Sunday, 13 September 2009

Stay Calm and Carry On

BLVR: It seems like a lot of comedy writers feel that they should be doing something more meaningful or important. Look at what happened to Doug Kenney. I wouldn’t claim to know what was going through his head when he jumped off that cliff, but I get the impression that he was a little underwhelmed with being a comedy writer, even a great comedy writer. It rang a little hollow to him.
GM: That’s a constant struggle. I know that I should be proud of what I’ve done on the show. But there’s a melancholy that comes with being a TV writer. When I was first hired to write for The Simpsons, I knew it was a complete crapshoot. It could’ve just as easily been this embarrassing cartoon that I did before moving on to write jokes for the Academy Awards. And then it suddenly hit in such a big and unequivocal way. It was an amazing moment of validation for me, but it also made me tremendously arrogant. I was in this limbo state between self-absorption and an inexplicable disappointment with my life. I loved what I was doing, but I was also a little ashamed by it. I was suicidal for a number of years.

BLVR: How did you break out of that?

GM: Well, therapy made a big difference. But sometimes you get moments of clarity in ways that you don’t expect. When I look at my books at home, so many of them are biographies. I didn’t realize it at first, but I think I’ve just been trying to confirm to myself that life is really a bitch for everybody. Once you realize that, it takes some of the pressure off.

BLVR: I think that just comes with getting older. You realize that your disappointments and failures aren’t necessarily unique.

GM: To me, a mark of maturity is realizing that nobody runs the world. Fat-cat politicians and secret conspiracies don’t control our lives. In reality, the world is much more complex than that. The people who seem to have a lock on power get swept out in a couple of years. So it’s na├»ve to keep swinging at the same targets over and over. It took me a long time to realize, but most of the shackles that I flailed against were just illusory.

BLVR: Do you consider yourself an optimist or a pessimist?

GM: I’m a pessimist, but I have many painstakingly applied coats of optimism. I’m very proud of my gloss right now.
Writer and Producer for The Simpsons
Interviewed in The Believer,
Sept, 2004

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