Best. Ca­reer. Ever.

The cre­ator of The Simp­sons and Fu­tu­rama ex­tends his car­toon mul­ti­verse into the realm of hard-drink­ing princesses and neu­rotic elves.

Esquire (Singapore) - - FEATURE -

Matt Groen­ing will for­ever be known as the guy be­hind The Simp­sons, now the long­est-run­ning prime-time scripted se­ries in tele­vi­sion his­tory. Hey, a guy could do worse. But the 64-yearold for­mer car­toon­ist has never been one to rest on his Em­mys: Groen­ing re­mains in­ti­mately in­volved with ev­ery episode of his best-known show (639 at this writ­ing) and has spent the past sev­eral years devel­op­ing a new an­i­mated se­ries called Disen­chant­ment (which de­buted in Au­gust on Net­flix), set in the myth­i­cal king­dom of Dream­land. Amid a typ­i­cally busy day shut­tling be­tween the Los An­ge­les stu­dios where his shows are made, Groen­ing spoke with Esquire about the ori­gins of Disen­chant­ment, his love of Bol­ly­wood and the se­cret to The Simp­sons’ Mont­gomery Burns-like longevity.

E S Q: What in­spires some­one with three decades of suc­cess to say: “I’m go­ing to start from square one”? MATT GROEN­ING: I just love cre­at­ing new worlds. I’ve been fas­ci­nated since I was a kid by fan­tasy maps and old Dell crime pa­per­backs that had maps on the back cov­ers. There was a very spooky poster from 1930 that hung in the den of my par­ents’ house called ‘The Land of Make Be­lieve’ by an artist named Jaro Hess. It scared the hell out of me, but I loved it. I ac­tu­ally tracked it down and hung it in my kitchen to scare my chil­dren. But it’s al­ways been an in­spi­ra­tion to me. I mean, The Simp­sons is its own par­al­lel uni­verse, and cer­tainly Fu­tu­rama is the same thing. And now Disen­chant­ment is a third one.

E S Q: How long did it take for this par­tic­u­lar uni­verse to take shape in your head?

MATT GROEN­ING: I started a note­book full of ideas for the show in 2012... or maybe a lit­tle ear­lier. Ev­ery time I thought of a dif­fer­ent kind of fan­tasy trope, I’d write it down and see if there

was a way of stick­ing it in the show. I have lists of ev­ery kind of small myth­i­cal for­est crea­ture: gnomes, fairies, imps, gob­lins, grem­lins, trolls, plus a bunch that I can’t re­mem­ber right now. It’s all there in the note­book. But it’s hard. If you want to tell jokes about elves and dragons and so on and so forth, pretty soon you re­alise, oh, ev­ery sin­gle dragon joke has al­ready been made.

E S Q: But you al­ways in­tended to cre­ate an­other an­i­mated se­ries?

MATT GROEN­ING: Oh, yeah. I think about ideas for dif­fer­ent TV shows all the time. What holds me back is know­ing how hard it is to ac­tu­ally pull them off, and whether I re­ally want to com­mit my­self to some­thing that keeps on go­ing. You know, my comic strip Life in Hell lasted 33 years. The Simp­sons is 29 years and run­ning. Fu­tu­rama didn’t last as long. [It ran for seven non­con­sec­u­tive sea­sons.] So I have to re­ally want to do it for me to plough for­ward.

E S Q: I hear you drew in­spi­ra­tion from some rather ob­scure sources for Disen­chant­ment.

MATT GROEN­ING: I don’t think they’re ob­scure, but other peo­ple could con­sider them ob­scure. So in a given show there might be homages to Buster Keaton and to an In­dian film­maker named SS Ra­jamouli, who has made some of my favourite films of the last decade. I par­tic­u­larly rec­om­mend a movie called Ma­gad­heera. I’m get­ting very ob­scure now. But this stuff just makes me so happy.

E S Q: When it first aired, The Simp­sons was viewed as wildly sub­ver­sive and even con­tro­ver­sial. Since then, the cul­ture has be­come crasser but also more po­lit­i­cally cor­rect. Are the shift­ing bound­aries of hu­mour in 2018 some­thing you con­sid­ered?

MATT GROEN­ING: You never know. You work for a cou­ple of years on some­thing and you don’t know what it’s go­ing to be or how it’s go­ing to be per­ceived. That’s the hard­est thing about an­i­ma­tion, by the way: get­ting the tone right. Es­pe­cially in a world that is com­pletely made-up. The chal­lenge be­comes whether you can get peo­ple to climb on board and make them for­get for a moment or two that they’re watch­ing a car­toon and get caught up in the feel­ings.

Para­dox­i­cally, as I get older, I am less in­ter­ested in fan­tasy and more in­ter­ested in re­al­ity. And by re­al­ity, I mean real emo­tions. The trap­pings of the show I’m amused by, but what re­ally gets me go­ing is the stuff with heart.

E S Q: Ob­vi­ously be­ing on a plat­form like Net­flix, as op­posed to net­work TV, gives you more free­dom.

MATT GROEN­ING: I still think about bound­aries be­cause there are some. Ac­tu­ally, one of the nice things about con­ven­tional tele­vi­sion is that the bound­aries are clear on what you can show and what you can say. With Net­flix, they’re very en­cour­ag­ing for us to do what­ever we want to do. Still, we found early on that there’s a cer­tain kind of dirty joke that within this show just didn’t feel right. But who’s to know what peo­ple will be both­ered by?

E S Q: As of this past April, The Simp­sons be­came the longestrun­ning prime-time scripted show in tele­vi­sion his­tory. How much longer do you see it go­ing?

MATT GROEN­ING: The work it­self is very real. There’s very lit­tle strut­ting around the stu­dio say­ing: ‘Look how long we’ve been on the air!’ It’s mostly just do­ing the job and it’s re­ally fun. And if I could point out some­thing about The Simp­sons that the gen­eral fans might not know: it has turned into a fo­rum for dif­fer­ent kinds of an­i­mated hu­mour. There’s not a sin­gle kind of joke. We do jokes that are about an­i­ma­tion, we do par­o­dies, we do top­i­cal hu­mour, we do fam­ily-sit­com jokes, we do all kinds of dif­fer­ent ap­proaches to hu­mour. And as a re­sult, it’s not the same as what it used to be. But to me, it’s also not rep­e­ti­tious be­cause we’re al­ways ex­plor­ing new things. Banksy did the sto­ry­boards for a couch gag.

E S Q: Given that you don’t do many in­ter­views, I get the sense you would rather peo­ple know your work than the man be­hind it.

MATT GROEN­ING: Oh, yeah. This is the best kind of fame. If I looked like Bart Simp­son, it’d all be over for me.

Disen­chant­ment’s cen­tral char­ac­ters are a boozy princess named Bean, her elf friend Elfo and Bean’s ‘per­sonal de­mon’ Luci.

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