Dan’s dreams come true when he visits The Simpsons writers’ room to talk about the role food plays on the show and behind the scenes. Turns out the writers are just as obsessed with food as all of the show’s food jokes suggest. Plus, Simpsons creator Matt Groening explains how new technologies have changed the show’s food jokes over time.
This episode originally aired on August 13, 2018, and was produced by Dan Pashman, Anne Saini, and Aviva DeKornfeld, and was mixed by Dan Dzula. The Sporkful production team now includes Dan Pashman, Emma Morgenstern, Andres O’Hara, Johanna Mayer, Tracey Samuelson, and Jared O’Connell.
Interstitial music in this episode by Black Label Music:
- "Stacks" by Erick Anderson
- "Coming for A Change" by Stephen Sullivan
Photo courtesy of Dan Pashman.
[SIMPSONS THEME SONG]
Dan Pashman: I love The Simpsons. It is the seminal comedy of my formative years. And if you’re half as big a fan as I am, you know that food has always been a huge part of the show.
CLIP (HOMER SIMPSON): [SINGS] I like pizza, I like bagels, I like hot dogs with mustard and beer.
CLIP (PERSON 1): I get the picture.
CLIP (HOMER SIMPSON): I’ll eat eggplant, I could even eat a baby deer.
Dan Pashman: Food on The Simpsons is also a big deal behind the scenes. You know, TV writers are notoriously food obsessed people, and Simpsons writers are no exception.
CLIP (MATT SELMAN): Everyone orders salad in the morning and then by the time lunch comes around it's like, this is the last thing in the world I want to eat, what am I going to do, my whole day is screwed.
Dan Pashman: Today on The Sporkful, I visit The Simpsons writers room, to talk about the role of food for the writers, and The Simpsons themselves. This is sort of a dream come true.
CLIP (PERSON 2): We're looking for a new food critic, someone who doesn't immediately poo poo everything he eats.
CLIP (HOMER SIMPSON): No, it usually takes a few hours.
Dan Pashman: This is The Sporkful. It's not for foodies. It's for eaters. I'm Dan Pashman. Each week on our show, we obsess about food to learn more about people. The Simpsons is my number one show of all time. I remember in seventh or eighth grade, the Lions Club Carnival came to town, and the best prize you could win at the carnival was a Bart Simpson T-shirt that said, "Don't have a cow, man." And I feel like as I matured, The Simpsons matured, too. When I got into college, I remember in Boston there were repeats of The Simpsons on every weeknight on two different channels. So if you played your cards right, you could watch The Simpsons at 6:00, 6:30, and 7:30 every night. And at 7:00 with Jeopardy! So that two-hour block for me or my roommate, Jake, we plan our day around a two-hour block. And we actually even — I'm on a date myself — we had a VHS player and he would buy blank VHS tapes and tape all these repeats of The Simpsons. We had like 15 or 20 VHS tapes worth of old Simpsons episodes. Did we ever watch them? No, because there were already three episodes on a night. I don't know what we thought we were going to do with them, but we were ready. Okay? Ready for The Simpsons apocalypse, I guess. And it may not surprise you to learn that my all time favorite Simpsons joke is food related. It came in one of the early Halloween episodes. Those are always really twisted and weird. And this one Homer tries to fix a toaster and he gets electrocuted and gets sent back in time to the age of the dinosaurs.
CLIP (HOMER SIMPSON): Don't panic. Remember the advice your father gave you on your wedding day?
CLIP (GRANDPA SIMPSON): Did you ever travel back in time? Don't step on anything because even the tiniest change can alter the future in ways you can imagine.
CLIP (HOMER SIMPSON): Fine. As long as I stand perfectly still and don't touch anything, I won't destroy the future. Stupid bug. You go squish, though! [GASPS] But that was just one little insignificant mosquito. That can change the future, right?
Dan Pashman: Homer gets sent back to the present, which has been altered since he stepped on that bug. And now it's this 1984 type scenario where Ned Flanders is like Big Brother. So Homer, goes back in time again to try to fix things, but he screws up something else. So when he comes back to the present, now all the people are giants. So he goes back to the past, messes up something different. Comes back to the present. Walks into his house. And ...
CLIP (HOMER SIMPSON): Hey.
CLIP (BART SIMPSON): Good morning, Father, dear. Hope you're well.
CLIP (LISA SIMPSON): Are we taking the new Lexus to Patty and Selma's funeral today?
CLIP (HOMER SIMPSON): Hmm. Fabulous house, well-behaved kids, sisters-in-laws' dead luxury sedan. Whoo-hoo! I hit the jackpot. Marge, dear, would you kindly pass me a donut?
CLIP (MARGE SIMPSON): Donut? What's a donut?
