Below are the quotes from rather interesting interview with Joel Cohen, writer and associate producer of The Simpsons. Joel is an Emmy award-winning writer and a keynote speaker at the Red Hat Summit this June. The Simpsons is usually described as satirical parody of the middle class American lifestyle epitomized by its titular family (wiki’s one).
Crudely animated scenes were produced with Red Hat Enterprise Linux and Linux animation technology, so our animators were able to show us these scenes incredibly quicky…
The Simpsons has been on for 20 years now. What does the team do to keep creativity alive for that long?
I look forward to talking about this more at the Summit, but basically it is a lot of brainstorming, building on ideas, constantly pushing ourselves to find new, previously un-mined veins for stories and jokes, and shamelessly ripping off other people’s ideas (somehow this last one is the easiest).
How did you wander from a career in sales to writing for The Simpsons and other shows and movies?
A question my parents have asked me repeatedly, although when they ask, they are more sneering and judgmental.
I noticed while Googling that there’s another Joel Cohen who turned out to be a biologist. Maybe you could convince them that’s you. Although he appears to have more than a few years on you in age, so make sure the parents have images turned off when they’re surfing.
It is for exactly that reason that I have refused to allow my parents home to have electricity–that way they can never look me up on a computer. The power generated by the water wheel isn’t enough to run anything but the basic necessities. Some people call it cruel, I call it protecting my self-interests.
I always wanted to write; I just never really pursued it until I found myself in LA growing bored with my sales job. Once I made the decision to pursue a career in writing, it was incredibly tough, and were it not for getting the chance to write some jokes for the comedian Kathy Griffin, I very well might still be selling bad movies to video stores or late night commercial spots on CNN Latin America. So the next time someone out there rents a bad movie or hears of an insomniac in Peru buying something they saw on late night TV, well, that’s my legacy.
Can you explain how The Simpsons used Linux?
Well, before I answer this, I first will admit to being only a writer and consequently both ignorant and in awe of our animators and their process. That said, based on conversations with them, I am willing to commit to the following answer:
The show is all hand-drawn and digitally animated, and the movie was too. However, because we were writing and re-writing the movie at such a furious pace, the scenes we would write needed to be seen and approved or revised (or often rejected) before they committed to the very labor-intensive process of hand drawing the cels.
For that purpose, crudely animated scenes were produced with Red Hat Enterprise Linux and Linux animation technology, so our animators were able to show us these scenes incredibly quickly. Once a scene or piece of a scene was approved, it would begin the more traditional animation route; however, the volume and speed of material that was created for the movie could never have been done without that Red Hat-fueled system.
I saw an interview with you and Tim Long where you guys mentioned that the Americans were writing most of the Canada jokes on the show. Any cracks on Canada you need to set straight?
We once had an episode where a bunch of characters sang “Oh, Canada” (the national anthem), and I noticed that they skipped a line in the song when they sang. I pointed it out to my boss, and he said no one would notice. I was of course indignant until the episode aired in Canada and the US and indeed, no one did notice. Therefore, I’ve given up and just try every day not to be teased too much by the American bullies I work with.
Who’s been your favorite character to write, major or minor?
I love writing for Moe the bartender and Ralph Wiggum. It’s a chance to explore the furthest depths of misery and stupidity respectively – both wonderful places to visit and even better to come home from.
And of course we have to ask… What’s your favorite episode? Or even a top 5?
My very favorite episode is one I saw a crude version of my first day and was absolutely blown away by. It is a homage to the VH1 show “Behind the Music,” but our version is called “Behind the Laughter.” My very first half-hour working on the show was spent watching this episode, and I was amazed by how great it was. My second half-hour was spent hearing all of the talented writers on the show talking about how to make it better–and they were right. It was like sitting around with amazing artists as they talked about how to improve the Mona Lisa. The final product is terrific, and as such, I have a fondness for it. It also may be the only episode of the show since I have worked there that hasn’t gotten worse as a result of my presence.