How did you get Danny Elfman to write your theme tune?
Groening: I used to be a rock critic. I used to write about music and many, many years ago I actually was a big fan of Danny Elfman's first band, before Oingo Boingo, The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo, which was kind of a Cab Calloway, big band thing. And I saw Oingo Boingo and look, rock critics, you know, we're ordinary, I gave it a bad review. I enraged Danny Elfman so much with my bad review that he actually wrote a letter to the editor. This is again, way, way before The Simpsons. And then it came time to do The Simpsons TV show and we wanted a great film score composer. I wanted Danny Elfman and I thought, "Oh, he'll never remember." He remembered. We gave him as a click track The Jetsons theme. Then he wrote something completely different which we think is fantastic. Several years ago, the readers of TV Guide voted The Simpsons the most annoying TV theme of all time.
But has Danny ever forgiven you?
Groening: Oh yeah! He did forgive me because I also did a cartoon once, a comic strip called How to be a Feisty Rock Critic, in which I made fun of all rock critics and Danny Elfman approved very much of that.
Are the Simpsons based on anyone you know?
Groening: The characters are named after members of my own family. I do have a father named Homer, my mother is Margaret, Marge for short. I have sisters named Lisa and Maggie. When it came time to name the boy, I thought, "Should I name him Matt?" But I thought I shouldn't do that to myself. But the characters are not like my family, except in appearance! No they're nothing like my family. Except - it's so good to bail on your own answers - well, my mother when I was a kid actually did have tall hair. Very tall hair. Not quite as tall as Marge's and not blue, but the hairstyle was based on her. A little bit on her, a little bit on the Bride of Frankenstein.
Do you have a favourite character and a favourite line?
Groening: I like Ralph Wiggum. I think my new favourite line is, "I like men now." And it's not really a joke, but he said "My cat's breath smells like cat food," and I don't know why but that resonates with me!
You've tried all kinds of genres, including a Bollywood episode. Where did the character Apu come from?
Groening: Apu originated with the Apu trilogy. The great, great and classic series of films by Satyajit Ray. Fantastic. Not funny, very moving. It'll make you cry, but that's where Apu came from. And the character of Apu is not based on any particular person, but it's true that before The Simpsons one night in L.A., I was in my way to a party and I wanted to stop and get some beer to bring to the party, and I went in to a 7-11 where everyone goes to get beer. You go into 7-11, you turn right, you go to the freezer and there's beer. But there wasn't any. It was weird. So I started to go around the perimeter of the store looking for beer. I went all the way around and there was no beer, so I thought I must have missed it. So I went around again and I couldn't find any beer. I went around three times, and finally I went up to the guy at the counter and he said, "No beer!" And then I looked around and I noticed that there were other people like me circling the store, and there was no sign. They were just waiting for you to ask and then very happily say, "No beer!" That's where the delightful, enthusiastic, optimistic personality of Apu came from.
Is there anyone who's not in the film?
Groening: We've tried to write lines for virtually every character in the show. There's some great some lines that didn't make it in the end. One of my favourite lines that didn't make it to the end of the movie, in fact the whole scene got cut. Bart accidentally or inadvertently gets locked away in a mummy sarcophagus while Homer is looking on and Marge says, "Homer!." And Homer says, "Marge, he's got to get over his fear of coffins!" And that's a great line, right? And it didn't make it into the movie.
Do you ever get tired of the Simpsons?
Groening: You know, The Simpsons is so much part of my life that at times I just want to take a drink! No, even as I was answering I was thinking do I dare? Do I do that joke? No, I don't get tired of it. First of all, it's a collaborative effort. Al Jean writes some of the best jokes that we've ever done in addition to running the show. And I get to experience the show both as a participant and as a fan. And it's really, really fun just to go there and be a part of the process. And the scripts are really good, we think, and then the actors take it to a different level with their adlibs and just the way they interpret the scripts, and then the animators try to bring it to another level and we add jokes all the time, and as you heard from the coffin joke, some of the best jokes get deleted. And then Al recycles them.
THANKS TO WILL/FOX LONDON, 4.JUL.07
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