CLIP (HOMER SIMPSON): Ahhhh! Ahhhhhh!!
Dan Pashman: Homer runs screaming from the house to go back in time. Then Marge looks out the window …
CLIP (MARGE SIMPSON): Oh, it's raining again …
Dan Pashman: And it's raining donuts. Genius. So I think you get the point. I was extremely excited to get to hang out with The Simpsons writers. Food is such a big part of The Simpsons, partly because it's not just a show. The town of Springfield is a whole fictional world, complete with its own food brands, Duff beer, Krusty-O cereal, and Chef Lonely Hearts Soup for one. There's actually an Instagram feed called Springfield Cuisine, devoted entirely to foods from The Simpsons. Then, of course, there's Homer, the ultimate eater.
CLIP (HOMER SIMPSON): Hmm. Donuts.
Dan Pashman: Who can forget Homer at the candy convention? Stealing the gummy Venus de Milo. Or the time Homer intentionally gained 61 lbs so he could go on disability and work from home. Classics. All this was on my mind when I met up with Rob LaZebnik, who had invited me there in the first place. He's been a writer and co-executive producer on The Simpsons for 14 seasons, but he was a fan way before that.
Rob LaZebnik: 25, 27 years ago, there's an episode early on where Homer, you might remember Homer gets a a ten-foot sub from a picnic that Mr. Burns throws and he brings it home. And he just [LAUGHS] he just relentlessly eating it and eating it area.
CLIP (MARGE SIMPSON): You've been eating that thing for a week. I think the mayonnaise is starting to turn.
CLIP (HOMER SIMPSON): Two more feet and I can fit it in the fridge.
Rob LaZebnik: It just killed me. I just remember from that long ago, just been killing it. At one point he says — he's in bed with Marge as he's trying to convince him to be, to get rid of it because it going to make him sick.
CLIP (HOMER SIMPSON): [GROWLS] I'd like to be alone with the sandwich for a moment.
CLIP (MARGE SIMPSON): Are you going to eat it?
CLIP (HOMER SIMPSON): Yes.
Rob LaZebnik: So, I think, I wish I'd been there for that whole experience. I bet that they were dying [Dan Pashman: Yeah.] when they wrote that because I was, when I watched.
Dan Pashman: You wrote the — that scene with the mayonnaise dream?
Rob LaZebnik: Yes. I wanted to do a show about Spider Pig because we really hadn't featured him. And so we did this episode. I did this episode where Spider Pig gets hurt on Mr. Burns's property and Mr. Burns decides to take care of him, so he won't be sued. And Burns or Smithers says, "If it doesn't work here, we'll take him to the Mayo Clinic.", and Homer Looks off and say, "The Mayo Clinic, eh?", and then it goes into Homer's fantasy about what is the Mayo Clinic like? And all the doctors are jars of mayonnaise and they're resuscitating the pig with the mayo. And it just it's like avalanche of mayonnaise.
CLIP (MAYO CLINIC DOCTOR 1): Should we slice them diagonally or just cut off the crust?
CLIP (MAYO CLINIC DOCTOR 2): Who cares? It's hopeless.
Dan Pashman: I was interested that you had both Hellmann's and Best Foods represented.
Rob LaZebnik: [LAUGHS] Yes. In fact —
Dan Pashman: Which, in fact, they are just the same mayonnaise, but they're two different labels.
Rob LaZebnik: Right. And in fact, isn't one west of the Mississippi and one's east of the Mississippi?
Dan Pashman: Something like that? Yeah.
Rob LaZebnik: We even had that — at one point that was in the show. And that's why those labels were there, because there were jokes about the fact of — what do you know, your Best Foods? You know, I'm the real thing. I'm Hellmann's, but I think that got cut four times. So the vestige of it was for sharp eyed viewers like you, were the labels.
Dan Pashman: But then Miracle Whip comes in.
Rob LaZebnik: Yes, and Miracle Work comes in at the very end.
CLIP (MIRACLE WHIP DOCTOR): You fools. I'll save him like I've saved a million lunches.
Dan Pashman: And Miracle Whip is actually the one who unscrews his lid and ...
Rob LaZebnik: And starts spooning —
Dan Pashman: Miracle Whip onto the sandwich to save it.
Rob LaZebnik: You're right. Exactly, a slightly queasy making scene.
[CLIP WITH MIRACLE WHIP DOCTOR PLAYS]
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHS] And then collapses in the ground and says something like, um ...
CLIP (MIRACLE WHIP DOCTOR): It gets harder every time.
Rob LaZebnik: [LAUGHS] That's right. Exactly. Thank you for remembering.
Dan Pashman: Yeah.
Rob LaZebnik: There are too many shows.
