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May 3, 2021 5:54 AM   Subscribe

John Swartzwelder gives an interview to The New Yorker.
posted by box (39 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
 
Excellent. < tents fingers >
posted by table of malcontents at 6:25 AM on May 3 [3 favorites]


Before someone thinks of the obvious derail, some blue check on Twitter posted "I'm heartbroken to inform you that beloved comedy writer in this interview is a conservative." and of course it turned out the guy writes for Jimmy Fallon of all people. He got correctly clobbered in the replies and it seems to be gone now.
posted by Space Coyote at 6:37 AM on May 3 [3 favorites]


If you're a Simpsons fan or just a fan of comedy writing, it should be noted just how big a deal this is: this is Swartzwelder's first interview ever. Him giving this interview is kind of a miracle no one expected.
posted by star gentle uterus at 6:53 AM on May 3 [4 favorites]


This is such a great interview. I kind of hate him. Like, professionally and respectfully, but he's just so funny and he's got such a grasp of the setup-punchline format, and just enough weirdness you don't see the joke coming so it hits like a truck.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 7:08 AM on May 3 [3 favorites]


He wrote books? He wrote books!?! Oh, joy!!!

http://www.kennydalebooks.com/
posted by Silvery Fish at 7:21 AM on May 3


Some interesting clarity on the show's origins: Jim Burrows' deal with Fox meant absolutely no network interference, and he fully credits Sam Simon with putting together the original writing team (and mentions that was one of Simon's great talents, recognizing writers who were great and funny but also out-of-work). Also, season 3 remains Swartzwelder's favorite.

(And anyone surprised by his libertarian political views has not paid attention to the episodes he wrote at all.)
posted by LooseFilter at 7:44 AM on May 3


I was relieved that a 70-something male comedy writer managed to get through an entire interview without complaining about "cancel culture" or "jokes you could never tell these days."
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:48 AM on May 3 [19 favorites]


I read one of his books and I'd have to characterize it as exhaustingly offbeat. And very funny, of course.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 7:50 AM on May 3


He wore a onion on the archived version, as was the style of the time.
posted by chavenet at 7:50 AM on May 3 [9 favorites]


Before someone thinks of the obvious derail, some blue check on Twitter posted "I'm heartbroken to inform you that beloved comedy writer in this interview is a conservative."

I mean ok, but also for anyone who wants to buy his books, he's a conservative and so there is sometimes random racism out of nowhere (have read at least 3 of them)
posted by schadenfrau at 9:51 AM on May 3 [1 favorite]


they're a rollercoaster, really. the one that starts with "I suppose I should being by apologizing for the billions of deaths. And I do. Humbly" gets to the racism like two pages later, I think

They are still very Swartzweldian
posted by schadenfrau at 9:52 AM on May 3 [1 favorite]


Still laughing about "playing tag."
posted by wenestvedt at 9:54 AM on May 3 [2 favorites]


I admit to being one of the few people who have never watched a full episode of the Simpsons. I did read this entire interview. He is truly a funny man. I laughed out loud when I read this:

I agree. I’m looking through your window as I type this next question: What do you make of the compliment “Swartzweldian”?

I guess I understand what they’re driving at, and it all sounds very complimentary, and I thank everybody for that, but I can’t help thinking “Swartzweldian” is about the most awkward-sounding word in the English language. I mean, I thought “Oakleyesque” and “Vittiriffic” [after “Simpsons” writers Bill Oakley and Jon Vitti] were bad, but “Swartzweldian”!

So how would you describe your sense of humor, your comedic sensibility?

Swartzweldian.


or:

...Some people suspected I might be stupid. Others were sure of it.
posted by AugustWest at 10:06 AM on May 3 [5 favorites]


MetaFilter: Some people suspected I might be stupid. Others were sure of it.

That sounds *so* much like Mark Twain to me -- the breezy, winking, self-deprecating pace of it, as he moves on without pause to some showy bit of cleverness.

