30 Things You Didn’t Know About The Simpsons
Where to start with The Simpsons? It’s the longest-running sitcom in American TV history, and has 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
Everybody knows what the Simpsons look like – and it’s mainly down to their striking yellow skin. But have you ever wondered why the vast majority of characters on the show are coloured 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.
He 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.” This didn’t work all over the world, however. The Simpsons has never had a large following in Myanmar, because a bizarre national law bans yellow and red colours from being overly used in movies and TV programmes!
29. Maggie’s ‘price’ in the opening reflects the cost of raising a baby
The Simpsons has one of the greatest (and certainly one of the busiest) TV opening sequences of all time. There’s a lot going on: the iconic theme music, Bart and Lisa at school, Homer at work, and Marge and Maggie at the supermarket. At one point in the opening credits, 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. This might be another statement on the part of the animators – it seems to suggest that having a baby doubles your expenses! We’re sure plenty of parents out there can testify to that.
28. Only two characters in the programme have five fingers
Yellow skin isn’t the only thing that distinguishes the Simpsons universe from our own world. You’ve probably noticed all of the characters only have four fingers. Well, three fingers and a thumb, anyway. This matches their feet, which only have four toes on each foot. 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 the more familiar five fingers.
If you’ve been watching carefully, you might have noticed that only God and Jesus are in possession of five fingers. It’s probably a useful way of trying to emphasise their superiority to the residents of Springfield. Despite the fact that The Simpsons is the best-known example of an animated cartoon which features four-fingered beings, it’s certainly not 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
At the start of every Simpsons episode, the title sequence ends with the show’s signature couch gag, which changes every single episode. The ever-changing couch gag is a fan favourite and it’s featured some brilliant crossovers throughout the years too, from Family Guy to Rick and Morty. 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. If you check out the image above, you can clearly see that Mr Burns’ favourite assistant has noticeably darker skin. 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. Smithers was supposed to be yellow, just like the rest of his friends in Springfield, but came out brown due to a mistake in the early animation stages.
Groening said: “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.” Smithers is a diverse character in a different way, however; it was for many years strongly implied that he was gay, and in more recent episodes this has been declared outright on the show.
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. Apparently the original idea was that Krusty the Clown would turn out to be Homer’s secret identity.
This could have been an interesting idea, when we consider Bart Simpson’s relationship to the two characters. Bart and his dad have a very strained relationship at times, whereas Bart hero-worships his favourite green-haired clown. 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. From Michael Jackson to Danny DeVito, it seems as though every A-lister has managed to bag themselves a cameo on the animated series. 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.
Obviously her family and friends react in horror to the decision (this was a different time we’re talking about after all) and eventually she turns to none other than…Paul and Linda McCartney, who explain why her decision to become a vegetarian is so important. Apparently McCartney and his late wife 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
Speaking of amazing guest appearances, 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, Oscar-winning superstar renowned as much for her tumultuous relationship with Richard Burton as for her body of work. Taylor would seem to have enjoyed the experience, as she went on to make another appearance on The Simpsons in a later episode, that time appearing as herself.
22. Three Simpsons voice actors also had prominent roles in Friends
Did you know that there’s a huge Simpsons crossover with another popular 90s series? 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.
Azaria isn’t the only Simpsons cast member to bag an appearance alongside Jennifer Aniston and company, as Harry Shearer (the voice of Smithers, Mr Burns etc.) crops up in an early episode of Friends at Central Perk. Meanwhile, Dan Castellaneta, who famously voices Homer, turned up as a zookeeper when Ross was thinking about giving away his pet monkey Marcel.
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, This has caused some problems from time to time, especially when it comes to translating the show’s popular catchphrases. In France, Homer’s infamous “D’oh!” has had to be modified – instead the yellow-skinned patriarch shouts, “T’oh!” Meanwhile in the Spanish version, he yells, “Ouch!”
In Japan, the exclamation is a little bit longer than its English counterpart: there, Homer instead cries, “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.’
It also turns out that the idea for Bart’s anonymous prank calls have a very interesting source of inspiration. They were inspired by the ‘Tube Bar Recordings,’ a tape of genuine calls made by pranksters Jim Davidson and John Elmo to a New Jersey bartender named Louis “Red” Deutsch, who was notoriously bad-tempered.
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 voice the most downloaded voice in the world.
Here are some more interesting facts regarding Homer’s voice: he is the only character to have dialogue in every single episode (we hope Castellaneta never gets sick!) Julie Kavner’s Marge and Yeardley Smith’s Lisa have appeared in every episode, but didn’t speak in all of them: Marge didn’t deliver any dialogue in the 1993 episode ‘Krusty Gets Kancelled’, while Lisa didn’t speak once during the 2010 episode ‘Chief of Hearts.’ Meanwhile, Nancy Cartwright’s Bart Simpson skipped out on one episode: 2009’s ‘Four Great Women and a Manicure.’
