Home Channels Legendary Simpsons Writer John Swartzwelder Gives Rare Interview

Legendary Simpsons Writer John Swartzwelder Gives Rare Interview

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There are a lot of answers people give when asked what brought The Simpsons into decline. “It’s simply been on too long” is the most common response, but Bobs Burgers has now gone past the number of seasons where The Simpsons started to sag and it’s still as funny as ever. American Dad is still funny and it just started its eighteenth season. South Park has wobbled in quality over the years, but has mostly remained consistent with no season you could say was truly bad.

It’s more likely that a key component of The Simpsons’ decline has been due to the loss of talent after those first few years. Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein left to make Mission Hill, Conan O’Brien had a whole separate career blossoming elsewhere, and the most legendary of Simpsons writers — John Swartzwelder — left the show in 2003 to become a novel writer.

Swartzwelder is credited with more episode scripts from the classic years than anyone else, and has an incredible list of truly iconic episodes on his resume. What’s his secret? Until now, nobody knew…he happens to be one of the most reclusive authors in the country. Barely anyone has seen or talked to him until TODAY, when The New Yorker somehow managed to get the man to speak.

The interview is peppered with classic Swartzweldisms like “Tragedy struck the slopes of Mount Rainier this week when a stranded hiker had to eat the people who were rescuing him just to stay alive.” But the most important part is when the reporter, Mike Sacks, gets John to confess his big writing secret. This is like the KFC Special Sauce — it’s forbidden knowledge no one is meant to have. And yet somehow here it is. Are you ready for it? The Swartzwelder secret to writing is….

…to write very badly.

“Since writing is very hard and rewriting is comparatively easy and rather fun, I always write my scripts all the way through as fast as I can, the first day, if possible, putting in crap jokes and pattern dialogue—“Homer, I don’t want you to do that.” “Then I won’t do it.” Then the next day, when I get up, the script’s been written. It’s lousy, but it’s a script. The hard part is done. It’s like a crappy little elf has snuck into my office and badly done all my work for me, and then left with a tip of his crappy hat. All I have to do from that point on is fix it. So I’ve taken a very hard job, writing, and turned it into an easy one, rewriting, overnight. I advise all writers to do their scripts and other writing this way. And be sure to send me a small royalty every time you do it.”

It shouldn’t be surprising when you consider most artists start with a very crude sketch and then refine it from there. John just took that process and applied it to writing. You can write “Homer’s Enemy” too. All you have to do is write “Homer Has Fun At The Park” and then start rewriting it a lot.

The full interview is MAYBE readable at NewYorker.com, assuming you are lucky enough to not be hit with a paywall.