George Meyer

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    • Meyer: I'm a pessimist, but I have many painstakingly applied coats of optimism. I'm very proud of my gloss right now.

    • Meyer: To me, a mark of maturity is realizing that nobody runs the world. Fat-cat politicians and secret conspiracies don't control our lives. In reality, the world is much more complex than that. The people who seem to have a lock on power get swept out in a couple of years. So it's naïve to keep swinging at the same targets over and over. It took me a long time to realize, but most of the shackles that I flailed against were just illusory.

    • Meyer: When I was first hired to write for The Simpsons, I knew it was a complete crapshoot. It could've just as easily been this embarrassing cartoon that I did before moving on to write jokes for the Academy Awards. And then it suddenly hit in such a big and unequivocal way. It was an amazing moment of validation for me, but it also made me tremendously arrogant. I was in this limbo state between self-absorption and an inexplicable disappointment with my life. I loved what I was doing, but I was also a little ashamed by it. I was suicidal for a number of years.

    • Meyer: Launching a new TV show is probably one of the most difficult things that a writer can do. In the early days, it's like a baby crawling across a freeway. It's such a miracle if it gets across.

    • Meyer: (talking about The Simpsons) The idea that people are watching this show in so many different countries and languages is just the coolest thing to me. I don't know what they're getting out of it, but I'm awed that people are drawn to it.

    • Meyer: (talking about Frank Grimes) He said things that needed to be said, but once they were said, we needed to destroy that person. I'll admit, we took a certain sadistic glee in his downfall. He was such a righteous person, and that somehow made his demise more satisfying.

    • Meyer: (talking about Ned Flanders) I like to think that we're just testing him, like Job. And he's held up quite well. He's buoyantly loving and resilient in a way that's almost Christ-like. No matter how much Homer provokes him, he keeps coming up with another cheek to turn. I think that's an unusual thing to see in television, because TV and movies are obsessed with revenge. It's interesting how that has such appeal for people. And Flanders is really going against the grain. He's not a hypocrite. He's a guy who reads the Bible and practices it. Despite my admitted atheism, he's actually a stirring figure to me.

    • Meyer: (talking about The Simpsons) As in the real world, the most oblivious people are often the happiest. Someone like Chief Wiggum, for instance, who is pretty satisfied with his life despite being an absolutely catastrophic police chief. I also think Homer is pretty happy, if only because deep in his bones he realizes that he's indestructible. There's not much that can hurt him anymore.

    • Meyer: I love that Voltaire was so willing to shock his readers with arbitrary cruelty. And I can completely relate to it. Even if you haven't had one of your buttocks cut off or been raped by pirates, we can all appreciate the horrors that take place in Candide. At the same time, he strikes a nice balance between futility and optimism. By nature, I tend to fall more on the saturnine side. But if you're going to be truly funny, I think you have to be a little Pangloss and a little Martin. You have to be able to shuttle back and forth.

    • Meyer: You have to respect people's suffering. To deny that the world is unfair and painful for most of the people living in it would be false and judgmental.

    • Meyer: There's a built-up tension in religion, and if you can release it, you'll get a huge and satisfying laugh. When people have no interest in a subject, it's very hard to get them to laugh about it. If I had to write ten jokes about potholders, I don't think I could do it. But I could write ten jokes about Catholicism in the next twenty minutes. I guess I'm drawn to religion because I can be provocative without harming something people really care about, like their cars.

    • Meyer: It has never been a comfort to me to believe there's an all-seeing eye in the sky. And I don't like the antagonism that most religions have for science and freedom and, frankly, individuality. I do like the Dalai Lama.

    • Meyer: I don't know what the universe is all about, but to me, nothing is gained by slapping a God sticker on it.

    • Meyer: (talking about The Simpsons) Our show is one of the very few that's willing to acknowledge that religion even exists. Other shows don't want to take it on because it's such a powder keg. People get very upset. The sponsors get edgy about it. I'm still not sure how we get away with it. Fortunately, the Simpsons writing staff doesn't have a lot of deeply religious people. If we did, there'd probably be more fistfights in the writer's room.

    • Meyer: (talking about The Simpsons) Marge needs to have a loose-cannon guy in the house. She likes being the authority figure, and Homer gives her something to wag her finger at. And obviously Homer needs Marge to keep him alive. But no, I don't think they have the greatest marriage. I'm always surprised at how that never comes across to some viewers.

    • Meyer: For me, marriage is a grotesque, unforgiving, clunky contrivance. Yet society pushes it as a shimmering ideal. It's as if medicine came up with the iron lung, then stood back and said, "At last! Our work is done." Men often struggle with their attraction to other women. They don't quite understand why they have to be with the same woman forever. Marriage has a compassionate answer for them: "Oh, shut up, you selfish crybaby." Is it any wonder men have to be pressured into this nasty, lopsided arrangement?