Dan Pashman: Yeah, I hear you. Are you a miracle whip fan, Rob?
Rob LaZebnik: No.
Dan Pashman: So, so why ...
Rob LaZebnik: I am not.
Dan Pashman: Explain this plot twist to me where a Miracle Whip saves the sandwich that Hellmann's and Best Foods cannot save.
Rob LaZebnik: Anything for a laugh.
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHS]
Rob LaZebnik: Yeah. I do have experience with a lot of Mayo experience because I grew up in the Midwest and my mother was — I think she would have said by her own admission, a terrible cook. And in fact, the first time I took my wife home to meet my parents, my mom had made a special dessert for her, which was — I'm not kidding — Jell-O with mayonnaise whipped into it. And my wife was, like, desperately looking at me, like, "What do I do? How do I avoid this?" So, yeah, the mayo stuff is deeply in my roots and I probably a lot of my body is mayo.
Rob LaZebnik: Thanks, Charlene.
Charlene: You're welcome. Bye bye.
Rob LaZebnik: See ya. Bye.
Dan Pashman: By now, it was mid-morning. Pretty soon it would be time for the table read when the actors sit together and perform an early draft of the script to see how it sounds. Before that, though, came something even more important: ordering lunch. For the writers, this is a focal point of the day, a ritual. They order in the morning, then eat together in the afternoon. Rob was joined by fellow writer Ryan Koh. There were two options that day, the studio commissary, which is like the cafeteria, and a local Mexican place.
Juliet: At least, right?
Rob LaZebnik: This is Juliet. Did you meet Dan Pashman? Sorry.
Juliet: I didn't. I'm Juliet.
Dan Pashman: Nice to meet you.
Juliet: Nice to meet you.
Dan Pashman: Right. Oh, there you go.
Dan Pashman: Juliet, how annoying is it to have to take the writer's food orders every day?
Juliet: Oh, it's the worst. No ...
Dan Pashman: Go on.
Juliet: No, it's totally cool. You get to use a cool clipboard. It's very exciting.
Rob LaZebnik: Some people take way too long to decide.
Juliet: Absolutely. That's — that is probably the biggest issue we have. Yeah. We should have a timer or something.
Dan Pashman: What about Rob and Ryan? Where do they rank in the annoying scale?
Juliet: Oh, they're ... they're ... they're not too annoying. So ...
Ryan Koh: But I often get buyer's remorse, like after you, after you call in lunch. I'm like, no, no, call them and change it. I ...
Juliet: This is true.
Ryan Koh: I don't want chicken. Why did I order chicken?
Dan Pashman: Why do you think that happens to you?
Ryan Koh: Because lunch is very important to me. And so I don't want it to, like, ruin my whole day if I, you know, order — you know, salad is — everyone orders a salad in the morning and then by the time lunch comes around, it's like, this is the last thing in the world I want to eat. What am I going to do? My whole day screwed. So ...
Dan Pashman: Isn't that — that's kind of a parable for life, though, like you start off with all these good intentions.
Ryan Koh: Right.
Dan Pashman: Right? Like I'm going to be having — I'm gonna clean up my act today. This is a new day.
Ryan Koh: Yes.
Dan Pashman: And by lunchtime, you're like melt some cheese or something right now.
Ryan Koh: Yes, yes. [LAUGHS] So then it works out great because that and I sort of just eat half of the healthy lunch and maybe like two or three Klondike bars, but ...
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHS] So you manage to get the non healthy stuff.
Ryan Koh: Yeah, yeah, I get my calories.
Dan Pashman: Okay.
Ryan Koh: Yeah.
Dan Pashman: So let's places some orders.
Rob LaZebnik: Okay, let's do it.
Dan Pashman: Rob, what are you doing to order?
Rob LaZebnik: Okay. From commissary, please.
Rob LaZebnik: This white bean and chicken sausage soup.
Rob LaZebnik: Sounds great. And nothing pairs better with that than tacos.
Juliet: Oh, perfect.
Rob LaZebnik: I think?
Dan Pashman: Wait, you're getting tacos on —
Rob LaZebnik: On top of that.
Dan Pashman: So you're doing soup from the commissary, plus tacos.
Rob LaZebnik: And then, yeah. Exactly right.
Juliet: Oh, this is very, very common.
Dan Pashman: Really?
Juliet: And also commissary can do fruit plates and veggie plates. So people, even if they're ordering from the restaurant, will throw in, "I'm going to get some watermelon and grapes. I'm going to get whatever fruits or vegetables they want on the side."
Dan Pashman: Really?
Dan Pashman: Because I — it's sounds to me like Rob was being kind of difficult there.
Dan Pashman: But you're telling me that it wasn't difficult?
Juliet: This is — yeah. He's a simple guy. It's easy to work with Rob, for sure.
