The Simpsons Writer John Swartzwelder on SNL Run, Comedy Career & More

Notoriously press-shy comedy writer John Swartzwelder, of The Simpsons notoriety, sat down for a rare interview with Mike Sacks from The New Yorker to talk about his writing process, comedy, his disdain for monkeys in comedy, and of course, his work on The Simpsons. Swartzwelder started his professional writing career in the advertising world, writing for television and radio commercials for a couple of well-known advertising agencies. After the appeal of making cat food commercials and the likes wore off, he sent out inquiries to TV shows hoping for a job in television writing. One letter warranted him an interview, but not for the show he submitted to; David Letterman's head writer at the time was SNL writer John Downey, who responded to Swartzwelder's letter and put him up for a writing position at SNL.

the simpsons
Image: FOX TV

"The first words Lorne said to me were 'How old are you?' I answered, truthfully, 'Thirty-six.' Lorne looked stunned, and the other two people in the office, Robert Downey, Jr., and Anthony Michael Hall, who were frisking around playing tag or something, stopped and stared at me. I quickly added, 'But I feel younger.' And Lorne said, 'No, no, that's all right. You can be thirty-six.' He looked worried, but apparently not enough to overrule Franken and Davis. So I was hired," revealed Swartzwelder.

But SNL wasn't a direct line to success, fame, and work in Hollywood for Swartzwelder. He moved to Los Angeles after his season on SNL where he bounced around writing single episodes for various forgotten comedy shows. In his spare time, he contributed to fellow comedy writer George Meyer's zine called Army Man – written mostly to make other comedy writer friends laugh, with a small circulation which gained a cult following.

'A magnificent magazine. I had a great many jokes in 'Army Man,' including, 'They can kill the Kennedys, why can't they make a cup of coffee that tastes good?' … The 'Army Man' jokes got me my initial interview with Sam and Matt [Groening], which led to my first script assignment, 'Bart the General,' but I wasn't actually hired to work on staff until I'd done three episodes. 'The Simpsons' didn't have enough money for a full-time writing staff until late in 1989. They've got enough now, of course," the writer explained.

As a closing note, he was asked his advice to aspiring comedy writers: "Write what makes you laugh. At least you'll get a laugh out of it." The full interview with The Simpsons (and other very funny works) writer Swartzwelder is available via The New Yorker.

Enjoyed this? Please share on social media!

About Eden Arnold

Having spent far too much time in front of the television growing up, Eden has lots of opinions about television (as well as movies and everything else). She puts this to good use along with her journalism degree and writing experience with by-lines over the years in many print publications, books, and online media outlets. You can find her on Twitter at @Edenhasopinions
Comments will load 8 seconds after page. Click here to load them now.