What did he think of “The Simpsons”?
My father was very worried that I was going to starve in Hollywood. He didn’t like Hollywood and thought nothing good came out of a committee. He loved the show. He was really pleased with it. The only thing he said was that Homer could never, ever be mean to Marge. He said that was a rule, which corresponds with the way he treated my mother. He was very nice to her. I thought that was a good note. I don’t know if that is a rule that has ever been articulated to people who work on the show, but everyone just gets it.
Early on your focus shifted from Bart to Homer. When and why? Did it have anything to do with your own aging?
When the first 50 short cartoons were on “The Tracey Ullman Show,” the focus was on the relationship between Bart and Homer. The way I wrote them were Homer being angry and Bart being clueless little jerk, just driven in some weird way to cause trouble. I knew from the moment we decided to turn the shorts into a TV show that Homer was going to be the star. There are more consequences to him being an idiot.
Was anything affected by the writers’ aging?
The writers on the show have been there for years. It’s an addictive place to work, because if you’re interested in writing comedy, writing for “The Simpsons,” which has no notes from the network, and doesn’t have the constraints of a live action show—it’s just a great playground for comedy writers. Whatever they want to write about, the animators can draw it.
Has your son Homer ever created something with you as a character?
Will—he’s Homer only in legal documents—and his brother, Abe, have not done anything to me yet. That’s a ticking time bomb.
Would you be open to that?
Of course, turnabout is fair play. That would be great.
It has been famously said that you can’t go home again, but is “The Simpsons” a way for you to go home again, over and over?
I very early on named a lot of characters after streets in Portland. I thought it would be amusing for people in Portland to be driving past the alphabetically laid-out streets. There’s Flanders, Kearney, Lovejoy, mostly in Northwest Portland. My goal was to name every character after streets in Portland, but we were in a hurry so I dropped that idea.
In another way, is the show a way for you to never leave home?
There is that element for me, that means nothing to anyone else, but the fact that the characters are named after my own family, and Evergreen Terrace, and things like that—that’s just a treat for my family and me.
What kind of home have you created on “The Simpsons”?
As a cartoonist I feel like I’m the jester working with a lot of really smart writers and really talented animators. I think I make it safe for everyone else to be goofy because I’m willing to pitch the dumbest ideas.
So you make everyone else feel comfortable?
I think I make people feel comfortable because I’m willing to be a fool.