An interview with Simpsons writing legend John Swartzwelder

Last week, I read an interesting interview with Simpsons writing legend John Swartzwelder in The New Yorker:

Swartzwelder has been deemed “one of the greatest comedy minds of all time.” He is famously private and never grants interviews. Few photos of him exist, although he did make some animated cameos as background “Simpsons” characters—once as a patient in a psychiatric hospital. His voice can be heard on only one “Simpsons” DVD writers’ commentary, for “The Cartridge Family” (Season 9, Episode 5). Ambushed by phone, while at home cooking a steak, he sounds pleasant and courteous but eager to finish up the encounter, which lasts all of a minute and twenty-four seconds.

A few facts seem certain. Swartzwelder was born in 1949 in Seattle. He worked a few years as an advertising copywriter in Chicago. He applied for, but never got, a job at “Late Night,” and had an uncomfortable interview with its host, David Letterman. He worked at “Saturday Night Live,” in 1985, for one particularly rocky season, before being hired four years later at “The Simpsons,” based partly on his contributions to a little-known comedy zine. He went on to write fifty-nine episodes, more than any other writer in the show’s history.

He was the guy responsible for one of the most ubiquitous Simpsons quotes of all time:

“To alcohol. The cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems.”

And a sage piece of writing advice:

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. I advise all writers to do their scripts and other writing this way. And be sure to send me a small royalty every time you do it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.