Rob LaZebnik: Awww, thank you.
Juliet: Oh, yeah.
Dan Pashman: Ryan, what are you going to have?
Ryan Koh: This menu's is a little tough, but I'll get the chicken enchiladas and then what's good with that is a rainbow roll sushi.
Juliet: Yeah, that's true.
Ryan Koh: Those are a classic, classic combination.
Dan Pashman: Really? Is that really your order.
Ryan Koh: Yes. [LAUGHS]
[PEOPLE SAYING GOOD BYE]
Dan Pashman: The lunch order was in. Rob took me to meet another writer, and just walking around the place was amazing. This is the Fox lot in L.A. It's like its own city. There are rows and rows of basically airplane hangers with movie and TV sets inside. We're talking 20th Century Fox, you know? [HUMS FOX THEME INTRO] You get the idea. This is where they filmed the Three Musketeers in 1939 and where they do American Horror Story today. Miracle on 34th Street, Young Frankenstein, Moonlighting, The X-Files, Arrested Development and Doctor Doolittle Two. Hey, they can't all be hits.
Dan Pashman: Then there's another area where it's all bungalows and low slung buildings. It almost looks like motels. And those are the offices and writers rooms. Rob had told me that if there was one person on The Simpsons staff I had to talk with while I was there, it was Matt Selman. In a writers room full of food obsessed people, Matt reign supreme. He's an executive producer, and the episodes he oversees almost always have food jokes.
Matt Selman: It's always fun for me, and I believe most of us to come up with gross fake foods. We have two Wing chains. These are not famous things, beloved by Simpsons fans. But guess what? I like them. And like one is called Garbage Wings, where the theme of it, the wings come in dumpsters and the dipping sauces are in little garbage cans. And I just think that's cute and funny. And then we have also one called Utica Wild Thighs, which is a competitor of Buffalo Wild Wings from nearby Utica, where they take all the disposed of thighs, not used by the Wing restaurants and deep fry those.
Dan Pashman: That's actually probably better. I feel like thighs are better than wings.
Matt Selman: Thighs have weird fat pockets that when deep fry do not always melt into the chicken. And so you're eating it and the skin will peel off. And there's a lot of wet chicken meat underneath with lots of gross gloppy thighs, thigh fat in the chicken.
Dan Pashman: I guess you and I have different opinions about thigh fat, Matt.
Matt Selman: The fried chicken thighs, a challenging piece of meat. I'll just say that.
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHS]
Dan Pashman: One reason I was excited to talk with Matt Selman is that he wrote one of my favorite Simpsons episodes of recent years called "The Food Wife". In it, Bart, Lisa and Marge become food bloggers, but Homer isn't interested.
CLIP (HOMER SIMPSON): Oh, and here's my favorite restaurant, La Fridge. It's open 24 hours a day, and there's no dress code [SOUND EFFECT, HOMER STARTS EATING]
CLIP (LISA SIMPSON): What kind of American man doesn't want to explore global food culture ...
CLIP (BART SIMPSON): And then brag about it on the Internet?
CLIP (LISA SIMPSON): We should start our own food blog. [GASPS], The Three Mouthketeers.
Dan Pashman: What inspired that episode?
Matt Selman: Well, certainly I was like, you know, more foodie phase of my life then, and food blogs and — were kind of a big deal. And, you know, it was an exciting time to be in L.A. and like drive around and eat at this taco place or this Ethiopian restaurant or this Korean bone neck stew place, you know, that were just so, so specific. It's like you could really have a real worldly experience. And ...
Dan Pashman: But, but, um, what I loved about the episode was the way that it skewered foodie culture.
Matt Selman: Right. And it sort of made fun of the idea was, okay, there was a certain amount of smugness and self-importance and bragging about that kind of foodie culture. But, you know, there is kind of — you know, we're The Simpsons, we like to make fun of things. So it's like if there's a smugness or a self-importance or like a bragging element of it, let's make fun of that. And I mean, that's where there's that rap song in the middle ...
[CLIP SIMPSONS FOOD BLOG SONG]
"We're Bloggin' a food blog, Marge and Bart and Lisa in one now ... "
Matt Selman: A lot of rap and hip hop is about bragging and a lot of foodie stuff is about bragging, like, so to bring those together was the fact that it's not just random to do a hip hop song about what you've eaten. It's actually there's kind of a commonality there.
[CLIP SIMPSONS FOOD BLOG SONG CONTINUES]
"I braise with a billion more BTUs than I need,
I cook a Thanksgiving turkey in a trash-bag, sous-vide, A fumatore in Brindisi Fed-Exes me salami,Don't scoop gelato unless it's got umami ... "
Dan Pashman: And did you feel like in a way you were kind of making fun of yourself?
