Goldstein/Leibson Lectures Turn to Humor with Simpsons Writer

One of the first things Mike Reiss, the Jewish Community Center’s 2014 Goldstein/Leibson Scholar-in-Residence, shared with his audience at his first lecture was the answer to the question is he a Jew. “I am Jew … ish,” he said. “I would never eat a ham sandwich on Yom Kippur if anyone was watching.”

Similar bits of Jewish humor permeated Reiss’ presentations on Sunday, October 26, in the morning in the Patio Gallery at the Jewish Community Center and in the evening at Falls City Brewery and Old 502 Winery.

Indeed, the Emmy Award-winning writer for The Simpsons explained most of the show’s writers are Jewish as are many of the actors who give voice to the show’s multitude of characters. It is, therefore, not a surprise that bits of Jewish culture and learning find their way into Simpsons’ scripts.

Krusty, the clown, is the show’s primary Jewish character, and Reiss played the clip in which Krusty reveals this fact as well as a deep and painful rift between himself and his rabbi father. The latest in a line of rabbis that extends back for generations, when Krusty’s father learned his son wanted to be a clown rather than a rabbi, the rabbi disowned and refused to speak to him. A clown just wasn’t an acceptable profession for the rabbi’s son.

Lisa and Bart take it upon themselves to bring about a reconciliation. To achieve their goals, Lisa searches the Talmud for arguments to bring to the rabbi. Each time Bart would present one of Lisa’s ideas, the rabbi would counter with another. This Talmudic debate continued until Lisa finally comes up with an argument the rabbi doesn’t dispute and he and his son embrace.

By the way, the rabbi was played by Jackie Mason, and of the 300 or so guests who have appeared on the Simpsons, Reiss said Mason is his favorite. In the current season, the rabbi died, but Reiss said he assured Mason the character would reappear in flashbacks and dream sequences.

Reiss also shared a clip from his Queer Duck show. Queer Duck, he said, is the first openly gay cartoon character, and the show has garnered a number of awards from the gay community. The clip Reiss showed, had Queer Duck talking to a psychiatrist – a horse – about how he always knew he was different and how he came out to his family at his bar mitzvah.
Watch for Queer Duck on Netflix, he said.

Reiss also talked briefly about his work on The Critic, which he said was canceled because it came on right before Home Improvement and the network didn’t want to tarnish Tim Allen’s reputation, even though, Reiss alleged, Allen is a convicted cocaine addict.

Now Reiss writes children’s books and has 18 to his credit, despite asserting that he hates children.

The Goldstein/Leibson Scholar-in-Residence program was established by Phyllis and David Leibson and Nicole and David Goldstein. It is made possible by the Goldstein/Leibson Scholar-in-Residence Second Century Fund and the Jewish Federation of Louisville Goldstein/Leibson Education Program Fund.

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