New Book Delves Into 30 Years Of 'The Simpsons'

By: Rowan Wood

Author Mike Reiss (as interpreted by Simpson's creator Matt Groening).

Mike Reiss, best known for his work as a writer and producer on the longest-running American television sitcom, “The Simpsons,” spends time in Chatham during the summer.

“I come for one week a year, sometimes two weeks,” he said. “I love the town, I know it inside and out by this point.” After he published his book “Springfield Confidential: Jokes, Secrets, and Outright Lies from a Lifetime Writing for The Simpsons” back in June, he thought of no better place to have a signing than the town he comes to every summer.

So Reiss called up Eric Linder, owner of the Yellow Umbrella Books, and arranged a signing for this Saturday, Sept. 8, from 1 to 3 p.m.

“I’ve seen other authors signing there, and I was always jealous, so I just called them out of the blue, said ‘Hey, I’m coming to town, maybe we can do a book event,’” said Reiss.

One of the major topics of Reiss’ book is, of course, his work on “The Simpsons.” Reiss is one of two people who have worked on the series since it began over 30 years ago. “I’ve been there from the very first episode, and I still work there now,” he said. During the early run of the series, he was promoted to show runner for three seasons. Now he serves a producer, visiting the studio “at least once every week.”

Even though Fox’s show is one of the main focuses of the book, it didn’t start out that way.

“It was very strange,” said Reiss. “There was a journalist who I’d never met (Matthew Klickstein), and I talked to him on the phone. He just called me up with this idea, to go on a road trip. We were going to drive all over America, and the idea was ‘Mike Reiss' America,’ with no Simpsons in the book at all. Those were his parameters, and two years later, the book comes out, it’s 85 percent Simpsons, this guy and I never took a road trip (We’ve never even been in a car together), but the book went from what was going to be about a fun project to the book people wanted to read. People don’t want to hear about me and the road, they want to hear about what it’s like at ‘The Simpsons,’ and what it’s like for me to be a writer on the show. Everything people want to know is in the book, and the great thing is it’s not completely about ‘The Simpsons.’”

Originally from Connecticut, Reiss attended Harvard University where he worked on the Harvard Lampoon and met Al Jean, whom he later worked with on “The Simpsons.” After graduating they were hired by the National Lampoon and later began writing for television. Aside from ‘Simpsons,’ Reiss’ writing credits include “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson,” “Sledge Hammer!,” “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show,” and NBC’s soon-to-be-rebooted sitcom “ALF.” He and Jean also created the series “The Critic.” Reiss’ writing experiences on all of these shows are included in his book, as well as anecdotes such as Reiss’ job working as the joke writer for Pope Francis.

“It’s really beyond everybody’s dream how well it’s been received,” said Reiss of the book. “The fans are very happy with the book, and we literally did not get any bad reviews.

“In fact, the people who work at ‘The Simpsons’ are reading the book, and a lot of them are saying ‘I had no idea this was how the show is made.’” Reiss used Nancy Cartwright, the voice of such iconic characters as Bart Simpson and Ralph Wiggum, as an example. “She walked up to me and said ‘I had no idea you as the writers worked so hard to make this show,’” Reiss recalled.

“The current political climate has made writing comedy for series like ‘The Daily Show’ or ‘John Oliver’ much easier,” acknowledged Reiss, “because there’s so much material.” However, because a single episode of “The Simpsons” takes nine months to produce, “we’re never writing about what’s in the news. We’ll talk about more general trends but we couldn’t, for example, make a Trump joke on the show, because whatever we joke about will be old news by the time the episode goes on air. We went through eight years of George W. Bush and never mentioned him on ‘The Simpsons,’ because we just can’t be that timely.”

Reiss doesn’t have any plans to leave the show biz anytime soon. Along with his work on “The Simpsons,” his latest play, “Shakespeare's Worst,” was performed last week at the Utah Shakespeare Festival in Cedar City, Utah.

“I love going into my job, every week after 30 years. The job is fun, it’s fun to create the show. It’s written collectively; there’s six or eight of us sitting around a table, throwing out jokes, and the whole job is to make the other people laugh, and if you make them laugh at a joke, it goes in the script.”