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“Simpsons” producer says he just can’t help himself
April 22, 2003 / BDH

Few speakers can generate a warm response by referring to Tourette Syndrome as a “funny, funny disease” and answering audience questions with certain four-letter words.

But Mike Reiss, Emmy-award winning producer of “The Simpsons” and co-creator of “The Critic,” is one of those speakers.
Reiss spoke on his background in comedy and shared “Simpsons” anecdotes with a packed Upper Salomon audience Monday night. Reiss also showed clips from his shows, including a clip from “Queer Duck,” an animated sitcom starring a gay mallard.

“The reason I write comedy is because I just can’t help myself,” Reiss said.

Reiss said he first realized he had a future in comedy at age five, when a radio report about a girl being clawed to death by a bobcat in a Brooklyn apartment struck him as highly amusing.

Before getting his start writing for programs like “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson,” “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show” and “Alf,” Reiss attended Harvard University, where he edited the Harvard Lampoon.

“If you’re curious what a Harvard education is like,” Reiss said, “here’s what you can do: Go in your backyard and burn $150,000.”

Reiss took shots at Michael Jackson, Calista Flockhart, the University of Arkansas and the Australian parliament during his speech, but he said the favorite target of Simpsons writers is Fox, the show’s home network.

“There is no real opinion we all share at ‘The Simpsons’ except that Fox sucks,” Reiss said.

A commonly asked question for “Simpsons” writers, Reiss said, is how the show’s often raunchy material makes it onto the air.

Reiss said the question has a simple answer: “Trying to censor Fox is like trying to clean a sewer with a wetnap.”

Reiss, whose lecture was sponsored by Brown Hillel, also addressed the question of why so many Jews go into comedy.

“There are just certain professions Jews gravitate towards,” Reiss said. “Jews go into comedy for the same reason Jews open stores: It’s just something their culture embraces.”

Reiss compared Jews to homosexuals, saying both are persecuted by overbearing mothers and both are regarded as good lovers.

The biggest uproar of the evening came during the question-and-answer session, when a student asked Reiss why the quality of “The Simpsons” had declined considerably in recent years.

“It’s a fair question, and it deserves a fair answer: F*ck you,” Reiss said to thunderous applause. “This is my job, dude. I don’t go to your job and say, ‘Whopper doesn’t taste good.'”

Reiss then added, half-jokingly, “I agree with you, by the way.”

During the question-and-answer session, Reiss awarded the best question, whether or not the show’s writers had a bias against Hootie and the Blowfish, with an autographed “Simspons” script.

Reiss also shared several facts of interest for “Simpsons” fanatics. His favorite character is Troy McClure; his favorite episode is Krusty the Clown’s reunion with his Orthodox Jewish father; and Springfield, he said jokingly, is located in Hawaii.

When asked why Brown has been the object of several jokes on the show, Reiss said the jokes often come from writer and Brown alumnus Ian Maxtone-Graham ’81. Reiss said Harvard jokes were often the product of Harvard writers, while Yale jokes were also the product of Harvard writers.

Reiss’ irreverent humor struck a chord with audience members.

“It was highly offensive and therefore very hilarious,” said Ted Li ’06.