You might not recognise the name John Swartzwelder, but you’ll almost certainly recognise his work. For more than a decade, Swartzwelder worked as a writer on The Simpsons and penned some of the show’s most iconic and highly regarded episodes. He is credited with writing more episodes than any other writer – a total of 59, with content ranging from the ‘Treehouse of Horror’ Halloween specials to the famously controversial ‘Homer’s Enemy.’
Despite the praise he continues to receive from fans and colleagues alike, Swartzwelder is notoriously reclusive. Few photographs of the man are known to exist, and before this month he had never given a media interview. All of this fanned the flames of a widely circulated fan theory suggesting that the name was actually a pseudonym used by other writers and that Swartzwelder himself did not exist.
But, as it turns out, Swartzwelder is a real person, and this month he sat down with The New Yorker to give his first-ever interview at the age of 72.
A range of topics are discussed within the interview, covering not just his work on The Simpsons but his previous jobs at an advertising agency and as a staff writer for Saturday Night Live. Swartzwelder took the opportunity to address a long-standing urban legend: that he once had his favourite diner booth installed in his own house so he could circumvent the restaurant’s no-smoking policy. “Actually, I bought a new diner booth and had it installed in my home… Diner booths are a great place to write.”
Of the 59 episodes Swartzwelder wrote for the series, he listed the following as his favourites: ‘Homer at the Bat’, ‘Bart the Murderer’, ‘Itchy and Scratchy and Marge’, ‘Homie the Clown’, ‘Bart Gets an Elephant’, ‘Dog of Death’, ‘Homer vs. the Eighteenth Amendment’, and ‘Homer’s Enemy.’ He also cited Mr Burns as being among his favourite characters and explained that Homer was really nothing more than a “big talking dog.”
Swartzwelder acknowledged the reverence with which he is held by Simpsons fans and said he continues to be pleased by the response to his episodes, many of which are now recognised as classics. When asked if he had any advice for aspiring writers or comedians, Swartzwelder said simply: “Write what makes you laugh. At least you’ll get a laugh out of it.”
The full interview can be found here: https://www.newyorker.com/culture/the-new-yorker-interview/john-swartzwelder-sage-of-the-simpsons
Words by Dan Pearson
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