I will read this interview a few times to enjoy all of it!
posted by wenestvedt at 10:12 AM on May 3 [1 favorite]


I like the idea of thinking of Homer as a dog. Sometimes he's written as a human who's just a jerk. Sometimes he seems so dumb you wonder how he stays alive. But as a dog he is in the moment at all times and can go from one idea to a completely different idea in a second driven only by what interests him at the time and not making the change in direction seem out of character.
posted by downtohisturtles at 10:44 AM on May 3 [8 favorites]


A magnificent magazine. I had a great many jokes in Army Man, including, “They can kill the Kennedys, why can’t they make a cup of coffee that tastes good?” I also did a cartoon that had some nicely drawn chickens in it—one dead in the middle of the road, with the other two wailing, “Why? Why!?” Classic stuff. And the beaks were perfect.

You had to be there, I guess. And clearly people were there at some point, and I’m glad. He became a master.

Nobody wants to read a book. You’ve got to catch their eye with something exciting in the first paragraph, while they’re in the process of throwing the book away. If it’s exciting enough, they’ll stop and read it. Then you’ve got to put something even more exciting in the second paragraph, to suck them in further. And so on. It’s exhausting for everybody, but it’s got to be done.

This is really good advice, taken diluted. Editors are indeed looking for an excuse not to keep reading, as are some buyers. You don’t have to turn somersaults, although clearly he has found an audience by doing so.
posted by Countess Elena at 11:01 AM on May 3


I like the idea of thinking of Homer as a dog

Yeah, I think Schwarzwelder had the best take on Homer* and you can pretty much pinpoint where the show started its slow decline once the writers strayed from this conception and started writing him as more of a willful misanthrope (i.e., 'Jerkass' Homer.)

*[Excerpt from the interview] "Yes, he is a big talking dog. One moment he’s the saddest man in the world, because he’s just lost his job, or dropped his sandwich, or accidentally killed his family. Then, the next moment, he’s the happiest man in the world, because he’s just found a penny—maybe under one of his dead family members. He’s not actually a dog, of course—he’s smarter than that—but if you write him as a dog you’ll never go wrong."
posted by Atom Eyes at 11:12 AM on May 3 [5 favorites]


Since writing is very hard and rewriting is comparatively easy and rather fun, I always write my scripts all the way through as fast as I can, the first day, if possible, putting in crap jokes and pattern dialogue—“Homer, I don’t want you to do that.” “Then I won’t do it.” Then the next day, when I get up, the script’s been written. It’s lousy, but it’s a script. The hard part is done. It’s like a crappy little elf has snuck into my office and badly done all my work for me, and then left with a tip of his crappy hat. All I have to do from that point on is fix it. So I’ve taken a very hard job, writing, and turned it into an easy one, rewriting, overnight.

[QFT]
posted by chavenet at 11:54 AM on May 3 [22 favorites]


you can pretty much pinpoint where the show started its slow decline once the writers strayed from this conception and started writing him as more of a willful misanthrope (i.e., 'Jerkass' Homer.)

Homer Simpson was, in early seasons, a typical working-class guy who may have been dumb but genuinely cared for his family. Was he lazy sometimes? Yeah, but he also took on second jobs when money was tight.

Schwarzwelder's politics leaked hard into Homer's Enemy and painted the Homers of the world as the problem with the workplace rather than the Misters Burns.

It'd be a bit much to blame Schwarzwelder directly for Jerkass Homer, but that episode is certainly a turning point.
posted by explosion at 11:59 AM on May 3


Schwarzwelder's politics leaked hard into Homer's Enemy and painted the Homers of the world as the problem with the workplace rather than the Misters Burns

Schwarzwelder didn't think Homer was the problem:
You mentioned “Homer’s Enemy,” which has to be one of the darkest half hours ever on television. It’s about an upstanding, decent, and hardworking character named Frank Grimes, who’s driven mad by Homer. At the end, Grimes accidentally electrocutes himself, and then Homer snores and talks in his sleep at Grimes’s funeral, to the amusement of the attendees. Not what James Brooks might refer to as a “lot of heart.”

