Where to start with The Simpsons? It’s the longest-running sitcom in American TV history, it broke down barriers for adult-oriented animation, and it has long since entered pop culture as one of the most hilarious cartoons of all time.
Scroll down to find out some hilarious and occasionally shocking facts about America’s favourite yellow-skinned family.
30. The Simpsons were made yellow to grab the attention of channel surfers
Have you ever wondered why the vast majority of characters on The Simpsons are yellow? Simpsons creator Matt Groening once explained that the yellow skin was his idea, and there was a practical reason behind it. Groening wanted to attract the attention of channel surfers, and was convinced that bright yellow was the best colour to do this.
Groening explained the decision in an interview with the BBC: “When you’re flicking through channels with your remote control, and a flash of yellow goes by, you’ll know you’re watching The Simpsons.”
29. Maggie’s ‘price’ in the opening reflects the cost of raising a baby
At one point in The Simpsons’ iconic opening credits sequence, Maggie is accidentally scanned by the cashier – and Simpons fans may know that the original price displayed on the till was $847.63. This wasn’t a randomly selected sum: Groening once revealed that $847.63 was the estimated monthly cost of raising a baby in 1989.
However, Maggie’s value has changed throughout the series. In 2008, The Simpsons animators rang in some changes by reducing Maggie’s total price. At first, we see that all of Marge’s groceries cost $243.26. Then when Maggie is scanned, the number simply doubles to $486.52.
28. Only two characters in the show have five fingers
Yellow skin isn’t the only thing that distinguishes the Simpsons universe from our own world, as all of the characters only have four fingers. Nobody from the Simpsons production team has ever really come forward to explain why this is, but what is interesting is to note is that the animators included two characters who have five fingers: God, and Jesus.
The Simpsons certainly isn’t the only cartoon to use this trick. The Flintstones and other animated features also use four-fingered characters. Apparently it’s much easier to draw, which probably explains why the Simpsons animators decided to follow suit.
27. The couch gag in the opening credits is actually used to adjust the show’s running time
Every Simpsons title sequence ends with the show’s signature couch gag, which changes every single episode. Most people probably assume that this is just a fun joke by the animators; but once again, there’s a practical reason for the couch gags as well. Each episode features a different joke, often wildly varying in length, in order to adjust the episode’s overall running time.
The gag is made longer or shorter depending on the length of the remainder of the episode, in order to ensure that the show reaches its necessary length every time. This definitely helps explain why some gags seem to go on forever, whilst others are over in a matter of seconds.
26. It was an accident that Smithers appears to be black in the early episodes
Some fans have noticed that Smithers looks African-American during his first ever appearance on the show. For many years, fans thought that Smithers was originally supposed to be a black man, before the production team had a change of heart. However, this is all a big misunderstanding.
Matt Groening explains, “He was always yellow, and they painted him wrong once. At the time we didn’t have enough [money] to do retakes, so when there were glitches and mistakes it stayed that way.”
25. Homer and Krusty were originally going to be the same person
Fans of the show have long noticed that TV entertainer Krusty the Clown basically looks like Homer Simpson when he’s not wearing make-up. This is because the creators had a crazy idea during the initial planning for the series that they never followed up on: Krusty the Clown was going to be Homer’s secret identity.
This could have been an interesting idea, when we consider Bart Simpson’s relationship to the two characters. However, the Simpsons writers couldn’t find a way to make the idea really work, so it was abandoned.
24. Paul McCartney only agreed to participate if Lisa remained a vegetarian for the rest of the show
The Simpsons has had more than its fair share of famous guest stars over the years. However, when music legend Paul McCartney was invited to appear on the show, he made a very specific request before agreeing to do so. McCartney guest stars in season seven episode ‘Lisa the Vegetarian’, in which the middle Simpson child renounces meat-eating.
Apparently McCartney and his late wife Linda McCartney only agreed to appear on The Simpsons if Lisa remained a vegetarian for good. The team kept their word, as Lisa has never gone back to eating meat.
23. Elizabeth Taylor is the voice of Maggie Simpson
The Simpsons team pulled out all the stops when it came time to finally hear Maggie Simpson’s first word. As an eternal baby, the only sounds Maggie usually makes are from sucking her pacifier; sounds which were apparently recorded by Matt Groening himself. However, in the season four episode ‘Lisa’s First Word’, Maggie pulls out her dummy and says her first word: “Daddy.”
