Remembering Sam Simon

Across the Margin takes a moment to reflect on Sam Simon’s passing….

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In college, in the Fall of 1996, the newly-minted crew of derelicts that would go on to become my life-long friends and I would convene over many things. Whether it be a pipe, a meal, a listening session of our favorite bands’ live shows, a hack circle (yeah, it was that sort of party), or what have you – we blissfully entrenched ourselves in our shared interests away from the shackles and restrictions of a life at home with parents. I think back often to those days, and I marvel over a routine which organically was born amongst us. I am not sure which one of the gang initiated the idea – or if this was something we declared en masse must occur – but every single day after class, or in lieu of it, we met in my friend’s room (his name was “Nutt” I’d like to add, a fine human being) and watched the back-to back-episodes of The Simpsons that Fox was running each afternoon. Being that the show had about seven years under its belt at this time, we had a plethora of classic episodes to take in daily – and we did just that. Every. Single. Day.

What I never thought about as I soaked in what I was sure would be television history (I was right of course), was the men behind the madness; the geniuses at the helm of the ship. In time, I fell in tune with the fact that without Sam Simon there would be no Mr. Burns, no Chief Wiggum, or no Bleeding Gums Murphy. I was fully aware that Matt Groening was the man who created the actual Simpsons – the family – but I wasn’t keen to the fact that it was Simon who built the world around them and who was responsible for the tone and the sensibility of the show. Soon, I realized that the genius who reigned over the writing room for the first four seasons of the show was Simon – a period of time appropriately referred to by fans as the Golden Age of The Simpsons.

I never knew about Sam Simon the animal-rights activist, the philanthropist, the art collector and vegan – but it’s encouraging to hear that he indeed was socially and culturally conscious. But what I did know about was The Simpsons, a show that opened my eyes to what funny could be. A show that helped define satire to me, and spoke to my need at the time to defy convention. The Simpsons wasn’t merely a cartoon, it was a rallying cry against the man. It confronted, head on, shortcomings within the government, religion, the media, the education system, environmental policies, law enforcement and beyond. The Simpsons was everything to this burgeoning left-winged college student, and I proudly admit that it influenced the way I think to this very day.

Over 550 episodes later, The Simpsons has gone on to become the longest running animated television show of all time. And while the content may not connect to me like it used to, I am always happy that it is still on the air, as its endurance acts as validation to those early years when I was so enamored with it. Those early days when literally nothing else mattered besides being in front of the television to be awed, inspired and tickled pink. And I have Sam to thank for so much of that. Rest in peace, Sam. You made use of your time. You made us think. You made us laugh.

– Michael Shields

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Nowadays, when I catch a rerun of a Simpsons episode written in the last ten to fifteen years, it might inspire a chuckle or two, but it usually makes me long for the early days of The Simpsons – the Golden Age – when the show was in its prime. In those days the refreshingly original comedy was brought forth to the masses by the show’s ingenious triumvirate that was Matt Groening, James L. Brooks, and Sam Simon. With regards to Simon, despite that fact that The Simpsons is the first name that comes to mind when his name is mentioned, I cannot forget that he also breathed fresh life into the scripts of Cheers, Taxi, and The Gary Shandling Show, three shows that were nothing short of comedic gold.

Outside of the laughs I got during prime-time TV viewing, there wasn’t much I knew about the man himself. Sure, I could read up on interesting facts about him, such as his time as a boxing manager or poker player, but this was outside my realm of experience concerning my familiarity with the man.

He was a regular caller on The Howard Stern Show though, and for some inexplicable reason he would consistently allow Howard’s deadbeat mooch of a stylist, Ralph Cirella, to crash at his guest house in Pacific Palisades. Cirella would repeatedly prove to be a real nuisance of a non-paying tenant who would overstay his welcome to extremes, and Simon’s good natured and nonchalant attitude toward Cirella’s presence confounded both myself and members of the Stern show to no end. Simon would laugh Cirella’s freeloading off as if it was all implied in the one-sided friendship, and I remember thinking to myself, What a good guy. 

As I mentioned, I didn’t know Simon the man very well but I’ll forever be indebted to him for all of the laughs he inspired in my youth. In honoring his passing, I want to reflect on that easy-going and extremely positive attitude of his, and when I think of him from now on I’ll say to myself, “What a good guy.”

– Douglas Grant

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It is hard for me to talk about Sam Simon and not talk about The Simpsons. Being a child of the eighties, I grew up watching Taxi and Cheers, but those were more adult shows whose comedic jokes and one-liners were meant for my parents generation. But The Simpsons, that show was ours. That show mattered. It was relevant in a fresh and raw kind of way as it took satirical swipes at the emerging rhythms of middle-class America. I can remember with great detail when I got my first Bart Simpson t-shirt. It was the late eighties, and I must have been ten or eleven. The shirt had a picture of Bart in his characteristic blue shorts, red shirt and yellow spiked hair seeming to defy gravity as he rode his trusty green skateboard. Below it were written the now-classic words “Cowabunga Dude!” and no truer statement could have existed at that moment in time to describe my boyish outlook on life. I was a full-on Bartmania enthusiast and I cherished that shirt and wore it often, trying as much as I could (to my parents extreme displeasure) to mirror his mischievous and rebellious nature when I had it on. But my love of Bart came in with my buoyant adolescence and flowed out with my turbulent teens. And it wasn’t until I got a bit older, moving my way through high school and into college, that I found my one true, all-time favorite Simpsons character. A character that until this day, still taps into that childlike side of me that I once experienced with Bart. His name is Charles Montgomery “Monty” Burns1 and I have Sam Simon, his creator, to thank for the perpetual enjoyment Mr. Burns has brought into my life. His character first appeared on “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire,” a groundbreaking episode that not only was responsible for birthing my favorite Simpsons character, but also my favorite Simpsons pet, the abandoned greyhound adopted by the Simpson family, Santa’s Little Helper.

As the main antagonist of the Simpsons, and a constant thorn in the town of Springfield’s side, Mr. Burns is most often looked upon with distaste and contempt. But how can you dislike a character who so clearly knows what he wants and will employ whatever it takes to get it? It’s that kind of ‘can-do’ thinking that gave us such legendary performances as Mr. Burns’s singing his song “See My Vest” (“Like my loafer’s? Former gophers. It was either that or skin my chauffeur.”), or his struggling to understand the difference between Ketchup and Catsup whilst trying to find where the “Burns-O’s” cereal was located as he shopped for groceries that time when he lost his fortune. Or in a brilliant role reversal, Mr. Burns having to, on live television, eat a piece of Blinky, the three-eyed mutant fish caused by his nuclear power plant as a stunt for his Gubernatorial run. It is these endlessly enjoyable and incredibly entertaining moments of television history that make me sad for Sam Simon’s loss. For if it were not for him, and his creative genius that brought Mr. Burns (and many other Simpson’s characters) into our collective culture, I fear the world may have been just a bit darker of a place. And it makes me wonder what additional greatness he could have done for humanity had he stuck around with us for a little while longer. So thank you Mr. Simon. Thank you a thousand times over from the bottom of my heart for the joy you pulled from your mind and pushed out into the world. It’s a better place because of it. And as Mr. Burns would say in a situation such as this:

“Don’t think for a moment you’ve seen the last of Monty Burns!” 

[Mr. Burns laughs evilly and pulls a switch, opening a trap door] 

– Chris Thompson

  1. Actually, his full name is Charles Montgomery Plantagenet Schicklgruber Burns []

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