Ask anyone who knows me even a little, and they’ll tell you — likely with an eye roll — that I’m a major Simpsons nerdlinger.
I was a fan from day one, all the way back to the Tracey Ullman Show in 1987. The bouncy, squiggly and decidedly yellow dysfunctional family was unlike anything I’d seen before and I was an instant fanatic.
While many people gave up on the show after Conan O’Brien left the writers’ pool, I’ve been a steady viewer. Their ability to deftly satirize current events was tightest when he was there, but they still have their moments of brilliance.
It goes without saying that the annual non-canon Treehouse of Horrors Halloween episode is the Super Bowl of the season. This is where the writers can run wild, skewering pop culture and politics in the grimmest and most off-colour manner. You get a sense that this is the creative team’s favourite episode of the year, based on the writing and voice work.
With this background in place, move ahead to 2015. I’m in Los Angeles to attend the Online News Association conference there, and my L.A.-based co-founder and partner in an online news business asks me the following: “Hey, would you want to go to a table read of The Simpsons?”
Me: “OK, don’t even joke about that. You’re treading on sacred ground.”
Partner: “I’m serious. I can get us in.”
Me: Tears welling in my eyes, “Sweet fancy Moses. You realize that’s a top item on my bucket list.”
So cut to a random September day in 2015. My co-founder friend picks me up at the conference hotel and we head down the street to Fox Studios. His pass gets us in and we’re walking through the lot. I am bursting.
We get to the studio where the table read is set to happen. It’s a fairly non-descript building, save for a few Simpsons cues. I actually can’t talk about specifics because media are not officially allowed in the reads, as it is a creative inner sanctum.
What I can tell you is that the peach-coloured production scripts were laid out on each seat around the room for guests. We sat down and I looked at my script. “This is so incredibly cool. OMG, TREEHOUSE!” Yes, I said that out loud, and several production people at the main table laughed at my nerdgasm.
Yup, I happened to be there for the table read of the next Treehouse episode. Episodes are in production for more than a year so it was actually the one that eventually aired in 2016.
Table reads are where the voice talent, writers and producers gather around a large table and run through the entire script, to live-test the jokes, timing, character nuance and see how the team and guests react to the plot and delivery.
Seeing the voice actors at work was immensely entertaining. Again, I can’t cover specifics, but my stomach and face hurt from deep and sustained laughter.
Yeardley Smith and Nancy Cartwright signed my script after, and just like that, we were done and I was headed back to the conference.
Experiencing the best at their craft in action has always moved me to work harder.
While I learned many important things at the actual conference, I was most inspired and fulfilled by that 45-minute table read. I had a cow, and it was amazing.