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John Swartzwelder

If you like The Simpsons then there’s a chance you used to love it and if you did, then it’s probably down to John Swartzwelder.

It is widely accepted that The Simpsons had a golden age and that ever since that time of “classic” episodes, the show has pretty much nose-dived.


Well there’s lots of theories about too many parodies, or an over reliance on celebrity cameos but either way you look at it the heart went out of the show years ago. And so as it staggers ever onwards towards inevitable cancelation let us pay tribute to the man who gave it that heart.

Swartzwelder wrote more episodes than any other writer and while he still contributes towards the newer lesser episodes it is his writing during the shows formative years that cemented the shows longevity.

Remember when The Simpsons used to be more innocent?

When their adventures stuck to their own lives and were adventures that viewers could actually relate to. How about when it was not only funny but insightful? When there were lines that not only made the show but entered into our everyday lives.

‘To alcohol! The cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems.’

‘You made me bleed my own blood’

‘My eyes! The goggles do nothing!’

Swartzwelder is a notorious recluse, and rarely, if ever, makes media appearances giving him a kind of JD Salinger mystique. At one point, fans of The Simpsons on the Internet even debated his existence: when considering his reclusiveness and the number of episodes credited to him, some theorized that “John Swartzwelder” was actually a pseudonym for when writers did not want to take credit for an episode, or for episodes that were penned by several writers in concert.

Swartzwelder has been animated in the background of several episodes of The Simpsons. His animated likeness closely resembles musician David Crosby, which prompted Matt Groening to state that anytime that David Crosby appears in a scene for no apparent reason, it is really John Swartzwelder.

You may remember him from such episodes as…

In “The Day the Violence Died”, Swartzwelder is one of the “surprise witnesses” called by Lionel Hutz while Bart goes to the Comic Book Guy’s store to get the framed Itchy drawing.

  • In “Bart the Fink”, he is one of the attendees at Krusty’s fake funeral withKermit The Frog on his arm.
  • In “Home Sweet Homediddly-Dum-Doodily”, his likeness appears on anequestrian statue outside the county courthouse.
  • In “Bart After Dark”, he can be seen as one of the clients watching the show in the burlesque house.
  • In “The Front”, the Itchy and Scratchy writers are all caricatures of The Simpsons writing team at the time, one of whom is Swartzwelder. Also, Lisa pulls out a book titled “‘How to Get Rich Writing Cartoons’ by John Swartzwelder”.
  • In “Hurricane Neddy”, he can be seen poking his head out of the door to hispadded cell inside the Calmwood Mental Hospital, and then quickly closing it. Later in the episode a sign reading “Free John Swartzwelder” can be seen briefly (behind Barney Gumble) during the fanfare of Ned Flanders’ release from the same hospital.
  • In “A Fish Called Selma”, a picture of him can be seen among the first group of celebrities on the wall of the restaurant Troy McClure takes Selmato.
  • In “Thank God It’s Doomsday”, he can be seen on the blimp behind Krusty before it crashes.
  • In “The Fight Before Christmas”, he appears as one of the Nazi officers attending the movie “Dummkopf” in Lisa’s World War II fantasy sequence.

In addition to having his likeness animated into the show, various references to him have been slipped in, such as his name being used in “freeze frame” jokes.

  • During “The Front” Bart and Lisa are seen reading a fictitious book titled “How to Get Rich Writing Cartoons” written by John Swartzwelder.
  • The episode “Burns, Baby Burns” features a “Mt. Swartzwelder”.
  • In “Dog of Death”, Santa’s Little Helper is shown wandering through Swartzwelder County.
  • In a 25th season episode, his name appears written on the surgical cast of a guest character, among other names they “would have liked to come visit”.

Criticisms of The Simpsons now seem to outweigh anything positive. Homer used to be lovably stupid. Now he’s an obnoxious buffoon. Marge, once a kind and caring mother is now a supreme nag and sex object to Homer.  But if the show has fallen far below where it was then a large reason of that is because it could never live up to the precedents set up by John Swartzwelder. Hell, he should probably be considered a hero just for writing the shows where Krusty gets cancelled, where homer joins the baseball team, the itchy and scratchy movie or whacking day. No series could keep up that level of quality. What show would even try? Best. Episodes. Ever.

