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The Simpsons producer Mark Reiss: 'Audiences are much more sensitive than they used to be'

The renowned American TV comedy writer tells TASS why it's getting harder and harder to joke these days

- Nowadays tolerance dominates the society and it is getting harder to make jokes without insulting anybody. Do you think that society limits creativity and where is the difference between humor and insult?

Luckily, people know what to expect from The Simpsons, and we can be as irreverent as we ever have. I have seen, though, as a public speaker, that audiences are much more sensitive than they used to be. You can’t joke about sex, politics, religion or death any more – you can’t even mention them!  It is tough for a comedian when the boundaries of comedy are now set by people with no sense of humor whatsoever.

- Have you seen the new Matt Groening show Disenchantment? Do you like it?

I haven’t seen Disenchantment – I’m the one man on earth who doesn’t have Netflix. Matt recreated his entire team from Futurama – writers, actors and animators – so I am sure this new show is as funny and inspired as that was.

- Do you watch TV? Which series is your favorite?

I don’t watch much TV - almost every TV series today is serialized, and I’m too busy to make that commitment. The ones I watch and love are Silicon Valley, Veep, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and Catastrophe.  I’m very excited that they’re making more episodes of Sherlock with Benedict Cumberbatch.

- Who in your opinion are the most relevant writers and directors in comedy? 

I like Judd Apatow and his disciples like Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, and Paul Rudd. Comedy had gotten very lazy in the 80’s, with comedy stars taking money to make a string of bad, lazy comedies. Judd and his gang work very hard on their material, and their scripts are dense with jokes. Also, actors are now writing their own comedy films again, so there is a greater sense of responsibility. 

I’m also a big fan of Lord and Miller, who make the Lego films, Simon Pegg, and the writers behind the amazing Deadpool films. 

- It is very popular right now to create your own shows (Louis C.K. with Loui, Jim Carrey with I’m dying up here and Kidding) about the hard life of comedians. Would you like to make a show about writers? You have already created The Critic in the 90’s. Would you like to try again and do something on your own?

Creating and running TV shows is hugely labor-intensive, and the failure rate is very, very high. I can no longer face that amount of work with so little chance of success. I still write screenplays, children’s books, and plays, all of which I enjoy very much.

- Some people say that “The Simpsons” is not what it used to be and it would be better to close the show. Do you think the show is still relevant? What was the best season of “The Simpsons”?

The Simpsons competes with its own past. When we came on in 1989, there was nothing like us, and we had a world of stories to tell.  Now, we have done hundreds of episodes and there are many shows who do what we do.  However, we still work very, very hard to produce a show that is funny, smart and inventive. And we’re still a hit – we were the #8 show on American TV last week! When the public stops watching the show, we’ll stop making it.

- You often write about new movies on Twitter. Which films do you think should compete for The Oscars this year?

No comment. 

- Are you planning to publish your book Springfield Confidential in Russia? 

I would very much like to see my book published in Russia. The Simpsons has a huge, international following, and I know all these countries would enjoy my book. So far, we’ve sold the foreign rights to Croatia and Germany.  I’m frustrated we’re not in more countries!

- Coming back to The Simpsons, does it concern you that translation can sometimes ruin the joke or change the meaning of it?

I’ve watched the show in Spanish and saw that 40% of our jokes are lost in translation. However, they seem to really enjoy the 60% they’re seeing – South Americans are by far are our most loyal audience. We write the show in a small, dark room, just trying to make ourselves laugh. The fact that it makes the world laugh too – from Moscow to Morocco to Mexico – is a very happy surprise. I don’t know why it works, but I’m glad it does.

- There is a BoJack Horseman episode where one writer always sets up a joke and another one - a punch line. Do you think that TV screenplays are always a collective effort or would you not mind writing on your own? 

I’ve written and sold many screenplays on my own. I enjoy working both alone and with a group. The Simpsons is a great show written by twenty writers – Louie was a great show written and directed by one guy. 

There are many ways to make good comedy – and many more ways to make lousy comedy!

- When you started to work on The Simpsons, animated shows were frowned upon. However, it became a very popular genre. What do you think is the reason of its growing popularity?

The Simpsons was a risk when it started– no one knew if adults would watch a cartoon. But it was such an immediate success we realized there was not just a place for a show like this, there was a hunger for it.  However, you can’t forget that for every successful cartoon show on the air, there are dozens more that have tried and failed.