Matt Selman: Sure. Of course. Self-loathing is a huge part of what we do.
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHS]
Matt Selman: But like a kind of a creative breakthrough we were thinking about the episode and how it would be, like a really obvious way to go would be Homer the foodie, because Homer likes food, right? But once we sort of said, wait a minute, he's like a blue collar guy. He really just likes pizza and cheeseburgers and more than anything, and he's highly suspect of pretentiousness and sophisticated things and foreign things and things that make him feel like he doesn't get it. So like, to have him be like anti foodie for much of the show and be able to voice that kind of regular guy opinion, you know, gave the episode a really good conflict.
Dan Pashman: And I — my favorite scene in that episode is the scene in the Ethiopian restaurant where Marge and the kids go in there.
CLIP (LISA SIMPSON): They're using pancakes as spoons.
CLIP (BART SIMPSON): Oh, let's see what else they do wrong. ..
Dan Pashman: And Marge is so skeptical.
CLIP (MARGE SIMPSON): Hmm? Hmm. Eww. Eww. They're selling CDs in the restaurant. Back to the car.
CLIP (SERVER): What can I get you?
CLIP (MARGE SIMPSON): Oh, I'll just have a side salad.
CLIP (SERVER): We have no side salad.
CLIP (MARGE SIMPSON): Back to the car.
CLIP (LISA SIMPSON): Relax, mom. Be adventurous.
CLIP (BART SIMPSON): Yeah, just have fun.
Matt Selman: It's certainly fun to make fun of people's fears, especially when we can portray them as being irrational, but yet relatable. Like, I just love that Marge was afraid of the fact they were selling CDs in the restaurant. It's just a funny observation. And that anyone would be scared of that is, you know, is funny, is ridiculous.
Dan Pashman: Yeah, I mean, yes, there are some lines that that sort of poke fun at Ethiopian food, but I feel like they more poke fun at the ignorance and suspicions of white people about Ethiopian.
Matt Selman: Sure, sure, sure, sure.
Dan Pashman: And so in that scene in the Ethiopian restaurant, it is the white people who are the butt of the joke.
Matt Selman: Right.
CLIP (MARGE SIMPSON): What's the craziest thing on the menu?
CLIP (LISA SIMPSON): [LAUGHS] She means the most authentic.
CLIP (SERVER): Well, that would be the zilzil minchet alicha wot
CLIP (MARGE SIMPSON): Okay, Marge, you test drove a convertible once, you can do this. [EATS] Holy cassaroli, thats good gloop!
Dan Pashman: At this point, a bunch of white food bloggers come in the door of the restaurant.
CLIP (FOOD BLOGGER): Wait, wait, wait. What is she eating? They've never served me that dish. And I wear indigenous beaded headgear.
CLIP (MARGE SIMPSON): Oh, this? It's just a little zilzil minchet alicha wot. It's all I ever eat here.
CLIP (FOODIE): [GASPS] They have prepared her a dish from the non translated page. [GASPS] .
CLIP (BART SIMPSON): So grab a pancake and slurp some slop.
CLIP (FOODIE 1): Foodies, heed my call, commence ripping and dipping.
Dan Pashman: But that's why I found it so cutting is — yeah. And clever is because the way that it's sent up all of that — yeah.
Matt Selman: Right.
Dan Pashman: Like the guy who says, "We discovered Korean barbecue."
Matt Selman: Right. What does he say? He says ...
CLIP (FOODIE 2): We discovered Korean barbecue in this town.
CLIP (LISA SIMPSON): Uh, before the Koreans?
CLIP (FOODIE 2): Oh, sure, they cook it, but they don't get it.
Matt Selman: There is a funny/sad, weird thing where it becomes almost competitive to like stuff your face with, what? And then tell people about it. Like, who cares?
Dan Pashman: Where do you think that comes from?
Matt Selman: I don't know. I love foodies and eaters and people who are passionate about gorging themselves. And Homer is the king of all food lovers. Right? But, you know, you just try to find that little crack in their foodie armor and stick a wedge in it and have some fun.
[CLIP SIMPSONS FOOD BLOG SONG]
"We're having fun now,
Throwing down mad foodie game, knowing all the chefs' names, Rolling into K-Town, bibimbap and bulgogi ..."
Dan Pashman: Coming up lunch arrives and we'll hear why writers might be the pickiest eaters in the world. Plus, I meet Simpsons creator Matt Groening, and he tells me how new technology has changed the show's food jokes. Stick around.
[CLIP SIMPSONS FOOD BLOG SONG]
"I'll Rhyme about radicchio, criticize Colicchio,Every pub is gastro, and all my beef carpaccio, Throw it in the Pho Yo, And don't you call that Pho "Foe", Talk about broth-squirtin' dumplings, dumplings, dumplings, dumplings. We're bloggin a food blog ..."