17. Though produced by Fox TV, The Simpsons is legally allowed to make fun of Fox
20th Century Fox is known for promoting off-the-wall animations: on top of The Simpsons, the US broadcaster is also home to Family Guy and Bob’s Burgers. However, until recently they were also home to the Fox News Network, which has long been controversial for its ultra-conservative take on current events. This might have been deemed a conflict of interests, as The Simpsons has always made a point of satirising conservative viewpoints. 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. It was even nominated for an Emmy in the “Outstanding Achievement in Main Title Theme Music” category.
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.
He’s not the only minor character who boasts a strange but memorable full name. Take Carl and Lenny, whose full names have been revealed as Carl Carlson and Lenny Leonard. Meanwhile, Krusty the Clown’s real name is Herschel Shmoikel Krustofski; almost as ridiculous as Sideshow Bob’s name, which is Robert Underdunk Terwilliger. Even the Bumblebee Man has a real name, and surprisingly enough, it’s Pedro.
14. President George H.W. Bush hated The Simpsons
When The Simpsons first became popular, many praised its unique and sophisticated sense of humour – but others failed to see the funny side. But 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. Bush Sr. was in his one term as US President when the show first took to the airwaves in 1989, and he was so angered by The Simpsons that he infamously made reference to it in a speech. The former President stated that his administration intended to “make American families a lot more like the Waltons and a lot less like the Simpsons.”
Of course, the show’s creators didn’t take that one lying down and they fully lampooned Bush and his extended family almost straight away. One episode responded with a very rushed segment featuring Bart saying 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.
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. As well as this obvious reference to the Crane brothers, Cecil also mentions his wife Maris, which alludes to Niles’ ex-wife Meris (frequently referred to, but never seen) in Frasier. The joke came up again in a 2007 episode entitled “Funeral for a Friend”, which featured a Dr. Robert Terwilliger Sr. who was unveiled as the father of Bob and Cecil. This character was voiced by 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. Mr Burns is the evil corporate boss who seems to have achieved immortality, while Homer is hardly the model nuclear plant employee, so 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, which showed that Burns and Homer might be closer than they think. According to the tree, Mr Burns’ great-great-grandmother’s brother married the sister of Homer’s great-great-grandfather. Still, this aspect of their relationship hasn’t been played up too much in the series, as we rarely get any sense that Homer and Mr Burns view one another as family.
10. Simpsons toys are illegal in Iran
As we’ve already mentioned, 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. This is because they felt that the merchandise 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
Another of the most endearing characters on The Simpsons is Bart’s best friend Milhouse. 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.
As for his first name, ‘Milhouse’ was the middle name of Richard Nixon, who (until recently) was widely regarded the most corrupt American President in recent history. As for his surname ‘Van Houten,’ this comes from Leslie Van Houten, who was 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, the most densely populated of which is the city of Springfield, Missouri (above). Some fans believe the Simpsons live in Springfield, New Jersey, because in one episode Mr Burns receives a letter indicating Springfield, NJ. 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.
It’s not 100% clear if this was always intentional, however, as the design of the characters has changed slightly from their earliest days. When The Simpsons first appeared as a sketch on The Tracy Ullman Show, they looked very different – but that MG motif can still be made out on Homer’s head.
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 most influential people from the 20th century. The magazine named Bart Simpson as one of the 100 most important people to come out of the century. Bart was the only fictional character to make the list, which led to some backlash, as some believed a real person should have taken Bart’s place. 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.”
“They’re one of [America’s] great contributions [to the culture of the world], along with jazz and film.” 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 32 seasons and 690 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 has 23 seasons – but this pales in comparison to The Simpsons.
The Simpsons’ first 10 seasons were met with overwhelmingly positive reviews and this is generally regarded as the series’ “golden age.” But that’s not to say recent series have been noticeably worse, or that there’s been a decline in quality – it’s fair to say that a lot of people would be gutted if The Simpsons called it quits any time soon.
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. Most obviously, Groening named the family matriarch – Marge – after his mother, while he paid homage to his mother’s maiden name with the inclusion of the Wiggum family. 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.’ Groening has stressed that, besides the petty sibling rivalry, The Simpsons are actually nothing like his own family.
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. He also confessed that while sketching the characters, he kept forgetting that they would be rendered in colour for TV. So the fact that Bart, Maggie, and Lisa’s ‘hair’ looks like an extension of their heads was partly accidental, as Groening’s black scribbles were turned into more pronounced spikes.
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.