Matt Groening

By Annemarie Wyley

"'The Simpsons' Creator Groening Grows Up"
© Reuters, September 3, 1999.

EDINBURGH (Reuters) - Matt Groening, creator of the cult television series ``The Simpsons,'' used to empathize with the conniving and under achieving son but says he's now much more like the bumbling but well-intentioned dad.

``I identified with Bart. Now unfortunately as the years go by, I identify more and more with Homer,'' the Emmy award winning animator told a packed house at a showcase of his work at the Edinburgh Television Festival.

But he still seems to be a kid at heart in his baseball jacket emblazoned with the show's bulgy-eyed and canary-yellow characters.

Groening, 45, was on his first visit to Britain since 1973 to give an exclusive screening of his new cartoon series ''Futurama'' -- seen by many TV industry people and fans as the highlight of the festival in the Scottish capital.

``All during the history of 'The Simpsons' I never accepted any invitations to go anywhere to promote the show,'' he told Reuters. ``I've been invited all over the world but it was such a good invitation.''

Initially, Groening wasn't sure what was in store at the TV festival, which runs alongside the annual bonanza of music, film and comedy events in Edinburgh.

``There are so many Edinburgh festivals I was quite confused. I thought I'd come over to do stand-up,'' Groening joked.

America's Most Famous Family

Surprisingly, the man who has made millions from creating America's favorite cartoon family never put pen to paper before the age of 28.

Brought up in Portland, Oregon, he moved to Los Angeles to become a writer after graduating from Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. After a brief stint as a music journalist he began drawing the ``Life in Hell'' comic strip, which he still produces once a week. Then came ``The Simpsons.''

``The Simpsons' started out in 1987 as very short cartoons on the 'Tracey Ullman Show','' Groening said, showing footage of the family as their more crudely drawn predecessors.

By 1990, the cartoon clan had their own weekly slot and quickly became the most talked about show on U.S. television. The show is now broadcast to 70 countries.

At the head of the family is the overweight and hapless Homer, who appears much older than his 36 years due to his love of junk food and ``Duff'' beer.

His catchphrase ``D'oh'' has become legendary but Groening says he would prefer to hear a more original greeting when he runs into fans.

Then there's Marge, Homer's long-suffering and blue-beehived wife, and brainy eight-year-old sax-playing Lisa -- the moral pillars of the family. And they need to be with a son like Bart, who once sold his soul for five dollars.

Maggie, the toddler, has only once stopped sucking her soother to say ``Daddy'' -- with Liz Taylor doing the honors -- but no one heard her except the audience.

Groening named the characters after members of his own family with the exception of Bart -- which may well be an anagram of brat.

Celebrities Clamour for Cartoon Cameos

Beyond the antics of the family and regular cast of wacky characters, ``The Simpsons'' is famed for celebrity voices by the likes of Kirk Douglas, Winona Ryder and Johnny Cash. Many others have appeared as themselves -- or how Groening sees them.

But Groening was coy about whether he had ever turned down a big name.

``Yeah, I'm sure I'm going to say that,'' he said. ``We have a long secret list of celebrities who have made their availability known and we will get to them one of these days.''

Sometimes the challenge was figuring out how to use famous faces in the show, he said.

One of his favorite episodes featured a hard-working employee of Homer's called Frank Grimes who strongly disapproved of his lackadaisical attitude.

``Homer just drives the guy crazy and he goes nuts saying 'Look at me, I'm Homer Simpson, I don't have to obey the rules' and starts running around like crazy but accidentally gets electrocuted and dies,'' he said.

In honor of his Edinburgh visit, Groening paid homage to one of his favorite characters -- surly Scotsman Groundskeeper Willie.

``I had never been to Scotland before,'' Groening said. ``I thought (Willie) was a negative stereotype but I took a tour of the Edinburgh Festival and some of those tour guides really reminded me of him.''

A few minutes of footage of Springfield Elementary School's flame-haired and wild-eyed maintenance man -- along with his catchphrase: ``There's nary an animal alive that can outrun a greased Scotsman'' -- had the audience roaring in appreciation.

The Future Is Horrible

Groening's new series ``Futurama'' tells the tale of loser pizza delivery boy Fry, who is accidentally cryogenically frozen and catapulted one thousand years to New Year's Eve 2999.

He lands in ``New New York,'' which has been built over the ruins of the original after an alien invasion. A huge tube encircles the city, whizzing passengers to their destinations and belching them out at the end.

Fry sees his leap into the future as an opportunity to make a fresh start but on arrival is told by sexy one-eyed alien Leela, a Fate Assignment Officer, that he is destined to pursue the job he hated back in 1999.

Leela quits her job and hooks up with Fry and a hard-drinking and foul-mouthed robot called Bender.

When Fry tries to make a phonecall, he finds himself in a ''Stop 'n Drop'' suicide booth giving the choice of ``quick and painless'' or ``slow and horrible.''

In the ``Head Museum,'' disembodied celebrities are kept alive in jars.

``We try to lead lives of quiet dignity,'' says the head of actor Leonard Nimoy. Other guests will include The Beastie Boys, Pamela Anderson, Richard Nixon and Groening himself.

``The future is horrible,'' Fry says in one scene of the series, which will be shown on Britain's Sky One cable channel starting on September 21.

Groening said ``Futurama'' asks whether the future holds more promise than the present.

``One of the themes of the show is what would happen if you were able to leave the here and now and go to the far future,'' he said.

``Would you be able to reinvent yourself and be a completely different person or would you be the same loser you were before?''

Search The Simpsons Archive:    Search Help

[ FAQs, Guides & Lists | Upcoming Episodes | Episode Guide | Capsules | Miscellaneous | Web Links | News | About | Home ]

Last updated on September 4, 1999 by Jouni Paakkinen (