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Dan Pashman: It was time now for the table read, which was one of the coolest things I've ever seen. And I say that with a little bit of hesitation, only because I feel bad, because I can't share it with you. They wouldn't let me record it. It's top secret. But here's what I can tell you. It's in a big conference room. All the actors who do all the voices, they sit around a table with their scripts, with all the writers. And there's probably 50 more people filling the room, some standing pressed against the wall. These are other writers, friends and family members, studio executives. They just sort of like — they want to create an audience in the room which they can test what gets laughs. It's sort of like a focus group. And so I got to sit there and watch the actors perform an episode of The Simpsons and the episode they were doing the day I was there was about Krusty the Clown joining the circus.
Dan Pashman: So it's sort of like, can this pampered TV clown cut it in the down and dirty world of an old time circus? And Nancy Cartwright was there doing Bart. Yeardley Smith was there doing Lisa. Dan Castellaneta was there doing Krusty and Homer. And really, the most amazing thing of all was that it gave me a newfound appreciation for what talented voice actors they are. Because, you know, when you watch the cartoon, yes, intellectually, you understand that the voice is not actually coming from the picture, but your brain kind of makes that connection. When you hear them reading these lines separate from the images, you hear how the slightest little pause or intonation or the way that they deliver a line just makes it so much funnier. Watch an episode of The Simpsons with your eyes closed. You'll see what I'm talking about
Dan Pashman: After the table read, I caught up with writers Rob and Ryan. You heard them order lunch earlier. I wanted to ask them about one of the food jokes in the episode from the table read. It was about Krusty the Clowns, writers and the spice turmeric.
Ryan Koh: It's sort of a joke about how spoiled the writers are that if they don't get a good grade on their show from the reviewer, they will be cut off from their turmeric boosts.
Dan Pashman: Right. [LAUGHS] So turmeric is sort of like the annoying homeopathic ingredient of the moment. Not to knock turmeric as an ingredient, it's delicious, but like, you know, there's all these special powers that are being attributed to it right now that I'm sure will be, you know — I'm sure the trendy health food, health food-rati will have moved on to the next thing soon enough. Do you ever worry that you're going to put a joke like that in? And by the time the episode airs, like turmeric will be old news?
Ryan Koh: Well, maybe it'll be funnier after it's been debunked. It'll be like, oh, that was a funny trend that happened. I don't know. It's too hard — the show comes out in nine months. So yeah, a lot of things are going to be dated by nine months and that turmeric joke? Yeah, that's just the sort of high risk you have to take with this job.
Rob LaZebnik: We have several swings down the line at rewriting, too. So it's like we'll take one more pass at this a month before it airs, maybe, six weeks before it airs, so we often are kind of catching a couple of things like that. It's like, wow, you know, that that already feels old. That's amazing. Oh? Let's see who that is?
Dan Pashman: Just then, Matt Selman, he's the guy I spoke with earlier who wrote the "Food Wife" episode.
Dan Pashman: Matt, what did you think of that table read?
Matt Selman: It went pretty well. It's one step on the road to production, the road to airing, you know?
Dan Pashman: Matt, what's one food related Simpsons joke that you wish you had written?
Matt Selman: I can't remember. I can't remember anything we ever did ...
Dan Pashman: I think one of my one of my all time favorites was in the episode where they go to the all you can eat seafood buffet and they run out of food and then they sue for false advertising.
CLIP (LAWYER): Mrs. Simpson, what did you and your husband do after you were ejected from the restaurant?
CLIP (MARGE SIMPSON): We pretty much went straight home.
CLIP (LAWYER): Mrs. Simpson, you're under oath.
CLIP (MARGE SIMPSON): We drove around until 3 a.m., looking for another all you can eat fish restaurant.
CLIP (LAWYER): And when you couldn't find one.
CLIP (MARGE SIMPSON): We went fishing.
CLIP (LAWYER): Did these sound like the actions of a man who had all he could eat?
CLIP (COURTROOM): No, no. It could have been have been me.
Matt: But I would say that's not a food joke. That's a greed joke. It's about gluttony. The sin of gluttony. A food joke, there's a specificity of the food itself. I mean, technically, yes, it's about food, but ...
Rob LaZebnik: There's a great line — now, of course, I don't remember it entirely from "Food Wife", where Homer is talking about ...
CLIP (HOMER SIMPSON): Sorbet? My kids do not eat sorbet. They eat sherbet and they pronounce it "sherbert" and they wish it was ice cream.
Dan Pashman: Yeah, that's a food joke.
