Matt Groening

By Jim Carlile

"Matt Groening... Almost Caught on Tape"
© The Olympian, May 28, 2000.

When I first got on the phone with Matt Groening, I asked him if I could tape the conversation. He didn't mind so I pressed "record." Nothing happened. The tape spools didn't move. My hands started to sweat.

"I seem to be having some trouble with the tape," I stammered, my voice shaking because I was talking to Matt Groening, creator of "The Simpsons," the greatest show on television. Groening, a 1977 Evergreen graduate, will be the commencement speaker at The Evergreen State College graduation at 1:15 p.m. on June 9 at Red Square on campus. This was one of dozens of things I wanted to talk about.

While my shaky hands were fiddling with the recorder, he told me about when he was a reporter and interviewed David Byrne (of Talking Heads) for an article. Afterward, when he went to transcribe the tape, he discovered that something had gone wrong and the interview was not recorded.

Groening tried to recall what he could and ended up writing the story in the form of two stoner teen-agers trying to have a conversation; one being himself, the other, Byrne ("Hey, so what's your favorite song, man?" "Man, my favorite song is ...," etc.). I should have seen his story as an omen.

The tape recorder finally cooperated and I talked with Matt Groening about his time at The Evergreen State College, what he liked about Olympia, "The Simpsons," "Futurama," "Life in Hell," his kids, Daffy Duck and Elmer Fudd. It was a great interview -- the highlight of my career thus far.

I took the tape home and listened to it, but there was no Matt Groening. Just my voice. A tragedy.

Regrettably, I took no notes during the interview. (Note to self: D'oh!)

Taping the interview was all for you, dear reader. A straight question-and-answer format to give you pure, undiluted Groening was the plan.

The point of the Q&A format would really have been to keep me from gushing about Matt Groening. Now, all bets are off.

So, let's begin: I love Matt Groening. "Life in Hell" is the most intelligent comic you could ever hope to find. "The Simpsons" is the smartest, funniest show on television and will never be topped. "Futurama" -- well, I haven't seen many episodes, but the ones I've seen I enjoyed.

Groening lived in Olympia from 1972 until he graduated in 1977. While at Evergreen, he worked for The Cooper Point Journal. If he hadn't gone to Evergreen, Groening said, he probably wouldn't have made it through college.

Groening said he went to Evergreen because he felt grades were unfair and that too many school rules were arbitrarily assigned just because grown-ups feel kids should be controlled. In a past interview, he said, "It seems the main rule that traditional schools teach us how to sit in rows quietly, which is perfect training for grown-up work in a dull office or factory, but not so good for education."

He wasn't much of a drinker in college, he said, but he remembers all his favorite places to eat: The Ribeye, Bob's Big Burgers, Dirty Dave's Pizza, The Spar and The Brown Derby.

For those who ask him about graduating from Evergreen, a bastion of liberal education, and going to work for Rupert Murdoch at FOX, Groening said he tells them that if he can find a Hollywood studio where everyone is kind and decent, he'll go work for them.

"The Simpsons," which started out as animated shorts for "The Tracey Ullman Show," quickly gained popularity as its own 30-minute program on FOX. "Time" magazine recently called "The Simpsons" the greatest television show of the 20th century, but Groening said if da Vinci had had a TV show, it probably would have given him a run for his money.

"Most shows don't reward you for paying attention. But on 'The Simpsons,' if you really do that, there's stuff hidden in the backgrounds," Groening said in a past interview (he said basically the same thing to me, but I can't remember exactly how he said it). "We have what we call freeze-frame gags, which you can't get unless you videotape the show, go back and freeze-frame it."

His theory about the two types of people in the world explains why he thinks his TV shows are funny. The world is divided into two types of people: the Daffy Ducks and the Elmer Fudds. With his two shows, he tries to tell jokes that confuse and annoy part of the audience while delighting the other part. The Elmer Fudds are the ones who don't laugh and get annoyed. The Daffy Ducks are the ones who laugh and annoy other people.

When asked why he wanted to make "Futurama," he said he'd always been interested in science fiction. He talked about Al Gore on the show and how it was Gore's favorite TV show, along with "The Simpsons."

One more reason to vote for Gore, but what Mr. Sneaky failed to mention is that one of Gore's daughters is a writer on "Futurama." He probably just forgot, though. You're forgiven, Matt Groening.

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Last updated on May 12, 2001 by Jouni Paakkinen (