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Simpsons writer Matt Warburton ’00 was sitting in the audience at the Creative Arts Emmy Awards on Sept. 13 when he felt a sudden flush of nerves. The Emmy nominees for Best Animated Program under one hour were being announced, and as the primary writer of the Simpsons episode nominated in that category, he was feeling tense.
“It was a really exciting, strange experience. It was low pressure, but I got really nervous when they said the names of the nominees,” Warburton says.
Despite his jitters, Warburton walked home with the award for his episode, “Three Gays of the Condo.”
It was just over three years ago that Warburton was a senior at Harvard, working his way to an honors degree in Cognitive Neuroscience. Now, he writes for one of the most consistently popular comedy shows ever. And at the age of 25, he is already the winner of an Emmy.
“I grew up a big fan of The Simpsons. I never thought I would be writing for the TV show, though,” Warburton says.
It was Warburton’s work for the Harvard Lampoon—he was the humor magazine’s president in 1999—that caught the attention of Simpsons executive producer and former Lampoon vice-president Al Jean ’81. He began working for the show during the winter of 2000.
The Harvard–Simpsons connection is strong. Half of the show’s current writers went to Harvard, as have countless former scribes for the show, including Conan O’Brien ’85.
Despite the intimidating prospect of working with the likes of Jean and other seasoned veterans whose collective resume includes shows like Saturday Night Live and Married With Children, Warburton says that he feels little pressure.
The group has a strong team mentality, he says—although one person is responsible for writing the initial script for an episode, that draft changes considerably during group discussions.
“The process is really democratic. If a joke gets a lot of laughs, then it goes in. There isn’t a lot of ownership, which makes it stress-free,” he says.
When Warburton came to The Simpsons, the show had already been on the air for over a decade. With the show’s 15th season about to begin, Warburton admits that new ideas are getting harder to come by. “You come up with an idea and it is probably really close to about five different past episodes. It forces us to be creative, which we should be,” he said.
Ideas for stories can come from reality as well as imagination. “Three Gays of the Condo” chronicles Homer’s adventures living with two gay men after a fight with Marge. Warburton says that the idea for the episode came from the real-life story of former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani living with a gay couple after he quarreled with his wife.
A perk for Simpsons writers is the opportunity to watch the show’s many celebrity guest stars come into the studio to record their voice-overs. Warburton says that he enjoys making them nervous by watching them through the studio window.
One of Warburton’s favorite memories since joining the Simpsons family came when Rolling Stones member Keith Richards visited the studio to record a voice-over: “When Keith Richards came he wanted a two-liter bottle of orange juice and a bottle of vodka, which he drank. It was awesome.”
Aside from writing for the show, Warburton also enjoyed working on the script for the new video game The Simpsons: Hit and Run. But apart from that, he says, he has had little time for side projects.
“We work year round, so we are always on,” he says.
Warburton doesn’t have any specific plans for the future. “I’m just happy to be where I am right now,” he says. “It’s great to work on a good show with funny people. We all get along really well.”
—Staff writer Sarah L. Solorzano can be reached at email@example.com.
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