It’s been almost twenty years because the reclusive, mysterious, nearly legendary comedy author John Swartzwelder left “The Simpsons,” and but, to at the present time, one of the most important compliments a “Simpsons” author (or any comedy author) can obtain is to have a joke known as “Swartzweldian.” Meaning: A joke that comes out of nowhere. A joke that nobody else might have written. A joke that sounds nearly as if it had been by no means written, as if it’s at all times existed.

Take the next joke, a favourite amongst “Simpsons” writers and followers, which seems in Season 8’s “Homer vs. the Eighteenth Amendment,” when Homer stands atop a stack of barrels, outdoors a pawn store, and delivers a toast to a gathered crowd: “To alcohol. The cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems.”

Swartzwelder has been deemed “one of the greatest comedy minds of all time.” He is famously non-public and by no means grants interviews. Few photographs of him exist, though he did make some animated cameos as background “Simpsons” characters—as soon as as a patient in a psychiatric hospital. His voice will be heard on just one “Simpsons” DVD writers’ commentary, for “The Cartridge Family” (Season 9, Episode 5). Ambushed by cellphone, whereas at house cooking a steak, he sounds nice and courteous however keen to complete up the encounter, which lasts all of a minute and twenty-four seconds.

A number of details appear sure. Swartzwelder was born in 1949 in Seattle. He labored a number of years as an promoting copywriter in Chicago. He utilized for, however by no means acquired, a job at “Late Night,” and had an uncomfortable interview with its host, David Letterman. He labored at “Saturday Night Live,” in 1985, for one notably rocky season, earlier than being employed 4 years later at “The Simpsons,” based mostly partly on his contributions to a little-known comedy zine. He went on to put in writing fifty-nine episodes, greater than another author within the present’s historical past.

Swartzwelder’s specialty on “The Simpsons” was conjuring darkish characters from an odd, outdated America: banjo-playing hobos, cigarette-smoking ventriloquist dummies, nineteenth-century baseball gamers, rat-tailed carnival kids, and pantsless, singing old-timers. After leaving the present, in 2003, Swartzwelder wrote and self-published the primary of his 13 novels, all however two of which function one of probably the most great creations in printed comedy: Frank Burly, incompetent non-public eye and occasional time traveller. None of the books run greater than 100 and sixty pages; all are packed, like a dense star, with extra materials than appears bodily doable.

Recently, within the course of a month and a half, I corresponded with Swartzwelder through e-mail. He patiently answered most of the questions I requested him about writing the most effective jokes in the most effective episodes of arguably the most effective comedy of the final century. Our dialog has been edited for size and readability.

When I requested if you happen to would take part, you mentioned that you simply sometimes wouldn’t, however that The New Yorker title has at all times held a sure magic for you. Did you develop up studying the journal?

The New Yorker was the house of quite a bit of writers I preferred after I was rising up, together with my favourite: Robert Benchley. Benchley was splendidly humorous when he felt prefer it, and he didn’t appear to work in any respect. All he and his Algonquin Round Table pals appeared to do was play foolish video games and attempt to make each other snicker, leaving the social gathering often to sort out a Pulitzer Prize-winning story. After ten years of losing their expertise like this, that they had all turn out to be wealthy and well-known, gained each award you’ll be able to assume of, and created The New Yorker. The lesson to me was clear: comedy writing was the way in which to go. Easiest job on the planet.

Do you continue to think about comedy writing to be the simplest job on the planet?

No, sir. I don’t.

Beyond Benchley and the Algonquin crowd, who had been some of your comedic influences?

Steve Allen was my first comedy hero. He was effortlessly humorous. And whereas the adults round me had been dragging themselves house from work each evening, wanting prefer it was the tip of the world, Allen might apparently simply sleep all week, roll out of mattress on Sunday afternoon, wander over to the studio, and child round together with his pals and the viewers and possibly Elvis Presley for an hour. Then it was “Good night, everybody,” and again to mattress. This made fairly an impression on me.

You discuss as if you happen to sought out a lazy profession, and but your status is of being one of the best comedy writers in tv historical past. Was it not a lot about a straightforward profession as being in cost of your personal future?

You’ve put your finger on it. The greatest enchantment of writing is that, theoretically, you are able to do it wherever. I pictured myself browsing in Australia whereas understanding the plot of my subsequent blockbuster comedy novel, or mailing in my newest joke from the highest of a mountain. That’s the way it regarded to me after I began. In actual life, nevertheless, most of the time it’s important to drag your self into an workplace and chain your self to a desk.

What was it about Benchley’s writing that appealed to you? When I learn your books, I’m reminded largely of S. J. Perelman—in each instances there’s a wildness and absurdity, the chance {that a} joke will be taken wherever, even on the expense of plot or realism. And Perelman was so adept at mocking the fashion of pulp detective writing, one thing we see in your Frank Burly books.

Perelman was nice. Benchley really wrote the identical sort of loopy stuff that Perelman did, and he did it simply as effectively, if not higher, however he was rather more informal about it. Perelman crammed each joke he might assume of into each sentence and polished his items relentlessly till they couldn’t get any crazier. There’s a narrative {that a} pal known as him up whereas he was writing one thing, and Perelman mentioned, “I’ll call you back when I finish this sentence.” He known as again the following day and mentioned, “O.K., what do you want?”

When I first learn Perelman, it was utterly over my head. Half the phrases he was utilizing didn’t exist in the actual world, so far as I knew—and I used to be twelve, I’d been round. I figured one of us was nuts. Later on, after I had began writing for a residing and picked up a number of extra multisyllable phrases, I checked him out once more. I’ve been a fan ever since.

How was such a profession even a risk for you? Did you recognize any comedy writers? Did you even know anybody who knew a comedy author?

I by no means knew any comedy writers after I was rising up, or heard of anyone round city making an attempt to make a residing that method. So it was an uncommon alternative for me to make. And as a result of it was uncommon, it was arduous to know the place to begin. When I instructed folks I didn’t need to carry cement for a residing, I wished to put in writing comedy and be a nationwide treasure as a substitute, I acquired some odd appears to be like. Some folks suspected I is likely to be silly. Others had been positive of it.

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