Thanksgiving is coming up, and we know what we're thankful for: Every. Simpsons. Episode. Ever. You'll get to see where it all began on The Simpsons 600 Marathon on FXX starting Thanksgiving day at noon, but do you know the stories behind the stories? Enrich your marathoning experience by reading the fascinating origins of some of your favorite Springfield residents!
Apu as a character is....well, a bit problematic. There's not a lot of Indian representation on television, and Apu is a bit of a stereotype. What were the writers thinking? Well, depending on who you ask, Apu was originally supposed to be completely different. Many of the writers said they wanted to avoid having Apu have any sort of accent precisely because they didn't want to perpetuate any stereotypes. The only reason he has the voice he does is because Hank Azaria ignored the writers' notes and got a huge laugh with the line "Hello, Mr. Homer."
Okay, so maybe Apu's conception is due less to overt racism and more to a talented voice actor, but that doesn't mean the creators of the show couldn't have been more sensitive with some of the character specifics. I mean, take his last name: Nobody could possibly have a last name as ridiculous as Nahasapeemapetilan, right? What kind of racist thought...oh, wait. Turns out Apu's last name is very real and was actually borrowed from a kid in writer Jeff Martin's junior high gym class.
With his violent temper and constant suicide attempts, Moe the Bartender is one of the darkest characters in The Simpsons canon. But did you know that Moe was actually based on a beloved comedy recording from the 70's... which are actually dark in their own right. Just have a listen for yourself.
The signature prank calls that Bart makes to Moe are directly lifted from the Tube Bar prank calls--two guys harassing a local bar owner. The bar owner, Louis "Red" Deutsch, reacts to the calls just like Moe does only with a LOT more f-bombs.
Well apparently that's not the case. The cartoonishly evil Mr. Burns was modeled after a real world human being! You may be asking yourself: Who could possibly inspire such a monstrous character? Some evil dictator? A serial killer perhaps? Well actually, Mr. Burns was based on one of the founders of the Fox network, a man named Barry Diller.
What? That must be some sort of mistake. Barry Diller is a kind, generous man who isn't at all like Mr. Burns! (Psst: Diller actually owns CollegeHumor's parent company, IAC, and if he were to see me talking about him like this, he'd club me and eat my bones!)
Frank Grimes is one of the most tragic figures in all of television. After suffering tragic loss as a child, he pulled himself up by the bootstraps and made something of himself....only to go crazy and die of electrocution. So who is Ol' Grimey based on? A character from an old movie? Some sad news story the writers saw on TV? Nope. Actually, Frank Grimes was based on you, the viewer.
Frank Grimes was essentially designed to be an audience surrogate. He was imagined as a normal human being thrown into the decidedly abnormal world of Homer's life. As stuffy as Grimes seems, he reacts to Homer the way most of us would if we had to deal with a boorish oaf who had everything in life handed to him. Grimes' death at the end was designed to show the real-life threat people like Homer Simpson pose to the real world. Ridiculous! I mean, what harm could over empowered, poorly-educated white males do in the real world, amiright? (Cough)
Have you ever noticed that Krusty the Clown looks a lot like Homer? Yeah, turns out that's not a mistake. In what would have been the strangest storyline in the history of the show (not counting "The Principal and the Pauper") Matt Groening was toying with the idea of having Krusty be Homer in disguise. The writers scrapped the idea because it felt too complicated. For some reason incorporating a subplot where the main character has a famous clown alter ego felt silly. Who would have guessed?
As ridiculous as all this sounds, the two characters' similar designs does carry a deeper thematic meaning that makes a little more sense. According to Groening, the similarities were meant to draw attention to the lack of respect that Bart had for his father. "The satirical concept that I was going for at the time was that The Simpsons was about a kid who had no respect for his father, but worshiped a clown who looked exactly like his father."
Chief Wiggum is the most inept cop since Mark Furman. He's stupid, lazy and crooked. His existence clearly suggests that The Simpsons has a couple of qualms with some of our men and women in blue. With that in mind, it's not surprising that his design was a bit of a visual dig at crooked cops.
Yep, Chief Wiggum was intentionally made to look like a pig! As if he wasn't already enough of a caricature, Wiggum's voice is based on the most cartoonish voice in all of cinema: Edward G Robinson.