Grimey was asking for it the whole episode. He didn’t approve of our Homer. He was asking for it, and he got it. Now what was this you were saying about heart?
posted by Atom Eyes at 12:05 PM on May 3 [4 favorites]


A conservative writer pushing their agenda would have been one where Grimes' hard work wins him a promotion and recognition while Homer is made to look the fool. Schwarzwelder politics aren't so straightforward, he's saying 'don't expect a reward just because you think you deserve it. Don't walk in to someone else's show and act like the protagonist. That kind of hubris will get you killed."
posted by Space Coyote at 12:09 PM on May 3 [13 favorites]


I have a half-written essay about how "Homer's Enemy" is really a satirical warning from Schwarzwelder about the stalking horse of neoliberalism coming for the American middle class.
posted by dry white toast at 12:30 PM on May 3 [4 favorites]


The New Yorker has published an article on UFO’s and an interview with John Swartzwelder in a week. What’s next? The Stonecutters really made Steve Guttenberg a star?
posted by glaucon at 12:32 PM on May 3 [6 favorites]


What’s next?

They began putting their crossword in the print version. They are quite good; not the kinds of clues you see in the NYTimes.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 12:42 PM on May 3 [2 favorites]


The DVD commentary tracks for the classic seasons are full of reverence for Swartzwelder. I kind of think he's to The Simpsons what Tex Avery was to Looney Tunes.
posted by riruro at 12:43 PM on May 3 [2 favorites]


Take the following joke, a favorite among “Simpsons” writers and fans, which appears in Season 8’s “Homer vs. the Eighteenth Amendment,” when Homer stands atop a stack of barrels, outside a pawn shop, and delivers a toast to a gathered crowd: “To alcohol. The cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems.”

I never was much impressed by that line. I like the old hobos etc though. And the cartoon cat and mouse murders.
posted by thelonius at 12:45 PM on May 3


This interview really made my weekend. There's part of me that suspects / hopes that Schwartzwelder and Gary Larson occasionally meet as part of a Pacific Northwest-based 90s comic writer reclusive genius club.

For those who are feeling that time has gotten behind them – it's worth noting that Schwartzwelder didn't become a full-time television writer until he was almost 40. And that wasn't from lack of desire – per this, he wanted to be one right from childhood, his life just hadn't quite oriented to give him a real crack at it. I think a lot of people can relate to that.
posted by workingdankoch at 1:04 PM on May 3 [7 favorites]


This is one of the funniest interviews I've read in some time. I am so happy he did this.

From the Grimes mention, to several other answers, he answers inline to the tone of comedy or self-referential references for multiple references and delivers a punch that is truly just timely, funny, and weird enough.

And yes, he made a bigger 'break,' at thirty six. Read this last evening, happy to see it here. I'm going to read it again to try to absorb it.


Swartzweldian.
posted by firstdaffodils at 1:59 PM on May 3


Metafilter: I'm not saying we're not gods.
posted by dannyboybell at 2:35 PM on May 3 [1 favorite]


"Schwarzwelder didn't think Homer was the problem:
You mentioned “Homer’s Enemy,” which has to be one of the darkest half hours ever on television. It’s about an upstanding, decent, and hardworking character named Frank Grimes, who’s driven mad by Homer. At the end, Grimes accidentally electrocutes himself, and then Homer snores and talks in his sleep at Grimes’s funeral, to the amusement of the attendees. Not what James Brooks might refer to as a “lot of heart.”

Grimey was asking for it the whole episode. He didn’t approve of our Homer. He was asking for it, and he got it. Now what was this you were saying about heart?"

