With its place firmly entrenched in American popular culture, “The Simpsons” continues its satirical reign weekly on televisions across the nations. Behind the yellow-skinned clan’s antics is writer/producer Mike Reiss, a comedy veteran who is also responsible for co-creating the vastly underrated “The Critic.”
Approachable and affable, Reiss wants students to come to the Michigan League Ballroom to hear him speak about “ ‘The Simpsons’ and gossip about ‘The Simpsons,’ but also talk about my life and the Jewish themes that keep popping up in my work.”
He considers Krusty the Clown to be “one of the most pronounced Jewish characters on television.” The growth of that character can be attributed to the Reiss-penned show, also his favorite, “Like Father, Like Clown” in which Krusty reconciles with his disapproving rabbi father a la “The Jazz Singer.” “The episode ends in a scholarly debate about Judaism and humor … the most scholarly discussion you will ever see can be found in this random episode of ‘The Simpsons,’ ” Reiss said.
Celebrity visits are commonplace and Reiss fondly recalls the guests who have come and gone. “A little white guy was used to be Michael Jackson’s singing voice in ‘Stark Raving Dad,’ he recorded it in front of Michael Jackson, but for some odd reason Jackson only wanted to do the speaking voice.”
Even though many stars claim they want to join in the hilarity, some have backed out after episodes have been written for them. “We had a recent episode where Stan Lee was a guest voice, but that part was written for George Lucas, who begged to be on the show, but pulled out at the last minute.”
Although considered a failure based on its disappointing ratings in its two-year run, “The Critic,” Reiss said, is a “show that appealed to too few people and I’ll take the blame. It was created by doing the opposite of what ‘The Simpsons’ did.” Reiss admits that the show was initially a Krusty spin-off, but Matt Groening nixed the idea. “The Critic” was written for Jon Lovitz as a live action show before he was even signed. The biggest conflict over “The Critic” occurred with the Jay Sherman crossover on an episode of “The Simpsons,” Reiss said. “The staff took such a high moral ground and refused to work on it, but were contractually obligated to get paid for it.” Only Groening ended up removing his name from the credits while others did nothing but keep their names in the credits and cash their checks anyway.
Even after 15 years on the air, Reiss believes “The Simpsons” can go on forever unless “the network makes a stupid mistake and kills it. The key to ‘The Simpsons’ is that everything is right about it, I don’t see any end in sight.” He revealed that the oft-discussed movie is in development and that he is working on the script.
Reiss offers an explanation on why quality has slid in recent years: “The only reason that ‘The Simpsons’ has declined is that it’s just not new.” Reiss has played an integral role in the creation of one of television’s few remaining bright spots, so “Simpsons” fans should be saying “D’oh” if they miss his appearance on campus.