Producers obviously decided that this was such a momentous occasion, they didn’t just want an anonymous voice actor to come in and say the line. They wound up hiring Hollywood legend Elizabeth Taylor, who enjoyed the experience enough that she would later make a second appearance on the show playing herself.
22. Three Simpsons voice actors also had prominent roles in Friends
Friends was at the height of its popularity at exactly the same time as The Simpsons, so it’s not surprising that some of the voice actors from the animated series made appearances on the hit sitcom. The most obvious actor to appear in both series is Hank Azaria, who voices numerous Simpsons characters including Chief Wiggum, Moe and (until 2020) Apu.
Azaria had unsuccessfully auditioned for the role of Joey in Friends, but had to make do with the recurring guest role of David, the geeky scientist who was madly in love with Phoebe. His Simpsons co-stars Harry Shearer (the voice of Smithers, Mr Burns etc.) and Homer actor Dan Castellaneta also made one-off appearances on Friends.
21. Conan O’Brien used to be a writer on the show
Years before he became a successful late night talk show host, Conan O’Brien was a member of The Simpsons’ writing staff. O’Brien was responsible for plenty of hit episodes during his time on the show, including the hilarious Monorail episode. Once he went on to talk show fame, O’Brien even returned in animated form to The Simpsons in a brief interview with Bart.
Apparently some sort of universal force might have been telling O’Brien not to work as a writer on the show though. The chat show host once revealed that something bizarre happened on his very first day in the new job. According to Conan, a bird flew through the window in the writer’s office and perished in the process. His colleagues tried to spook him out by saying that it was a bad omen!
20. Homer’s “D’oh!” has to be translated in many different ways worldwide
The Simpsons has a massive fan base around the world, so it has been dubbed into many different languages, and there are sometimes problems translating the show’s popular catchphrases. In France, Homer’s infamous “D’oh!” became “T’oh!” In the Spanish version, he yells, “Ouch!”, and in Japan, the exclamation is somewhat longer: “shimatta baka ni”!
As well as linguistic problems, there are also a few other cultural boundary issues that The Simpsons has to contend with. The series is hugely popular in the Middle East – but in order to line up with Islamic culture, Homer drinks soda instead of Duff Beer, and eats Egyptian Beef sausages rather than pork-based hot dogs.
19. The number for Moe’s Tavern spells out the name of a Simpsons character
One of the many recurring jokes in The Simpsons is Bart’s habit of prank-calling Moe’s Tavern with hilarious pun names. Moe never realises what he’s said out loud until all the patrons (including one Homer Simpson) are laughing out loud at the joke. However, did you know that the number Bart dials for Moe’s Tavern actually spells out the name of a Simpsons character?
Watch closely and Bart can be seen dialling 764-84377 – which (on top of being longer than a standard US phone number) numerically spells out ‘SMITHERS,’ the name of Mr. Burns’ long-suffering assistant.
18. Homer has the most downloaded voice in the world
In 2009, GPS company TomTom hired Dan Castellaneta to record directions in Homer’s voice, that would be available for customers to download. You won’t be surprised to learn the recording proved popular: it was downloaded over 128,500 times in the US alone.
This number accounts for more than 40% of GPS devices worldwide, and makes Castellaneta’s Homer officially the most downloaded voice in the world.
17. Though produced by Fox TV, The Simpsons is legally allowed to make fun of Fox
The Simpsons has always made a point of satirising conservative viewpoints, which often raised eyebrows as its parent company 20th Century Fox was also home to the notoriously right-wing Fox News. When signing up to make the show at Fox, Matt Groening demanded a contractual clause stating they would be allowed to lampoon Fox and all its properties whenever appropriate.
Fox agreed, and the Simpsons creators have taken plenty of swipes at them over the years, including but not limited to a scathing take on the corporation’s controversial figurehead Rupert Murdoch. However, The Simpsons’ ownership has changed in recent years since Disney took over the bulk of Fox’s film and TV properties (not including Fox News).
16. It only took Danny Elfman three days to compose the theme tune
The iconic Simpsons theme tune is the work of one of the most sought-after composers in Hollywood: Danny Elfman. Starting out as frontman of new wave rock band Oingo Boingo, Elfman moved into film and TV scores in the late 80s. After providing the music for such hits as Beetlejuice and Batman, Elfman was heavily in-demand – so it’s a good job he can work fast.
In fact, the composer once revealed that it only took him three days to compose the theme to The Simpsons, which he later remarked was not a “bad work hour to iconic song ratio.” Elfman has gone on to state that the music is definitely the most popular piece he’s ever written in his career.