The way he answers in the tone of that particular episode is so good. He doesn't skip a beat and it's completely deadpan. Such a silly interview.
posted by firstdaffodils at 3:05 PM on May 3 [2 favorites]



And there was a “Weekend Update” joke I always regretted didn’t make it to air. It was, “Tragedy struck the slopes of Mount Rainier this week when a stranded hiker had to eat the people who were rescuing him just to stay alive.”

if this is Conservative humour, I'm all for it.
posted by philip-random at 6:35 PM on May 3 [3 favorites]


I was relieved that a 70-something male comedy writer managed to get through an entire interview without complaining about "cancel culture" or "jokes you could never tell these days."

Preconceived expectations are often wrong. If you go looking for the bad, you'll find it (and share it profusely) or you will be disappointed that you didn't find the bad you were looking for. Both are worse than not having preconceptions. That's just stereotyping.
posted by zengargoyle at 8:06 PM on May 3 [4 favorites]


Please, folks: Swartzwelder, not Schwartzwelder.
posted by LooseFilter at 10:39 PM on May 3 [2 favorites]


A conservative writer pushing their agenda would have been one where Grimes' hard work wins him a promotion and recognition while Homer is made to look the fool.

But would it be funny? One could argue that as written, that episode is exactly how a conservative writer pushing an agenda would write it. See? See? Intelligent capable straight white male plays by the rules and gets screwed by idiots and the system AMIRITE?

Which is not to say that this was what the writer had in mind. Comic writing pushing any agenda is going to be weak, regardless of the author's political orientation. Leaving aside the question of whether libertarians are conservative, I'm a little hard-pressed to think of clearly conservative writings cutting the decent hardworking guy a break. Evelyn Waugh, George McDonald Fraser - their decent fellows get it in the neck, good and hard. (Don't know what Tom Sharpe's politics were- started out BUF like his father, got cured of that by the war, later mocked apartheid era South Africa, but to be sure, his decent characters tend not to end up roses.

End of the day, someone has to get the cream pie. Satirists are happy to hit both big guy and the little guy, moralists the tallest poppies. Either can work. (Much remains to be said on the topic and time is short.)
posted by BWA at 6:05 AM on May 4 [1 favorite]


Countess Elena: You had to be there, I guess.

To my ongoing delight, a few years ago somebody posted the whole of Army Man on Tumblr for all to read. It has (as someone warned above) some occasional spurts of thoughtless and unnecessary bigotry, but it also has some great stuff, including the world debut of Jack Handey as an extremely funny man and a dazzling array of very funny bits. If you are a comedy geek, it's worth a read; if you're not a comedy geek, it's probably not worth your time, but still! Sometimes the Internet functions as a really neat archive in ways that make me happy and give me hope.

(MeFi discussion about a former Army Man archive here, from all the way back in 2010.)
posted by rorgy at 9:11 AM on May 4 [1 favorite]


I have a half-written essay about how "Homer's Enemy" is really a satirical warning from Schwarzwelder about the stalking horse of neoliberalism coming for the American middle class.


There was a twitter meme some time back about how Homer is the Boomer (cushy secure job gotten with a high-school education only, home ownership, able to support a family--usually--on one salary) and Grimes is the Millennial (overqualified and ambitious, dedicated to a fault, living in a studio apartment above a bowling alley and below another bowling alley, driven mad by the injustice of his situation). It doesn't not feel true.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 10:34 AM on May 4 [2 favorites]


"..But we never got a big head about it, because we knew we could be replaced by other gods in about two seconds, anytime, probably for less money."
posted by firstdaffodils at 4:44 PM on May 4


Please, folks: Swartzwelder, not Schwartzwelder

John Swartzwelder, or "Schwartzy", as he liked to be called...
posted by obscure simpsons reference at 5:10 PM on May 4 [6 favorites]


I don’t know the guy - who does? - but I’m also inclined to believe the writer is sympathetic to the view of Grimes he offers here, even if it’s also delivered in character. It’s not necessarily an un-conservative attitude, even. Chesterton-esque - don’t go trying to remove Homers if you don’t understand what purpose they serve.
posted by atoxyl at 1:32 PM on May 5 [1 favorite]


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