By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
“So you killed.”
“No, it didn’t actually kill. It actually didn’t go over very well. I said, ‘Thank you very much,’ and I got offstage. I walked backstage, and Jim Brooks — James L. Brooks, my mentor, the genius film director who’s responsible for my career — was backstage, and I said, ‘My speech failed.’ And he put his arm around me and said, ‘The secret is to pretend you’re happy.’ That’s all I remember. Then I went to work the next day and I told Jim Brooks my dream. He said, ‘God, that dream is so good, I’m gonna use it with my therapist.’”
“Hey, if I think of something to ask about The Simpsons Movie. . . you wanna?”
“Yeah. Simpsons Movie. Well . . . we’re almost done. And one of the indications of the eccentricity at work here is . . . okay, we saw that on every episode of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, they had a countdown clock that’s in the background, for how many days, hours, minutes it is to the next show. So we laughingly said, ‘We should get one of those for the movie.’ And the next day, there it was — a countdown clock that said, you know, 372 days, 16 hours and 52 seconds, right above one of the animators’ computers. That poor guy is probably a quivering mess of stress by now, from having to look at it all the time.
“Anyway, it got down to about 62 days, and the producer, Richard Sakai, who had put up the clock, had it changed from 62 days to 31 days, because he decided that it was time to get real, and this is what the real countdown is — not, as it was originally set, to the premiere, but to the exact second that the movie needs to be done, finished, delivered, out of our hands.
“As of this afternoon, it was 16 days and some-odd hours. We’re coming down the home stretch. We’re still tweaking, still foolin’ around. But it’s almost, almost done.”
“You’re not going to talk about what happens in the movie, are you?”
“No,” says Groening. “But even after the movie comes out, I’m not gonna talk about the plot. Because I’m so used to keeping the secret. And also: It doesn’t matter. I mean, I can’t imagine somebody going, ‘Well, I think I won’t see the film because of what the story is or what it isn’t.’ I mean, it’s a Simpsons movie — you go to see them having their adventures.”
“So, are you going to get a chance to just do nothing at some point?”
“When The Simpsons Movie is finished, and we get the fall season of the show up and running, I hope to take some time and actually resume surfing, and doing all the kinds of fun, relaxing things that I set aside to meet my deadlines. You surf?”
“No. I tried twice, in high school. Got my bell rung hard.”
“Locals only, man!”
“Sorry, man, to have upset the balance.”
“My dad was a surfer in the late 1940s, in Hawaii, before I was born, when the family lived there. Sometimes I look at these old photos and I just can’t believe how pristine, how seemingly perfect it was.”
“Do you ever go surfing right here?”
“No. I’ve investigated. I’ve gone snorkeling out here. It’s sandy — you can’t see anything. There’s got to be fish out there, because there’s birds diving. But I see dolphins, pelicans, an occasional seal, and that’s cool. I feel like it’s going to be a good day if I see a dolphin. See, I get thrilled whenever I see any kind of wild animals. Makes me feel like, ‘Oh, it’s not over yet!’ Raccoons in the garbage — yess! Although, you know . . . I’m not saying that I don’t . . . nahh.”
“I was gonna say . . . It won’t work in print, but I was gonna say . . .”
Groening says what he was going to say.
“See?” he says afterward. “Doesn’t work in print.”
Amid all the Simpsons work and fanfare, Groening published 14 Life in Hell compilation books between 1986 and 1997, then nothing. The 15th is finally on its way, and Groening seems as excited about it as if it were his first.
“I just put out my favorite book, of my cartoon books, called Will & Abe’s Guide to the Universe,” Groening says as we head inside. “It’s my favorite because it’s not me; it’s just me taking my kids’ conversations and songs and arguments and stories, and illustrating them.”