Current executive producer Matt Selman, former writer Dana Gould, former writer/showrunner Bill Oakley, and current writer/producer Brian Kelley opened the show with a super cut of Simpsons couch gags and a screening of the recent Portlandia-espisode with Carrie Browntstein and Fred Armisen. I hadn't seen the episode before, and it was pretty cool to see it on the big screen with a whole bunch of other people—reminded me of heading to the bar every Sunday night in college to watch the newest episode.
Matt Selman explained that they'd originally conceived of an episode wherein the Simpsons visited Portland. When Portlandia came along, they scrapped that idea, opting for a crossover episode instead. The core of the Portlandia episode, Selman explained, was to convey a "a feeling of being old and not feeling cool anymore... and then a bunch of cheap hipster jokes," adding, "we worked really hard to avoid saying the word 'hipster.'"
Dana Gould was the ostensible moderator of the show, though Matt Selman ended up doing most of the legwork while Gould kept up a relentless barrage of quips. ("Funny tidbit #1, three weeks ago Al Jean killed a hobo with his car.") The show kicked off with a "letter from Matt Groening" (note: not an actual letter from Matt Groening) and then Selman passed around his iPhone so the others could read some of the censors' notes the show has received from Fox over the years, such as the suggestion that a sign reading "Sprawl-Mart: A Parody of Wal-Mart" be changed to "Sprawl-Mart: Not a Parody of Wal-Mart"; and the note "Please do not have Reverend Lovejoy refer to the Bible as a 2,000 year-old sleeping pill." And, of course: "Please be sure the dolphin does not look uncomfortable when Moe jams a gas nozzle in its blowhole and explodes it."
They talked a bit about episodes that, for one reason or another, never made it on air: "My favorite epside that we never aired is a Scientology episode," said Bill Oakley. The reason didn't air? Because Nancy Cartwright is a high-level Scientologist. ("She was already giving us scientology pamphlets....")
They then segued into a discussion of “humorous celebrity encounters,” my favorite insights from which were that an episode with Prince was planned, and Prince even submitted wardrobe notes for his appearance, but they never got a script approved; that Keith Richard drinks vodka and Orange Crush; and that the "The Frying of Latke 49” was a joke Thomas Pynchon himself came up with. (Someone, I forget who, characterized Pynchon as having a very Simpsons-esque sensibility, and Selman told this story.)
“There was a period where we couldn’t get rid of Professor Stephen Hawking,” said Dana Gould, who had absolutely no problem dishing on any name that came up. (“Dana’s making fun of a sick man,” Selman interjected after Gould described Hawking’s presence as “like someone had parked a car in the room.”)
Case in point: “How many of you are fans of Chris Carter?” asked Gould at one point, to a smattering of applause. “Then do this!” He shoved his fingets in his ears, sing-songing “la la la la," then launched into an anecdote about how when Chris Carter heard that Stephen Hawking was on the Simpsons set, he rushed over, “placed an X-Files hat on Stephen Hawking’s head, leaned in for a photo, and then left.” A whole bunch of Portlanders hate Chris Carter now. (“You can tell how talented Chris Carter is from how much success he’s had since that show left the air,” quipped Gould. “Yeah, I said it.”)
You know how sometimes a plastic wind-up toy will seem to wind itself down, and then you nudge it and it suddenly leaps back into motion? That’s what Gould was like. Someone made the mistake of using the word “indefatigable”: “Indefatigable is tireless. Indefaggotable is heterosexual.”
Oh, and I can't forget to include Matt Selman's theory that Seth MacFarlane actually did die in the 9/11 attacks (he was supposed to be on one of the hijacked planes), and since then we’ve all been living in his heaven. THINK ABOUT IT.
The panel eventually opened up to audience questions, which were surprisingly not-terrible. (A+ to Gould for making a point of alternating between male and female questioners.) Bill Oakley (a Portlander who now works on Portlandia) brought a bag full of old schwag from the early days of the show, hats and VHS tapes and such, which he handed out to those who asked questions. One dude asked whether the Simpsons would ever consider moving to some Netflix-like channel, where the restrictions imposed by censors wouldn’t be so tight; Oakley noted that he “didn’t think the show benefits from being uncensored,” and Gould added that “comedy works better in a box,” to the agreement of everyone on the panel.
The men were asked which characters they dislike writing for: "It's really hard to get a great Ralph Wiggum line these days," said Selman. Oakley said that he loved writing for Principal Skinner, and that Marge is the hardest and least-fun character to write because she's so one-note. "I hate Disco Stu," added Brian Kelley.
And finally, Dana Gould offered a few lines he'd written that didn't make it on the show:
When Dr. Nick finds a copy of Our Bodies, Ourselves at a book fair, with a picture of a woman giving birth: "There's a baby coming out of her abortion-hole!"
A scene of Dr. Hibbert and Homer looking at an X-ray of Marge's broken arm; Dr. Hibbert observes: "According to the X-ray... somebody doesn't listen."
That panel was truly a festival highlight—A+ to Bridgetown for setting it up.
*disclaimer: This is by no-means a complete recap, but I tried to hit some of the highlights. I took notes on this quickly and in the dark—if anyone catches any mistakes or attribution errors, just let me know in the comments and I'll fix.*