But what about his last name? Was that an insult too? Was it all just set up for Sideshow Bob's classic "Chief Piggum" takedown in Season 5? Nope! Wiggum is actually just Matt Groening's mom's maiden name. What better way to honor your mother than by giving her name to a corrupt police character designed to look like a pig?
In a family full of distinctive hairdos, none stands out more than that of Marge Simpson. Her signature beehive is so strange that even beginning to figure out what it would look like in reality is damn near impossible and deeply disturbing.
(Ahhh! Kill it!)
You may be wondering why the shows creators went with such an outlandish design for one of the show's least outlandish characters. There are actually two reasons...
Like the rest of the Simpson family, Marge's design was meant to be eye-catching to attract new viewers. Unlike the rest of the Simpson family, Marge's hair was originally meant to conceal a secret: Matt Groening rose to prominence by creating the comic strip "Life in Hell" which features bunnies as the main characters. As a nod to this, Groening had intended to use the final episode of the show to reveal that Marge had a pair of rabbit ears concealed beneath her signature blue updo. Thankfully this idea has since been scrapped, both because it's really stupid and because we all know The Simpsons will never actually have a final episode.
Given how big it's become, it's hard to remember a time when The Simpsons was the underdog. But early in the show's run, it was moved to Thursdays and forced to compete with the actual most popular show at the time: The Cosby Show. As a friendly jab at their new competitors, The Simpsons created Dr. Hibbert.
Though originally an homage, The Simpsons has since slaughtered The Cosby Show in terms of popularity, and Dr. Hibbert has arguably become as iconic as the character that inspired him. Looks like he got the last laugh!
As we all know, kids can be so cruel.
If they see an easy joke, they're gonna grab onto it and show no mercy...well sometimes. Mrs. Krabappel is proof that sometimes the best jokes are the ones that go unsaid. Her name was designed to be an easy layup of a joke for a bunch of rowdy kids that for some reason goes unnoticed. It's not until Season 15 that Millhouse finally makes the connection between the teacher's name and "Crab Apple". I guess she's just lucky! Too bad the same can't be said for Mr. Glasscock.
You may remember Troy McClure from such classic episodes as "A Fish Called Selma," but do you know he's actually based on some real actors? Namely, his name is a combination of B-list actors Troy Donahue and Doug McClure. You remember them from such movies as...just kidding. You have never heard of anything they were in.
What's more interesting than McClure's origins is how his character came to be used. Executive producer Al Jean described the character as a "panic button" that the writers used whenever they felt like they needed to cram some extra humor into an episode. This worked for one simple reason: They knew that Phil Hartman could read any line and make it hilarious. I'm sure this doesn't surprise any of you, but it's important to always remember that Phil Hartman was a beast!
In a town full of incompetent people, perhaps none are moreso than Dr. Nick Riviera. The plucky MD parlayed his degree from Hollywood Upstairs Medical College into a full-fledged career as a celebrity doctor with his own catchphrase.
Rather appropriately given the character, Dr. Nick's design was the result of a mistake on the animator's part. When they heard the voice Hank Azaria used for the character they assumed he was mocking Gabor Csupo, co-founder of the animation house Klasky Csupo. In reality, Azaria was doing a shitty homage to Ricky Ricardo, but I guess the rest is history.
What's more interesting (or terrifying) is the fact that Dr. Nick is based on a real person. Specifically, his name and medical acumen were lifted from George Nichopoulos. Nichopoulos was the personal physician of Elvis Pressley who was...well, a little loose with his perscription pad. Let's just put it this way: At some point, Elvis probably heard this from his doctor:
For such a passive character, Hans Moleman has a pretty aggressive backstory. It all started when it came to the writers' attention that Matt Groening hated the character and his design. Basically, he was all like:
Knowing that the boss was upset with the character, the writers had only one course of action: They had to purposefully work the character into an episode whenever they could in order to piss Groening off. Groening was presumably a good sport about it, but I imagine he got his revenge. In my head, it looked a little something like this:
Be sure to watch The Simpsons 600 Marathon, starting Thanksgiving at Noon on FXX