Rob LaZebnik: Yeah. [LAUGHS]
Dan Pashman: Although, well, I could argue, Matt, that it's more a joke about class and pretentiousness.
Matt Selman: Mm-hmm. But it uses specificity of food to tell that joke.
Dan Pashman: Right.
Matt Selman: We're gonna argument a lot.
Matt Selman: He thinks that fried chicken thighs are good, and that's obviously the worst piece of the fried chicken.
Dan Pashman: Ryan, response?
Ryan Koh: This issue comes up at least once a month.
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHS]
Ryan Koh: And it's a very sensitive issue for my boss about the amount of goo that's in a chicken thigh when you're frying.
Dan Pashman: Oh, I didn't realize. We really tapped into something, Matt. Yeah.
Ryan Koh: So, I mean, I like the moistness of the meat, but saying more about it, I think, would have me lose a lot of standing in the show. So ...
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHS]
Dan Pashman: And then finally it was time for lunch, which at The Simpsons is signaled to all the buildings in the area with the latest in lunch technology.
[RINGING A SPOON AND PAN LIKE A BELL]
Dan Pashman: And Juliet, what typically happens after that bell? I mean, I expected when that happened, I would see all these doors fling open across the lot and a stampede would occur.
Juliet: It's a little more understated. People kind of dribble. It's more of a dribble, I would say. So here's Joe. Joe's always the first.
Dan Pashman: Joe is always the first?
Dan Pashman: Is that true, Joe?
Joe: That is true. I get my lunch and Al's lunch. Al Jean's lunch.
Dan Pashman: Okay. Are you a writer?
Joe: No. I'm Al Jean's assistant.
Dan Pashman: Okay. Al Jean, of course, the showrunner of The Simpsons. What did he order?
Joe: I don't know what he ordered.
Juliet: I think he got chicken enchiladas and rice and beans.
Rob LaZebnik: All right. Shall we go into the actual —
Dan Pashman: Yeah.
Rob LaZebnik: Heart of the Beast.
Dan Pashman: By Heart of the Beast, Rob means The Simpsons main writers room. I had pictured something very antiseptic, like an office conference room, but it felt pretty warm with the big, long wooden table in the middle and a screen at one end. it sort of felt like a cross between a ski lodge and a classroom.
Rob LaZebnik: Well, come on. This is Max Pross and the writer is Dan Pashman.
Dan: Hi, my name's Dan. Good to meet you. How are you?
Max Pross: Hello, how are you?
Rob LaZebnik: He does The Sporkful podcast.
Max Pross: Oh, it's food podcast.
Dan Pashman: Yeah, yeah. Do you mind if I ask you a couple of quick questions about food and ...
Max Pross : As long as they're off the record. Sure.
Dan Pashman: Well, then that's not going to be very fun.
Max Pross: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Dan Pashman: Tell me your name, please.
Max Pross: Max Pross.
Dan Pashman: And you're a writer?
Max Pross: I try to be. Yeah.
Dan Pashman: Okay. And what is the role of food for a writer on a TV show?
Max Pross: It is far too important a role. A legendary comedy writer, Steve O'Donnell, is convinced that, that writers are the pickiest eaters in the universe because they're so used to detail and, you know, moving a comma or a word around that every ingredient counts in food. And since writing in general is procrastinating, what better way to procrastinate than thinking about what your next meal is going to be?
Dan Pashman: So are you a picky eater?
Max Pross: Extremely.
Dan Pashman: What did you order today?
Max Pross: I left it to the geniuses who get the lunch for us because they — I have standing orders in every restaurant, because there's only one thing I like at each place they go to, so they know what it is.
Dan Pashman: So what'd they send for this place?
Max Pross: This is a fish burrito. It pinches.
Dan Pashman: Fish burrito.
Max Pross: Yeah.
Dan Pashman: Is the fish fried?
Max Pross: It's kind of fried. Fried slightly. It's, you know, if they call it grilled, but it's really fried.
Dan Pashman: Hmm. I would worry that it would lose its crisp when it's all wrapped up, taken to go like that.
Max Pross: It does. No, you have to — you have to put into consideration the traveling that each food does.
Dan Pashman: Ryan, we spoke earlier about how you are often plagued by lunch order regret.
Ryan Koh: Mm-hmm.
Dan Pashman: Now you're eating your classic combination of enchiladas and sushi.
Dan Pashman: How's that panning out for you.
Ryan Koh: It's good alternating bites. You're not committing your mouth to any particular one set of flavors. And it's sort of tastes confusion, which I think, you know, makes every bite new and refreshing and a little bit gross.
Dan Pashman: And are you feeling any regret?
Ryan Koh: Oh, yeah. Yes, definitely.
