Dan CastellanetaBy Jeremy Simon
"Wisdom from The Simpsons' 'D'ohh' boy"
He's the voice of our generation. Even at Northwestern, you can't get through a fraternity meeting (Social probation?? D'ohhh! ) or a SAGA lunch (mmmm, orange roughy) without hearing his imitators.
But he walks down the street unmolested, knowing no one will harass him or even recognize him. In normal conversation, Dan Castellaneta, voice of Homer Simpson on Fox's animated sitcom The Simpsons, sounds nothing at all like Homer.
Castellaneta's voice is thin and reedy over the phone, and when switches into character mid-sentence, the distinction is startling. He doesn't look like Homer, either, aside from the fact that they're both balding.
Neither of these things matter to Castellaneta, owner of the most famous, albeit unnatural, voice on TV. Avid viewers may have noticed that Homer's voice has changed a bit since the character was introduced as Bart Simpson's father on "The Tracey Ullman Show" five years ago.
"(The voice) doesn't take a lot of effort now, but in the beginning it was hard to try to find a voice. The one I settled on was just easier to do for a half-hour," Castellaneta said.
The emphasis of The Simpsons has also changed with the times. When the show premiered four years ago, Bart was the central character. The merchandising, which included abominations such as Rasta Bart T-shirt, and advertising was geared more toward the pre-teen set.
Now, Homer steals the show far more often, and Bart has moved into the background. The "Eat My Shorts" that 10-year-olds used as ammunition against older siblings four years ago has been replaced by the many Homerisms spewed by an educated audience that understands the subtleties and obscure references that have progressively slid into the script.
"The writers found that they could do more stuff with Homer because he's a lot more vulnerable, more neurotic," Castellaneta said. "Homer knows his comforts; he's unambitious, and he really, really loves his family."
Castellaneta, who graduated from Northern Illinois University and has done radio spots on WXRT, was living in Chicago when he got his break while working for the Second City improvisation troupe. He was hired for "The Tracey Ullman Show" for one-minute segments, and he automatically made "The Simpsons" when the Simpson family graduated from sketches on Tracey Ullman to a full-length sitcom.
He is now on hiatus, having finished recording the current season's shows. He will go back to The Simpsons in March to record the voice-overs for the next season's 22-24 episodes. He spends about a day and a half on each episode, recording his lines before the animation is drawn. When the cells are completed, he goes back to do more dialogue. His main problem is breaking into laughter at the lines.
"It's the cushiest job, but some lines are so funny that I crack up," he said.
Most of the script is written with little room for ad- libbing, but some scenes are written with some room for spontaneity by the voiceovers.
One such improvisation led to the legendary "D'ohhh," and Castellaneta explained how it came into Homer's lexicon.
"It was written into the script as a 'frustrated grunt,' and I thought of that old Laurel and Hardy character who had a grunt like 'D'owww.' I did it and (Simpsons creator) Matt (Groening) said 'Great, but shorten it,' and this is what I came up with. Matt liked it, and I kept it, but no one knew it would become a catch phrase."
Castellaneta has only seen Simpsons alum Conan O'Brien on his Late Night show once, but he maintains that O'Brien, who wrote and produced several Simpsons episodes, is a funny guy despite the talk show's lukewarm reviews.
"Conan is an extrovert, but it's another thing to be in front of an audience night after night. I figured he really hadn't had time to hone his craft," Castellaneta said. "l thought that it was cute that he had a sidekick who was intentionally bad, but I found out later that he was for real."
Some critics have charged that The Simpsons is full of racial stereotypes. The show depicts Homer's father as senile and the local convenience store clerk as Indian, but Castellaneta denies that the show has racist overtones.
"Apu (the convenience-store clerk) is a stereotype, but he's a very well-rounded character," Castellaneta said. "One of my favorite episodes was the one in which Homer grew hair. That was a very unique episode, since there was a gay secretary, but that wasn't even the issue of the show -- the issue was Homer's image changing because he had hair."
There has been talk of a full-length film starring the Simpsons, though Castellaneta said that because a movie would be so time-consuming, it probably wouldn't be made until the show has finished its run on Fox. It wouldn't be Castellaneta's first dip on the silver screen though: he has had parts in War of the Roses and the upcoming movie The Client, among others.
There's no need to plan a finale party yet -- The Simpsons as a sitcom will likely be extended through 1997. One future episode to look for will involve a bizarre play on time, Castellaneta said. Maggie's birth will be shown. But the clock will only be rolled back to 1993 -- despite the fact that the baby was around in 1989. The jury's still out on how exactly that will be pulled off.
Last updated on January 17, 1999 by Jouni Paakkinen (firstname.lastname@example.org)