I have a confession to make, I am a Simpsons geek. In the past few years I wasn’t keeping up with it, but now that my son is old enough to watch The Simpsons we’ve been catching up together. The show is so consistently funny and clever and the humor is ridiculously over the top. I forgot what a joy The Simpsons can be, especially when seen through my son’s eyes.
Creator Matt Groening has a wonderful new interview with Smithsonian magazine in which he reveals the origin of the series, the location of the mythical town of Springfield, and how the characters were inspired and named. He may have dropped these tidbits before, but there were so many of them and they gave me such insight into The Simpsons that I had to share. Did you know that Groening’s dad was named Homer, his mom is Margaret and he has sisters named Maggie and Lisa? I didn’t! Here’s some of his interview, and if you’re a fan at all you may want to read more at the source.
Claudia de la Roca: So take us back to the Simpsons’ foundational moment. In 1987 you were waiting for a meeting with James Brooks and you started sketching. What were you thinking?
Matt Groening: I had been drawing my weekly comic strip, “Life in Hell,” for about five years when I got a call from Jim Brooks, who was developing “The Tracey Ullman Show” for the brand-new Fox network. He wanted me to come in and pitch an idea for doing little cartoons on that show. I soon realized that whatever I pitched would not be owned by me, but would be owned by Fox, so I decided to keep my rabbits in “Life in Hell” and come up with something new.
While I was waiting—I believe they kept me waiting for over an hour—I very quickly drew the Simpsons family. I basically drew my own family. My father’s name is Homer. My mother’s name is Margaret. I have a sister Lisa and another sister Maggie, so I drew all of them. I was going to name the main character Matt, but I didn’t think it would go over well in a pitch meeting, so I changed the name to Bart…
OK, why do the Simpsons live in a town called Springfield? Isn’t that a little generic?
Springfield was named after Springfield, Oregon. The only reason is that when I was a kid, the TV show “Father Knows Best” took place in the town of Springfield, and I was thrilled because I imagined that it was the town next to Portland, my hometown. When I grew up, I realized it was just a fictitious name. I also figured out that Springfield was one of the most common names for a city in the U.S. In anticipation of the success of the show, I thought, “This will be cool; everyone will think it’s their Springfield.” And they do.
You’ve never said it was named after Springfield, Oregon, before, have you?
I don’t want to ruin it for people, you know? Whenever people say it’s Springfield, Ohio, or Springfield, Massachusetts, or Springfield, wherever, I always go, “Yup, that’s right.”
You’re on record as loving your hometown. Is it all love or is there a little love-hate?
I loved growing up in Portland, but I also took it for granted. Now, I look back and realize how idyllic a place it was. My family lived on a long, windy road on a little dead-end street called Evergreen Terrace—also the name of the street the Simpsons live on—and in order to visit any friends I had to walk at least a mile through the woods to get to their house.
But when I say idyllic, I mean the external circumstances of my childhood were pretty pleasant. That does not take into account that I was bored out of mind from the first day of first grade. Also, I was bullied. If you use certain words that can only be gotten by reading a book or two, that somehow enrages a certain kind of lug. When I was in fourth grade, these older kids surrounded me one day, and they told me they were going to beat me up after school. Knowing I was going to get beat up, I smashed one kid in the face as hard as I could, and then I got beaten up. The next day, all the kids were brought in to the school office, and they all had to apologize to me, and I just hated their guts.
What did [your father] 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.
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.
So does that make you the number-one fool?
(Laughs) No, I wouldn’t say that. There are plenty of fools. I just admit it.
This whole interview had me nodding, smiling and wanting to have a beer with Groening. Yes the show may have overstayed its welcome. It’s been on since I was in high school. (When I used to have an awesome Itchy and Scratchy t-shirt.) I love that I can still tape it twice a weekday whenever I want and get an hilarious 20 minute break. I’m thrilled to hear that the setting and characters are so personal for Groening. I had no idea.
Written by Celebitchy
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