might be able to find work for me. Though that didn’t lead to anything there, it was still a cool call to receive. The e-mail from Bongo kickstarted my career, as I’d never been published before up to that point, and I had practically given up hopes on ever becoming a professional artist.

from The Wonderful World of Lisa Simpson #1 (2015)

I’m grateful for then-art director (now editor) Nathan Kane for giving me a chance and trusting me with my first story (“Too Crazy Juvenile Prankster: Bartomu!”). It was the perfect job for me since it was a manga parody of the Simpsons. When he saw I could draw in the house style, he gave me more work on “regular” Bongo stories.

What’s funny is I grew up being constantly told by classmates that I should work for the show, which I’d brush off because I didn’t want to be an animator, but the possibility of working for the comics never once crossed my mind.

FS: $18 bucks for this? What a rip-off!… Do you or have you ever owned any Simpsons tchotchkes: Shirts, trading cards, DVDs, action figures, ‘hand-drawn animation cells guaranteed to increase in value’, etc… what’s your favorite stuff?

NM: I don’t collect a whole lot of merchandise, but I have a full set of Simpsons POGs. I still have around twenty VHS tapes filled with Simpsons episodes I taped off TV. Something like twenty years ago, I sent fan letters to a bunch of the voice cast, and in return I got a picture of the Simpsons signed by Dan Castellanetta and made out to me.

from The Mighty Moe Szyslak #1 (2017)

FS: What’s the neatest thing about the show/characters that you’ve learned from working on BONGO Comics?

Mostly just the little subtle things required to keep everyone on-model. But this knowledge is a blessing and a curse because now whenever I see Simpsons fan art, I notice the off-model parts, especially on tattoos.

FS: I saw you post on twitter a couple tattoos inspired by your Simpsons artwork, have you ever been asked to design a tattoo?

NM: I used to do tattoo commissions, but stopped when I realized the best way to get a good tattoo is find a tattoo artist you like, give them vague ideas of what you want, and let them come up with the design.

FS: Do you have a dream collaboration you’re hoping to do someday? An writer or another artist you want to do a project with that you haven’t yet, or a story you’re dying to tell?

from Simpsons Comics #131 (2007)

NM: I’ve done a few Simpsons manga parodies for Bongo now, and one of them was based on Death Note (“Murder He Wrote,” the one that won an Eisner in 2009). It was for their annual Treehouse of Horror issue, and I’d love to do another horror manga for it, this time based on the works of Junji Ito. Maybe based on “Uzumaki” or “The Enigma of Amigara Fault,” or just a general pastiche of his works. It would be a blast to mimic his beautiful but grotesque art style.

FS: You’re a very busy artist, what’s some of the next stuff you have coming out that you can tell us about? Any new Simpsons comics coming up in 2018?

NM: February 27th is the release date for “Sparks!”, a Scholastic children’s graphic novel I drew. It was written by my friend and frequent collaborator Ian Boothby, who’s arguably the most prolific Bongo Comics writer (he also did “Murder He Wrote”). Though we live in the same city, we met through Bongo Comics, and I’m happy we were able to work on such a major non-Bongo project together.

Coming February 2018 from Scholastic!

FS: Thanks to Nina for taking time out of her busy schedule to talk to us—seriously, creating comics is time-consuming hard work. You can learn more about Nina Matsumoto, and see/buy her work at:

  • SpaceCoyote.com (Probably the coolest Simpsons-referencing website name ever.)
  • Nina’s page of custom video game merch at FanGamer! (That GALF shirt is rad, and I’d love to see a Lee Carvallo’s Putting Challenge version.)
  • Nina’s twitter where she often shares lots of laughs, original comics, her love of gaming, peaks at artwork in progress, and publishing announcements.

 

Posted in comic books, Contemporary, Cultural Impact, fan art, simpsons in the news,, interview, The Simpsons | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

So Long, Stinktown! January 2018 at Flim Springfield

We at Flim Springfield have been offline for a while, and as 2018 FINALLY begins there’s time at last to explain why. A few months back, Ms. Flim Springfield got her dream job, working as a mechanic in the cutting edge electric vehicle industry, which involved moving to California!

Hollyweird

Hollywoo, Tinseltown, La-La-Land. The City of Illusions.

Here’ a hint about the company she works for.

americanrobotcars

The joke is that American cars are low quality but these cars are actually amazing

During this period JRC was still living in Phoenix, working hard to wrap up a handful of non-Simpsons projects. There just wasn’t much time or energy available to work on the blog. But that doesn’t mean we weren’t working on other Simpsons stuff.

Diana made friends with regular attendees of the fantastic Stonecutters Trivia at Meltdown Comics, and together they decided to start their own weekend Simpsons Trivia contest show across town at Springbok Sports Bar under the official Woo-Hoo banner of worldwide Trivia nights! Because LA is so huge, having a second similar trivia show is a thing you can do, whereas in a like Phoenix (with its smaller nightlife/live event community) it would be considered copying in poor taste. By the time JRC arrived in town, the crew already been running the show for two months and the stage was ready…

 

Our Springbok show is different in that it takes place on Saturday afternoon, and has a different setup system for the questions, 4 categories of 10 questions each, instead of our 35 questions and 8 categories. There’s also a projection screen so we can have the questions/answers on screen and other stuff. We’re still working the bugs out of the system, but it was a fun way to make my debut in LA. We’ve got a Facebook community page to meet teammates and trade memes, and our next show is Saturday January 13th at 3pm, we hope you’ll come give us a try.

when 2 best friends work together, not even god himself can stop them!

fully licensed and bonded trivia

We’re living in a suburb where there happens to be a lot of animation production. Cartoon Network, Warner Brothers, and Nickelodeon are all nearby. One morning for breakfast we went to Moore’s Delicatessen, which in addition to having great coffee and sandwiches is also a regular lunch stop for folks working in the industry, their back room is covered with sketches by the people who create your favorite cartoons!

 

Aside from these adventures, I’ve pretty much spent my time trying to get adjusted to life here and integrate myself into the town. I got my library card, driver’s license, found a new local comics shop, visited some of the neat local shops, and the nearby museum complex . . .

 

To cap things off and kickoff the new year, Diana and I got to meet in person one of our Simpsons Community peers from down under, Elliot Jay O’Neill from Australia’s The Simpsons Index spreadsheet and podcast!

no. no they didn't

Did someone say long lost triplets?

Another 'shoot-em-up push them through the plate-glass-window' splatterfest from the Hollywood cookie cutter.

A tourist trap concocted by the Ape Island Jaycees

Los Angeles seems to have a lot to offer, and I’m looking forward to exploring it for a long time. Who knows what adventures we’ll have!

Posted in Classic Simpsons, coming soon, Contemporary, live show, podcasts, The Simpsons, trivia | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment