David Mirkin & David Silverman

By Al South

© The Montreal Mirror, July 20-27, 1995.

Seeing as I'm the kind of Simpsons fanatic who tapes episodes for repeated viewings and regards Homer as the ideal male role model, getting a chance to talk to David Silverman, 38, the show's original animation director, and David Mirkin ("I'm in my late teens, this being Hollywood"), the head writer and an executive producer, was a major thrill. I interviewed them separately over the phone: Silverman was in his North Hollywood studio listening to Fats Waller while working on a drawing of Ned Flanders saying "Con-do-diddley-olences" (for an upcoming episode in which Homer fakes his own death); Mirkin was at an L.A. hotel, where he was attending a television symposium and trying to avoid critics who were asking him to reveal exactly who shot Mr. Burns. Here's just a taste of what you can expect when the two come to town next week to show clips and talk about the Simpsons as part of Just For Laugh...

Mirror: You get some amazing guest stars on the show. Has anyone turned you down?

Mirkin: There are very few people who have turned us down, but it has happened on occasion. I've always thought that William Shatner is one of the funniest people I've ever seen in my life. He's hilarious. And he's partially aware that he's hilarious too. We've asked him more than once, but he's always said no. One reason might be because we did a thing, "Star Trek: So Very Tired", where Scotty was too fat to even reach the controls and everybody looked real old. So maybe that was it. But we are all giant, diehard Star Trek fans!

Mirror: Are some characters harder to write for than others? Is it harder to come up with a line for Lisa than Homer?

Mirkin: It's always easier to come up with a line for a complete idiot or a wiseguy like Bart than it is for someone who has a good heart and is smart like Lisa. You have to search further to have a smart nice person say something funny, as opposed to a big fat boor.

Silverman: Sometimes Lisa doesn't get as great acting material, but there are times when she does great stuff. Yeardley [Smith] is a very good actress, and we've had some great scenes with her. Like when she got a B plus, and she's really upset, and she's going, "I feel so dirty." That was really good.

Mirror: Do you have a specific idea of who your audience is?

Mirkin: Our demographics are great from age two through 55. But after 55 the show falls off dramatically. Older people don't get the show, and we certainly do put our amount of older-bashing in there. But I think there are about five different levels going on. The children understand the show as a series of bright colours and people falling down and getting punched now and again. And then there's the older teenage audience, who still see it as a series of bright colours and people getting punched now and again. But there are also people who take it on the intellectual level. We have references that we know only handfuls of people are going to get, like some sort of incredible literary reference, or even a scientific reference. But we don't care, the speed of it is so fast that we know we can get away with it. Because if a joke goes by that you don't understand, in another couple of seconds Homer is going to fall down a flight of stairs, and we know everyone will get that.

Mirror: Do you have problems with censorship?

Mirkin: It's cyclic. You definitely go through times when they get more scared than others. But when various congressional threats to our freedoms rear their ugly heads, the networks, I always say, have no backbone. They're the first to run scared and the first to hide under the carpet.

Silverman: It's gotten harder as of late. The Fox network has much more lenient standards and practices than other networks, I think that's kind of evident. They encourage us to show Homer's butt so that they can use it in the promo - "Tonight on Fox, Homer's butt!" But everyone's getting more worried these days.

Mirkin: Every year I hear the same argument about Itchy and Scratchy. We'll do it and people love it and we don't get any complaints about it, and suddenly the network will say, you can't do it. And I'll say, well who exactly is complaining? And they'll say, nobody, but we're just trying to anticipate. I'll say, stop that! They should just relax.

Mirror: Do you remember the first time Homer said, "D'OHHH!"?

Mirkin: You know, it's a sound that goes back to very old movies - someone like Edgar Kennedy would get hit in the head and go D'OHHH! It's an old sound. I would say that Dan Castellaneta [the voice of Homer] is probably the one who really brought it up and made it something familiar.

Mirror: Does the actor who plays Homer look anything like Homer?

Silverman: No, not even close!

Mirror: What are some of your favourite episodes or scenes?

Mirkin: From the ones that I produced, I know which ones hit people and peole have loved. I know they really enjoyed the Homer getting lustful for Mindy [played by Michelle Pfeiffer] episode. That came out great. I know that people enjoyed "Bart's Girlfriend," where Bart's got a girlfriend who's nastier that he is, played by Meryl Streep. There's also been a lot of positive talk for the "Homer Goes into Space" episode. I love the "Monorail" episode, which Conan O'Brien wrote.

Silverman: One of the clips I want to show in Montreal is when Homer's in outer space, eating potato chips to the tune of the Blue Danube. Another of my very favourites, done by Wes [Archer, also an original animator], is the "Three Men and a Comic Book," where they're fighting over an issue of Radioactive Man. Of the ones I've done, I really like "Homie the Clown," where Homer becomes a Krusty the Clown lookalike. "Lisa's Substitute" is a perfect episode, where Lisa has a crush on the substitute teacher, voiced by Dustin Hoffman. "A Streetcar Named Marge" is another classic.

Mirror: How far can you see the Simpsons going? Are you worried about it getting lame?

Mirkin: It's a gigantic fear for me. We've got one more season that we're definitely going to do, which would be eight seasons, and then we really all have to sit down and talk and make sure it's still fresh. Make sure it's still cutting edge, that it's not going to happen just for the money. Unless it's a lot of money...

Transcribed for by Daigle Stephane

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