- 21 Apr 09
The Simpsons team shipped over to Ireland recently for the premiere of the show’s much-vaunted St. Patrick’s Day special.
We may be just one bounced cheque away from joining Iceland in The Bankrupt Small Countries Club, but there was reason to celebrate our Irishness on March 17 when we got to see the special Paddy’s Day edition of The Simpsons before anyone else (ha, take that all you wobbly-arsed “My great-great-great-grandaunt’s from Termonfeckin” Americans!)
While everybody else was honouring our patron saint by getting royally – or should that be Republican-ly? – ripped, an alarmingly sober Al Jean preferred to ruminate on In The Name Of The Grandfather’s deep, socio-political message.
“Yeah, right!” laughs the amiable Simpsons Executive Producer. “We’re planning on recreating some of those Grafton Street bar scenes tonight when we’ve finished with you ladies and gentlemen of the press. I’ve also been invited to the Meteor Music Awards, so jet-lag permitting, we’ll be out for the duration!”
Although it’s his first time being in Ireland for St. Patrick’s Day – “The rigour with which you guys celebrate is impressive!” – Jean knows all about our ‘sure and begorrah’ ways from previous trips.
“My four visits since 2001 include getting married to my wife, a fellow Irish-American, in Enniskerry and having the reception afterwards in Powerscourt. I have to be honest and confess that I came expecting sheep and little villages, and was shocked at how hi-tech the country was with Cisco and Microsoft here. I wanted to convey that non-clichéd side of Ireland – along with the fighting and the drinking and the leprechauns!”
Writing a couple of issues ago for Hot Press – your contributor cheque’s in the post Glen, honest! – the boy Hansard described himself and Marketa guesting on The Simpsons as “the biggest deal” of anything that’s happened to them post-Once including that heady night in the Kodak Theater.
“Wow, that’s extremely nice of him. Again, I have to hold my hands up and admit I hadn’t heard of The Swell Season until another Irish-American Simpson Mike Scully (interviewed in HP last year) told me how great Once was and to go see it. The part where Glen serenades Marketa with ‘Falling Slowly’ and she shouts ‘Go away, I’ve got a husband!’ and drops a piano on him from the window is a real highpoint of the episode.”
Like Mike Scully, Jean is a chronic vinyl-junkie who’s systematically abused his position to get his favourite rock ‘n’ rollers onto The Simpsons.
“Guilty as charged! The episode where Homer forms a barbershop quartet, The Be Sharps, was a parody of The Beatles based on my teenage obsession with the Red and Blue collections. To go from sitting there listening to the records with your cousin to actually meeting George Harrison was an insane jump!
“I also got to direct Elton John who could not have been nicer, funnier or smarter. Everything lived up to what I’d hoped for. Another really cool one was the Strummer Vacation episode, which featured Mick and Keith, Elvis Costello who’s always been a hero of mine, Lenny Kravitz, Tom Petty and Brian Setzer whose ‘I hope you won’t judge the entire Brian Setzer Orchestra by my actions’ line is one of the funniest in the entire history of the show!”
Am I right in thinking that Bruce Springsteen remains The Simpsons’ Holy Grail?
“From a musical perspective, definitely,” Jean confirms. “Scully tried so hard to get Bruce on to the show that it dissuaded me from ever trying myself. He had Clarence Clemons and Steve Van Zandt on as bait, but nah, The Boss wasn’t for turning! Bruce has a very strict range – he’ll do this but he won’t do that – which I grudgingly have to admire!
“Non-music wise, we’ve never had a US President on The Simpsons. Bush we didn’t try, but everybody before him including his dad was approached and declined. Maybe if we have a basketball all-stars episode with Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neill, Magic Johnson and LeBron James in it, we’ll persuade Barack to come on.”
The Simpsons may be presidential virgins, but they have managed to bag themselves a Prime Minister.
“As charming as he himself was, directing Tony Blair was intimidating because it had to be a secret or it wouldn’t be used. I slipped in inconspicuously enough, but exiting 10 Downing Street somebody photographed me looking guilty as hell – which was my one celebrity scandal moment!”
Teenage obsessions of a slightly different kind were responsible for Al, now an old man of 47, creating a role for Isabella Rossellini.
“How many times am I going to get busted in the one interview?” he deadpans. “I wasn’t married then so I can admit my interests were totally vested! Again, she couldn’t have easier to work with.”
Prior to starting his Simpsons life sentence – he’s been with the family for the whole of their 22-year run – Jean wrote for Johnny Carson’s The Tonight Show, The PJs and ALF (“I kill me!”), and also moonlighted briefly on Jesus & His Brothers, episodes of which are archived at icebox.com.
“Apart from The Simpsons, which has lasted an insane amount of time, my longest on a show was the 18 months I spent with Johnny Carson. That was a tough gig because you were writing stuff about that day’s news right up until the opening credits rolled.Jesus & His Brothers was something I did in 2000 for the internet and that nobody saw. Icebox.com was a thriving concern in July, and gone by September, which was a pity because I got paid for it in stock! It’s still incredibly hard to derive income from internet comedy.”
The Simpsons’ upsetting in 2002 of the entire nation of Brazil (all men are bisexual, fearsome monkeys roam the streets, tourists are kidnapped by taxi drivers and mugged by children etc.) may soon be eclipsed by another plotline Al Jean & Co. are working on.
“It’s very loose, but the premise at the moment is that the Christians, the Muslims and the Jews unite in getting mad at Homer for his behaviour! The writer’s done the first draft, so it could air in a year to 18 month’s time.”