15. The Comic Book Guy has a name
Part of what makes The Simpsons so popular is its dense pantheon of distinctive characters. One of these characters is known simply as Comic Book Guy, the extremely opinionated owner of the comic book store frequented by Bart and Milhouse. However, you might not have realised that, after years of just calling him Comic Book Guy, the writers of The Simpsons finally decided to give the character a name.
The writers settled on Jeff Albertson, chosen because the writers thought it might be fun to give Comic Book Guy the most conventional name they could possibly think of.
14. President George H.W. Bush hated The Simpsons
One person who really didn’t care for The Simpsons and its satirical portrayal of American life was none other than the late George H.W. Bush, who was in his one term as US President when the show first took to the airwaves in 1989. In an infamous speech, Bush stated that his administration intended to “make American families a lot more like the Waltons and a lot less like the Simpsons.”
The show’s creators didn’t take that one lying down, soon Bart giving the line: “Hey, we’re just like the Waltons. We’re praying for an end to the Depression, too.” Later, The Simpsons even had a whole episode which depicted the Bush family moving to Springfield, resulting in a fist-fight between Homer and the former President.
13. The cast members are ridiculously wealthy
As you would probably expect given the long-running success of The Simpsons, its cast members are very well paid indeed. Since 2008, principal actors Dan Castellaneta, Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith, Hank Azaria and Harry Shearer have each made $400,000 per episode. When you consider that there have been 12 seasons since then, and they produce on average 22 episodes per season, that adds up to… a lot!
Of course, the show is only able to pay its actors so well because it makes such a huge amount of money from its global popularity. The syndication rights alone for The Simpsons have already brought in a whopping $3 billion. It’s also estimated that the vast swathes of Simpsons merchandise available brings in around $1.5 billion ever year.
12. There’s a hilarious crossover with Frasier
One of the most popular recurring guest characters on The Simpsons is Sideshow Bob, former sidekick of Krusty the Clown-turned-nemesis of Bart Simpson. Sideshow Bob’s unmistakable voice is provided performed by Kelsey Grammer, best known for playing the title role on Frasier. But in 1997, the creators decided to have some fun and bring in some more nods to that acclaimed sitcom.
In the episode Brother From Another Series, we are introduced to Sideshow Bob’s brother Cecil – voiced by David Hyde Pierce, who appears on Frasier as the title character’s brother Niles. Later, Bob and Cecil’s father was voiced by the late John Mahoney, who played Frasier and Niles’ father Marty Crane.
11. Mr. Burns and Homer are really distant relatives
The complex (and hilarious) relationship between Homer and his boss Mr. Burns is one of the funniest things on the show, as the two are rarely on the best of terms with one another. However, despite their differences, it’s part of the series canon that the two men are actually distant relatives.
Groening once unveiled a Simpson family tree, revealing that Mr. Burns’ great-great-grandmother’s brother married the sister of Homer’s great-great-grandfather. Although this aspect of their relationship hasn’t been played up too much in the series, it is considered canon to the series.
10. Simpsons toys are illegal in Iran
The Simpsons’ popularity around the globe has often been the cause of consternation. For one, the sale of any Simpsons merchandise has been completely banned in Iran since 2012. The country’s Institute for the Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults issued a decree strictly forbidding the sale of Simpsons toys or related memorabilia, feeling they promoted ‘destructive’ Western culture to young children.
The Simpsons wasn’t the only major franchise to run into trouble with the Iran government. Barbie dolls were also banned from sale in the country. Interestingly, American superheroes like Batman and Superman were not banned, because “they help oppressed people and have a positive stance.”
9. Milhouse’s name has surprisingly dark origins
Known for his goofy innocence and his long-standing crush on Lisa, Milhouse is one of Springfield’s sweetest inhabitants. This makes it rather alarming to note the rather dark influences behind the character’s full name: Milhouse Mussolini Van Houten. To address the most obvious shocker first, his middle name ‘Mussolini’ comes from the World War II-era Italian dictator Benito Mussolini.
His first name ‘Milhouse’ was the middle name of Richard Nixon, who (until recently) was regarded the most corrupt American President in recent history. Finally, his surname this comes from Leslie Van Houten, an associate of the murderous cult leader Charles Manson.
8. The location of Springfield was confirmed in 2012
We know that The Simpsons is set in an American city called Springfield – but it was never quite been made clear where this is meant to be. Fans of the show have been puzzling over this question for decades, with many suspecting it could be modelled on a real Springfield. Apparently, Groening chose the place name after realising that Springfield was one of the most common city names in the United States.
