The Simpsons executive producer Al Jean to talk at University of Cambridge on predicting the future
This Friday (January 8), Al Jean will address a number of topics related to long-running animated series The Simpsons in an online discussion with Jesus College’s Intellectual Forum.
The much-loved series, now in its 32nd season, has often shown an uncanny knack of predicting the future.
Emmy Award-winning producer/writer Al Jean will be sharing some of his insights and experiences from more than three decades working on the show when he takes part in the virtual event, which is titled ‘Humour, politics, and how The Simpsons predicts the future’.
“The Trump episode, which is the one that we get the most ‘credit’ for, is not as crazy as it sounded,” Al tells the Cambridge Independent.
“In 2000 when the joke went in, he was talking about running for president on the Reform Party ticket – like Ross Perot had. He wasn’t the most random celebrity...
“A little more random was the episode where Marge and Homer won curling gold and Sweden came second, which they did recently – that was pretty crazy.
“The one that was really weird, and I won’t call it a prediction, was in an episode in the World Trade Center – which appeared well before 9/11.
“There was a frame where there was a brochure that said ‘New York at nine dollars a day’ and the twin towers were behind the nine so it looked like an 11.
“That’s just a bizarre, spooky thing. You can Google the image and just go, ‘Wow, how in the world did that happen?’.”
Al, 59, has written and co-written a number of memorable Simpsons episodes, as well as the 2007 feature-length movie.
He will discuss his work and the show with Tyler Shores, senior research associate at the Intellectual Forum and manager of the University of Cambridge’s ThinkLab programme, which is co-hosting Friday’s event.
It will be interactive, with time at the end for questions from those who have registered to attend.
“Tyler followed me on Twitter and asked if I’d be interested,” explains Al, speaking from California. “The problem with windows of opportunity like this is that I’m here in LA working 50 weeks a year, but one of the little silver linings of the pandemic is that I’ve been able to do things through Zoom that I’ve never had a chance to do before. So it’s a real thrill to be able to address a Cambridge audience.
“I’ve been to the UK many times and to speak at the school where Newton was, that’s a really amazing thing for me. I’m sure I’ll have a good time.”
Al is a great admirer of British comedy – he cites Monty Python, Fawlty Towers and Ricky Gervais among his favourites.
He will answer questions that he knows a lot of people have about The Simpsons – “about how the show runs, about how we ‘predict the future’.”
And he will discuss this in the context of a world in which ‘fake news’ circulates and blurs the lines of fact and fiction.
“It’s really hard now to discern what’s real and what’s not,” notes Al, “because I’ll see things and go, ‘Was that something that we actually had in the show, or wasn’t it?’.”
For the uninitiated, The Simpsons centres around the Simpson family – Homer and Marge Simpson and their children Bart, Lisa and baby Maggie – who reside in the town of Springfield in the USA.
Al is proud of the fact that it is the number one show on the Disney+ streaming service and reveals that a future episode will be exploring “a little more in-depth our prediction of what happens after Trump is president”.
It is fair to say that Al is not a fan of the 45th president, opining that in his lifetime “there’s never been anyone remotely as inept and antidemocratic” as Donald Trump.
Al also discloses that in another upcoming episode, Oscar-winning English actress Olivia Colman will be appearing. “I’m working on a script now,” he says, “and I’m hoping we’ll pick it up for season 33.”
Of the episodes he has written, Al looks back with particular fondness on Lisa’s Sax from series nine, which was the first one he wrote by himself, and I Won’t Be Home for Christmas from series 26.
He says he identifies with Lisa Simpson, as he was also a quiet child who was reading all the time, as well as Comic Book Guy “because I am a comic book guy!”
But if we gaze into The Simpsons’ crystal ball for a premonition of our future, what does Al see?
“Actually, the year that we all had was so dire that my immediate-term prediction is improvement,” he says. “I’m really excited about the Covid vaccine. I’ve not gotten it yet but I will when it’s my turn.
“I think that things can go back to normal much faster than people expect – and I hope that if we learn the lessons of these last four years in America, that there is a future that could be brighter.
“If we learn from things like coronavirus and climate change, that would be a good lesson to have learned.”
And he sees a very bright future for the show – predicting that it could last for decades.
“If you look at Disney classics, they do new Mickey Mouse cartoons, they do new Warner Brothers cartoons... so I would have to expect yes.
“I hope it continues its strong presence for another 30 years.”
To register for the event, visit jesus.cam.ac.uk/events/humour-politicsand-how-simpsons-predicts-future.