From ‘Simpsons’ writer Mike Reiss, a Jewish perspective
Mike Reiss would like people to know one thing about his upcoming program, Jews in Toons.
“There is nothing profound about my speech,” said the four-time Emmy-winning writer of The Simpsons. “I can guarantee that people will walk out entertained and completely uneducated. I mean, Jews in Toons shouldn’t cry out educational.”
The cartoon writer and author of the soon-to-be-released novella Tales of Moronica, will speak following the New England premiere of Jews in Toons on April 14 at Red River Theatres. The event wraps up the Concord leg of the New Hampshire Jewish Film Festival.
“Jewish film festivals in general, they get just so overrun with talking about the Holocaust, talking about troubles in Israel,” Reiss said. “It’s one sad movie after another, and then finally comes this guy in with a bunch of Jewish cartoons. You know, you go to 10 Jewish film festivals and forget that Jews have any sense of humor at all.”
Reiss said his speech will concentrate primarily on his experiences at The Simpsons through the Jewish perspective, as well as Jewish-themed Simpsons episodes, Jewish characters, Jewish writers and Jewish guest stars.
“It’s bringing something new to the festival, and it’s about looking at Jewish culture in a different way,” said Pat Kalik, co-chairwoman of the festival.
Reiss said the program will be rounded out with anecdotes about how Judaism has played out in other cartoons he’s done and his upbringing of being pretty much the only Jewish kid in town.
“And then to wrap it up, I read from – of all things – a Christmas book,” he said. “It’s a Jewish-themed Christmas book. For no good reason I wrap up with that.”
And though much of the night will focus on his work at The Simpsons, Reiss is quick to point out that in the show’s entire 550-episode history there have been exactly three Jewish-themed episodes, only one more than episodes about the McDonald’s McRib sandwich.
It also has only three Jewish characters out of the show’s approximately 100.
“They are a little more than 3 percent of the population of Springfield, and to (the show’s) credit they get a little more than 3 percent of screen time,” Reiss said. “Could we do more? Sure.”
And it’s not like the Simpsons shy away from discussions on religion of any stripe.
“Religious observance and religious beliefs are really crazy if you don’t share in those beliefs. And that’s it, ‘Your religion looks silly, my religion looks great,’ ” Reiss said. “So that stuff is always really ripe for the Simpsons , and you know it’s just slightly taboo, so it always gives us – so it’s always a little bit of controversy. And we’re always tackling topics that at least cartoons have never tackled before.”
In addition to a good laugh, he also hopes audiences take away at least one other thing about Jews.
“You don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy this speech. You don’t even have to like the Simpsons,” he said. “You can be an Anti-Semitic Simpsons hater, and you will still have a great time.”
Reiss will also be around at the wrap party to greet attendees while they enjoy Simpsons-themed snacks, including the now infamous pink-frosted doughnuts. Entry to the wrap party is included with your purchase of a film ticket. Admission is $10 per person.