Is Pope Francis on his way to Springfield? Simpsons writer/producer Mike Reiss on guest voices, comedy, animation and more...

Ahead of his visit to Belfast’s Rendr Festival, The Simpsons' longest serving writer Mike Reiss chats to Jenny Lee about how the iconic cartoon sitcom gave Liam Neeson his comedy break and reveals that the Pope could be coming to Springfield...

Simpsons writer Mike Reiss, drawn Simpsons style.
Simpsons writer Mike Reiss, drawn Simpsons style.
Maggie, Homer, Lisa, Marge and Bart Simpson
Maggie, Homer, Lisa, Marge and Bart Simpson

COULD Pope Francis be appearing in The Simpsons? If the American animation’s longest serving writer and producer Mike Reiss gets his way, then His Holiness will be joining the 800-plus stars who have lent their voices to the show's cast of characters.

“I have a friend who has told me he can get me the Pope on The Simpsons. The amazing thing is he not only guarantees me the Pope, but he pitches a really funny idea for using him,” says the 62 year-old American, who is still involved in the programme as a consultant.

“It's funny, Pope Benedict, who recently passed away, was a genuine fan of the show. He publicly said he loved how it handles religion.”

It wouldn’t be the first time the Catholic Church has featured on the programme. Ballymena actor Liam Neeson voiced Father Sean in the season 16 episode The Father, the Son and the Holy Guest Star in 2005.

“At the time Neeson hadn't really done any comedy. We were shocked and surprised how funny he was and what a great sport he was. Everyone loved him,” recalls Reiss.

The Connecticut-born comedy writer, who also penned the US animated sitcom The Critic, will be discussing his illustrious career when he speaks at the Rendr creativity and technology festival in Belfast this week.

His advice to budding animators and comedy writers is simply hard work, practice and putting your material out there.

“Animators – make some animation and put it on TikTok and YouTube, watch the feedback and hope it gets discovered. Comedy writers – get a Twitter account and just post jokes every day.

“It's funny I ended up, just by accident, following all these Irish guys on social media who put out great jokes every day. I'll contact them and say, ‘You are hilarious, are you a comedian?’ and they will reply, 'No, I'm a plumber'.”

In a second Rendr seminar Reiss will be offering an insider’s perspective into the creative process that has seen The Simpsons rise to the status of cultural phenomenon.

Mike Reiss, the longest-serving writer and producer on The Simpsons
Mike Reiss, the longest-serving writer and producer on The Simpsons

Having penned his memoir, Springfield Confidential: Jokes, Secrets, and Outright Lies from a Lifetime Writing for The Simpsons in 2018, he never tires of chatting about Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, Maggie et al.

“People love the stories, and some don't know them, even though I've told them 10 million times and they make my wife crazy,” laughs Reiss, who sees The Simpsons as part of his extended family.

“I'm almost too protective of the characters. It’s difficult when younger writers stretch them.”

His favourite continues to be Homer. “He's such a comedy writer's dream. He's got everything wrong with him - he's fat, bald, stupid and has anger issues.”

The animated sitcom dominated culture in the 1990s and changed the landscape of comedy, animation and television forever. Just this month, Fox announced that The Simpsons was to be renewed for two further seasons.

I ask Reiss if dealing with emotions and themes amongst all the jokes is the secret to its success?

“That the show's sauce,” he enthuses.

“It's very hard to remember what TV was like when we came on the air in 1989, but it was enormously sentimental and every show would end with a big hug. It was our producer, James L Brooks, who taught us that you just need 20 to 30 seconds of vulnerability in your silly character to move audiences.”

When it comes to longevity, Reiss points to The Simpsons’ wide-ranging audiences, spanning many generations.

“Kids will watch it because it's a cartoon – it doesn't matter what they're saying or who the guests are. That's augmented by the adults who genuinely enjoy it and those who re-watch the episodes they saw as a kid and go, ‘Wow, I didn't get half these jokes’.’’

Reiss and writing partner Al Jean’s credits include There’s No Disgrace Like Home, Moaning Lisa, Lisa’s Pony, The Way We Was and Round Springfield, but it’s two episodes written during seasons three and four when the duo were supervising the show that he’s most proud of.

“Lisa's Substitute, where Mr Bergstrom, played by Dustin Hoffman, takes over her class, was literally as emotional as an episode of The Simpsons can get, but my all-time favourite episode is Marge vs the Monorail.”

Featuring parodies of The Flintstones, The Music Man and several disaster movies, as well as a family of possums, Reiss describes it as “one big crazy visual comedy”.

Simpsons writer Mike Reiss, drawn Simpsons style.
Simpsons writer Mike Reiss, drawn Simpsons style.

Whilst teasing fans they will have to come to his Rendr talk to hear who the worst guest was on The Simpsons, he praises the willingness of the thousands of guest stars who were delighted to be on the show over the years.

He does reveal there have been a few on their wish list that have escaped them, including Bruce Springsteen, Eminem and Madonna.

Reiss was one of the writers on The Simpsons Movie, which made box office history in 2007. Conversations and rumour continue about another potential movie spin-off – is it a possibility?

“We didn't want to do the first one,” laughs Reiss, revealing it took 18 years to make.

“We killed ourselves making the movie at the same time we were still making new episodes of the show, but I’m glad we did as it made the fans happy.”

Over lockdown he wrote the comedy play Shakespeare's Worst, which he has staged three times in the UK and US – but he’s not in any hurry to swap working in television.

“If you ever write a play you will find out it's harder to get a play put up in a small town theatre than to get a $100 million movie made. I've never run into such a challenging thing, but I guess you're competing with 3,000-year-old playwrights who are better known than you are,” he laughs.

Travel is a common theme in The Simpsons, and a passion shared by Reiss, who has visited 145 countries in his life, most recently Zambia and Botswana over Christmas. Like an episode of The Simpsons, his travels usually end in drama, which he’s made into the podcast What Am I Doing Here?

“It’s funny stories about all my travels to places nobody wants to visit like North Korea, the North Pole, Iraq, Iran and Syria.

“The general theme is I don't want to go to these places, but my wife loves to travel and I love my wife,” adds Reiss, who will be bringing out a new book based on his podcast adventures later this year.

And is he going to make a podcast of his first ever visit to the north of Ireland?

“Only if it goes really badly,” he laughs.

:: The Rendr Festival takes place on February 23 and 24. For programme information and tickets visit

The Simpsons' memorable visit to Ireland
The Simpsons' memorable visit to Ireland