Dan Pashman: Also sitting at the table with someone I didn't realize I'd be meeting, Matt Groening, the big boss of The Simpsons, the guy who created the show 30 years ago.
Dan Pashman: Matt, I won't ask you to tell me your favorite food related Simpsons joke, because I feel like that's an impossible question.
Matt Groening: Mmm. Floor pie, right?
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHS]
Matt Groening: Yeah.
Dan Pashman: Are there others that come to mind of your personal favorites?
Matt Groening: Well, there is one where Homer found that found a hoagie or a subway sandwich, whatever — whatever the term is. And it got more and more rotten. And finally, Marge threw it out in the garbage, and Homer got it out of the garbage can at the curb and tried to eat it. And it was rotten.
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHS]
Matt Groening: According to legend, that is actually something that happened to Al Jean.
Dan Pashman: Matt, why do you think food is important to the writers on a show?
Matt Groening: I know it looks calm here, but I would say that being a writer on a TV show is one of the most stressful, anxiety provoking things. So you're trying to be funny, and it's just — it's like being in school where you've got, you know, you've got to — you're going to be funny school.
Matt Selman: Or the worst school, where the job is to be funny, where at school you had to study and it could be funny and that was extra. Now the job is the school and we study in the back of the room.
Matt Groening: Well, see now, that joke kind of half landed, but now you watch that Matt Selman will rush into the kitchen and start eating Doritos.
Matt Selman: I want to be more funny.
Dan Pashman: I brought up "The Food Wife" episode, the one we discussed earlier that mocks foodie culture, where white bloggers say things like ...
CLIP (FOODIE): We discovered Korean barbecue in this town.
CLIP (LISA SIMPSON): Uh, before the Koreans?
CLIP (FOODIE): Oh, sure, they cook it, but they don't get it.
Dan Pashman: And that scene where Bart, Lisa and Marge go to an Ethiopian restaurant, which I talked about with Matt Groening.
Matt Groening: The Ethiopians, I know loved it. They liked just being acknowledged, you know?
Dan Pashman: And in the In "The Food Wife" episode, do you feel do you find yourself more identifying with the would be food — foodie food bloggers, Marge and the kids or more with Homer, who only wants to eat things he already knows?
Matt Groening: I will drive 40 miles for a good bowl of ramen. San Gabriel Valley is the greatest part of Los Angeles, that's not considered Los Angeles, but really is. It is miles and miles and miles of amazing regional Chinese restaurants and Vietnamese restaurants and Mexican restaurants, where the food here isn't watered down for gringos and locals. It's done for the community where the people live, and therefore you get to eat seemingly authentic food.
Dan Pashman: At this point, lunch was wrapping up. It was time for me to go. But there was one more question I wanted to ask Matt Groening: How has food on The Simpsons changed over the last 30 years?
Matt Groening: If you look at back to the old animation of the the show, the joke used to be that Marge would serve them globs of food and it was just sort of like a mush. And that was kind of the joke. And then gradually we learned that you could draw a certain kind of shape and it would look like a pork chop. And now I think over the years, as our animation has gotten into high def, we can actually draw food that you can tell what it is. So I think that's partly a technological breakthrough that has allowed us to do more specific food jokes. I think that part of the reason why food is so important to the show is because it's universal. And also Homer is a really fun character because he is ruled by his impulses and he feels no guilt. And I don't think there's a person alive who doesn't eat a donut without a tinge of guilt. Right? But Homer doesn't.
CLIP (ANNOUNCER): First the award for the alumnist that’s gained the most weight ... Homer Simpson!
CLIP (HOMER SIMPSON): Oh my god!
CLIP (ANNOUNCER): How’d you do it, Homer?
CLIP (HOMER SIMPSON): I discover a meal between breakfast and brunch.
Dan Pashman: So that was my trip to The Simpsons. It was really, really cool. I especially want to thank Rob LaZebnik as well as Ryan Co, Matt Selman, and Matt Groening. If you want to see that episode they were working on, it’s called "Krusty The Clown", it’s Season 30, Episode 8. You can find it on Disney Plus. You can also purchase it on a variety of streaming platforms.
Dan Pashman: Next week, we kick off a special three-part series about Black food media in America — past, present, and future. It all starts with a deep dive into the history of food coverage at Ebony magazine, and a visit to Ebony’s famed test kitchen, which has been lovingly restored in a new museum exhibit. That’s next week.
Dan Pashman: While you're waiting for that one, check out last week’s show, with Brittany Luse and Eric Eddings, who host the podcast For Colored Nerds. They help one couple who are arguing over whether it’s okay to eat eggs that were hard boiled for Easter decorations, after they’ve sat out in a basket for a month. They also discuss wedding food anxiety as Brittany's big day approaches. Check that episode out wherever you got this one.