The Simpsons episodes written by Swartzwelder

  • “Bart the General” (7G05) (1990)
  • “The Call of the Simpsons” (7G07) (1990)
  • “Life on the Fast Lane” (7G11) (1990)
  • “The Crepes of Wrath”[note 1](7G13) (1990)
  • “Treehouse of Horror”[note 2](7F04) (1990)
  • “Two Cars in Every Garage and Three Eyes on Every Fish”[note 3](7F01) (1990)
  • “Itchy & Scratchy & Marge” (7F09) (1990)
  • “Bart Gets Hit by a Car” (7F10) (1991)
  • “The War of the Simpsons” (7F20) (1991)
  • “Bart the Murderer” (8F03) (1991)
  • “Treehouse of Horror II”[note 4](8F02) (1991)
  • “Homer at the Bat” (8F13) (1992)
  • “Dog of Death” (8F17) (1992)
  • “Brother, Can You Spare Two Dimes?” (8F23) (1992)
  • “Itchy & Scratchy: The Movie” (9F03) (1992)
  • “Whacking Day” (9F18) (1993)
  • “Krusty Gets Kancelled” (9F19) (1993)
  • “Rosebud” (1F01) (1993)
  • “Homer the Vigilante” (1F09) (1994)
  • “Bart Gets Famous” (1F11) (1994)
  • “Bart Gets an Elephant” (1F15) (1994)
  • “The Boy Who Knew Too Much” (1F19) (1994)
  • “Itchy & Scratchy Land” (2F01) (1994)
  • “Homer the Great” (2F09) (1995)
  • “Bart’s Comet” (2F11) (1995)
  • “Homie the Clown” (2F12) (1995)
  • “Radioactive Man” (2F17) (1995)
  • “Treehouse of Horror VI”[note 5](3F04) (1995) (as Scary John Swartzwelder)
  • “Bart the Fink”[note 6](3F12) (1996)
  • “Homer the Smithers” (3F14) (1996)
  • “The Day the Violence Died” (3F16) (1996)
  • “You Only Move Twice” (3F23) (1996)
  • “Mountain of Madness” (4F10) (1997)
  • “Homer vs. the Eighteenth Amendment” (4F15) (1997)
  • “The Old Man and the Lisa” (4F17) (1997)
  • “Homer’s Enemy” (4F19) (1997)
  • “The Cartridge Family” (5F01) (1997)
  • “Bart Carny” (5F08) (1998)
  • “King of the Hill” (5F16) (1998)
  • “The Wizard of Evergreen Terrace” (5F21) (1998)
  • “Homer Simpson in: “Kidney Trouble”” (AABF04) (1998)
  • “Homer to the Max” (AABF09) (1999)
  • “Maximum Homerdrive” (AABF13) (1999)
  • “Monty Can’t Buy Me Love” (AABF17) (1999)
  • “Take My Wife, Sleaze” (BABF05) (1999)
  • “The Mansion Family” (BABF08) (2000)
  • “Kill the Alligator and Run” (BABF16) (2000)
  • “A Tale of Two Springfields” (BABF20) (2000)
  • “The Computer Wore Menace Shoes” (CABF02) (2000)
  • “Hungry, Hungry Homer” (CABF09) (2001)
  • “Simpson Safari” (CABF13) (2001)
  • “A Hunka Hunka Burns in Love” (CABF18) (2001)
  • “The Lastest Gun in the West” (DABF07) (2002)
  • “I Am Furious Yellow” (DABF13) (2002)
  • “The Sweetest Apu” (DABF14) (2002)
  • “The Frying Game” (DABF16) (2002)
  • “Mr. Spritz Goes to Washington” (EABF09) (2003)
  • “Treehouse of Horror XIV” (EABF21) (2003) (as Triple Admiral John Swartzwelder)
  • “The Regina Monologues” (EABF22) (2003)
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Stephen Pryde-Jarman is a Cult TV and Film journalist, award winning short story writer, playwright and screenwriter. A natural hoarder, second hand shopping fulfils his basic human need for hunter-gathering; but rummaging through a charity shop’s bric-a-brac shelf also brought him the inspiration for his novel Rubble Girl having seen a picture of a Blitz survivor sat amongst the rubble of her house with a cup and saucer. Rubble Girl has been described as " thought-provoking" and "fast paced ... with plenty of twists and turns." Amazon.

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