Cornfield Meet

Things collide here.

Springfield Gorge Redux

Tuesday, April 19, I was sitting in an auditorium at the Akron Public Library with tears streaming down my face, watching my all-time favorite clip of The Simpsons: Homer’s attempted leap of Springfield Gorge. It’s the final minute or two of the show, beginning with his jump, and his sadly mistaken revelation – “I’m gonna make it!” – building through not one but two crashes to the ravine floor (by this time, every time I watch it, I am already convulsing) – but sweet maker in Heaven, when they put Homer in that ambulance and it crashes into the tree in the span of an eyeblink, I just howl every damn time.

Part of it is that the scene is perfect, but another factor is that I remember watching it back in 1990, when me and three of my best friends were all home from college on winter break, and we had the episode on videotape, and we kept rewinding that ambulance crash over and over and over and over and oh-my-God it’s STILL funny.

Simpsons writer Joel Cohen was at the library showing the clip, which I was watching in the company of one of those friends who sat in my living room and watched it with me the first time around.
And I’ll say this: If you didn’t know Cohen was a Simpsons writer when you saw him, after a few minutes listening to him tell his jokes and stories, you’d almost be able to tell just from the way he delivers them.
Sometimes, he sounds like a Simpsons script.

Consider his recollection of life after graduating from the University of Alberta in his native Canada: Cohen first worked for a direct-to-video film company (The one behind "Leprechaun," which Cohen clearly relishes in a twisted, eye-rolling way.), then sold advertising for Turner Broadcasting. Souring on that, he headed to California and began writing comedy material, crossing paths with comedian Kathy Griffin, who helped him snare a writing gig on NBC’s "Suddenly Susan."

OK, that’s the setup that leads to this windup: "It was a thrill just knowing I was doing the thing thousands of people dream of doing – " and Cohen recalls this with a sincerity that almost seems real before finishing:
"- moving to L.A., stealing Brooke Shields’ clothes, and selling them on eBay."

He’s hilarious. A little too reliant on his joke notes at times, maybe, but man, he rattles off an avalanche of punchlines just the way the Springfieldians do on TV.

On Elizabeth Taylor’s compensation for voicing Maggie Simpson’s sole spoken word: "She just wanted to marry two writers and a handyman who lived in his car on the lot." (slight pause) "We miss them terribly."

On peculiar parallels: "To my knowledge, Bart and George W. Bush are the only two people to have been spanked by George Bush senior and to moon the Prime Minister of Australia."

On one censorship battle that the network has won with the show: "Fox censors have told us we aren’t allowed to show Homer naked from the back any more." (audience laughs/mock groans) "My heart broke as well … not for me, but for the legions of fans who tune in every week to see a fat cartoon man’s fat ass crack."

Outside of his crafted jokes, Cohen was at his best at the times when he allowed himself to get really wound up and excited about what he was describing, like being washed over by the rapid-fire waves of jokes that happen when the show’s 15 or so writers are in their room going over a script and just pinging ideas off each other nonstop.

He also explained the writers’ habit of poking fun at those die-hard Simpson followers obsessed with discerning the “real-world” location of Springfield. Deliberately obscuring onscreen maps of the town’s surroundings, for example, or constantly changing directional references to geographical landmarks.

As he put it: “Our natural reaction is to mock our viewers for it. It’s that kind of disdainful customer service that has kept us on the air for 17 years.”

That, and the ambulance crash.


April 20, 2006 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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