There are upwards of 40 locations named Springfield in the US alone, including cities in Missouri and New Jersey. However, in a 2012 interview Matt Groening confirmed that the Simpsons’ home town was really meant to be Springfield, Oregon (above).
7. Matt Groening’s initials appear on Homer’s face in every episode
We knew that The Simpsons creator Matt Groening left his personal mark on the characters – but we didn’t know quite how literally he did this. Having some fun, Groening subtly made his own initials an indelible part of Homer Simpson’s face.
If you look closely at Homer’s single strand of side hair, together with his ear, then you can clearly see an ‘MG,’ which of course stands for Matt Groening, and even matches his handwriting. Of course, you can usually see them best when Homer is looking to one side.
6. Each episode takes six to nine months to complete
At the time of writing, nearly 700 episodes of The Simpsons have been produced since it premiered in 1989. While it may seem like the show churns out new episodes all the time, it actually takes a very long stretch of time to get each single episode completed. In fact, recent reports suggest that each episode takes approximately six to nine months before it’s ready to be aired.
This is in spite of all the modern computer animation technology that the team has to work with, as opposed to the early days when it was all traditional cel animation. The Simpsons hires a team of around 100 animators in South Korea to help get the job done on time. Without this extra staff, the showrunners would be struggling to get even half a season finished in time for broadcast.
5. In 1998, TIME Magazine named Bart Simpson as one of the most influential people of the century
Back in 1998, TIME Magazine compiled their list of the 100 most influential people from the 20th century, and named Bart Simpson as one of these – the only fictional character to make the list. This led to some backlash, but Bruce Handy, a representative for TIME Magazine, defended the decision by saying “I don’t see how you can look at this century and not include cartoons.”
Handy explained that TIME wanted their list to include “people who also represented important 20th century trends or developments […] What Bart, or really the Simpsons, have done is merge social satire with popular animation in a way that hasn’t really been done before.”
4. The Simpsons holds the record for the longest-running primetime animated series
When the Simpsons first aired, nobody could have predicted the extent of the cultural impact the show would go on to have. But since 17 December 1989, we’ve been treated to a staggering 34 seasons and 740 episodes. These impressive figures make The Simpsons the longest running primetime animated series ever.
The iconic yellow family are quite a way ahead, too. The second longest running series is South Park, which started in 1997 and has 26 seasons comprising of 320 episodes to date.
3. Matt Groening’s mother was called Marge Wiggum
Matt Groening’s mother was born Margaret Ruth Wiggum – and you don’t have to be a Simpsons expert to see how Groening referred to this in the show. As well as naming the Simpson family matriarch Marge after his mother, Groening also gave her maiden name to Springfield Police Chief Clancy Wiggum and his family, including young dimwit Ralph Wiggum.
Groening actually pinched the names of all his his immediate family when it came to settling on names for his characters. His father was called Homer while his two sisters were called Lisa and Margaret (or Maggie). He felt it would be too ‘on the nose’ to name Bart after himself, and so went with an anagram of ‘brat.’
2. Matt Groening wanted the family to be instantly recognisable in silhouette, hence their distinctive hairstyles and head shapes
By now The Simpsons are so recognisable that you don’t think twice about their unique hairstyles and head shapes. In the case of Bart, Maggie and Lisa – are those spikes meant to be their hair? Or is that just the shape of their heads? And nobody seems to question the fact that Marge has a massive blue beehive that essentially defies gravity.
While The Simpsons have become so popular that nowadays nobody bats an eyelid at their zany appearances, there was a reason behind their unusual hairstyles. Groening has revealed that he gave the characters such distinctive hairstyles to ensure that they would be instantly recognisable in silhouette.
1. In the early 90s, school principals around the US banned Bart Simpson T-shirts
In April 1990, the principal of Lutz Elementary School in Ohio, William Krumnow, announced that he was banning Bart Simpson t-shirts. “To be proud of being an incompetent is a contradiction of what we stand for,” Krumnow told Deseret News in May 1990. “We strive for excellence and to instil good values in kids […] the show teaches the wrong things to students.”
Krumnow was not alone in banning the shirts – other schools in Florida, California, Michigan, Illinois, and Washington, D.C. also outlawed Bart merchandise. It was a hard trend to quash, as an estimated 15 million Bart shirts were sold in 1990 alone. Groening said at the time that he found the prohibition “silly,” and pointed out various ways in which Bart was actually a good role model for students.