    • Meyer: I'm enthralled by the national yearning that the Russians had during the fifties and sixties. The whole century was pretty rough for them. They suffered genocide, war, poverty, and half the population was sent to labor camps. But they were determined to get into space first. And then to launch the Sputnik and beat the United States, it must've been such a surreal thing. They had the first man in space, the first woman in space. It shocks me that so many people haven't heard of Tereshkova. In fact, a surprising number of people aren't familiar with Yuri Gagarin either.

    • Meyer: (about being a father) It makes me more concerned about earthquakes. I don't want pictures falling off the walls and landing on her. I'm in a very odd place right now. I resisted parenthood for a long, long time. But having a daughter has given me a sense of hopefulness that I didn't have before.

    • Meyer: I'm not patriotic. I'm not religious. I do have a baby—a four-month-old girl—and that's a religion in itself.

    • Meyer: I prefer to linger on the periphery before making a commitment.

    • Meyer: Life is challenging for everyone. If someone can believe that he's a sovereign in his tiny domain, it's just an adaptation to life.

    • Meyer: I have a deep suspicion of social institutions and tradition in general. I was brought up Catholic and, of course, I strayed and repudiated it. That's a painful thing to go through, because you have to look back and realize that you wasted a gigantic chunk of your life. It'd probably be healthier to recall my past with wistful amusement, but I just can't do it. I still feel betrayed. I didn't want to be an iconoclast. As a child, I tried to play by the rules. I got very good grades in school, I was an Eagle Scout, and I believed in all of it. But I eventually realized that these institutions didn't care about me.

    • Meyer: When I've done my best work, I've been in a trance-like state. I write jokes that are more by-the-numbers, but they tend to have a flat, pedestrian quality compared to the dizzying flights of silliness that we occasionally achieve.

    • Meyer: I find that the creative side of my brain and the archival side of my brain don't work well together.

    • Meyer: I don't remember a lot of what I write. I try to release it after it's out there so that I can be fresh again.

    • Meyer: (talking about The Simpsons) Just before the '96 election, we did a Halloween special where Bob Dole and Clinton were kidnapped by aliens. We killed off both of the presidential candidates in the middle of that segment. They were asphyxiated and floating in space. At that point, I defy anyone to tell us what our politics were.

    • Meyer: Personally, I like to keep an audience guessing.

    • Meyer: George Carlin gets away with murder in his stand-up, because people sense that he's honestly hurt that the world isn't a saner place.

    • Meyer: If people think you're coming from a place of smugness or viciousness, it won't be as funny to them.

    • Meyer: On The Simpsons, we try not to attack something just for the thrill of watching it die.

    • Meyer: (talking about moving to Colorado) Yeah, but I never cared for New York. I was having problems with my girlfriend and I was very frustrated at Saturday Night Live. I just decided that I needed to start fresh and reconnect with whatever made life worth living.

    • Meyer: (talking about Army Man) I have no idea how it got so big. I was just trying to find something to do while I was living in Boulder, Colorado, which isn't really a funny town. For most of Boulder, comedy is just something you see at the multiplex every week or so. To me, it's like oxygen.

    • Meyer: I've always felt that the nihilistic approach to comedy is inherently limiting. It's not particularly clever, and it's so openly hostile that it even puts the audience on the defensive.

    • Meyer: Other than death and speaking in public, one of the big fears that everybody shares is that the joke will have been on them.

    • Meyer: (about writing for The Simpsons) There was a period when we were obsessed with hobos. Specifically, hobos and their bindles. In the boxing episode, Homer was fighting a hobo who kept turning to check on his bindle. (laughs) Stuff like that is basically about wasting the audience's time for our own amusement.

    • Meyer: I thought that sincerity and individuality were going to be the next wave of comedy. Obviously, I underestimated cynicism's appeal.

    • Meyer: (about writing for The Simpsons) We really don't think about the audience very often. We're writing for our own enjoyment, or for our friends who write for other shows.

    • Meyer: (talking about The Simpsons fans) I find it intoxicating. I like that people are patterning their lives after our little fictional world. Even the nonfanatical fans have a weird relationship with the show. They want it to be like a dollhouse, and they're enormously proprietary. When we've tried to change too much, they've gotten very upset with us. After we killed off Maude Flanders, people were in an uproar. They feel like these characters belong to them. I can understand that, but at the same time, as a writer you sometimes feel the need to shake things up.

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