Castro Theatre, Mike Reiss, San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, South Park, The Family Guy, The Simpsons
There were no standing ovations for longtime The Simpsons writer/producer Mike Reiss when he stepped up to the stage of the Castro Theatre on Monday, July 26 as part of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival’s “Jews in Toons” program, compared to the three standing o’s that greeted movie star Kirk Douglas during SFJFF’s Freedom of Expression ceremony the day before. But Reiss was quick to brag that the cartoon program sold more tickets.
“Take that, Hollywood legend!” he crowed.
Reiss was the closing act for a night that began with “When You Wish Upon a Weinstein, “ a Family Guy episode made in 2000 but not shown until 2003 when the Cartoon Network aired it. Original network Fox left the episode – in which family patriarch Peter seeks a Jewish accountant and attempts to get a quickie Bar Mitzvah for his teenage son Chris – to gather dust after it deemed the episode antisemitic, despite the fact that scriptwriter Ricky Blitt is Jewish and two rabbis vetted the script. That was followed by South Park‘s “The Passion of the Jew,” in which Stan and Kenny attempt to get a refund from an addled Mel Gibson after being appalled by The Passion of the Christ while the movie inspires Cartman to emulate Hitler. Finally, in the 1991 Simpsons’ episode “Like Father, Like Clown,” Bart and Lisa attempt to reunite Crusty the Clown with his long estranged rabbi father.
It was 69 minutes of brilliant TV, but Reiss – who also made this year’s SFJFF “Queer Duck” trailer – was the star of the show, delivering a talk interspersed with clips from The Simpsons, Queer Duck, and the cult series The Critic. He was quick to point out that he is a comedy writer, not a comedian.
“It’s like the difference between phone sex and real sex,” he explained, adding, “In my case, it’s 20 bucks for four minutes either way.”
For a writer not a comedian, Reiss timing was pitch-perfect on lines like, “I’m Jewish. I would never eat a ham sandwich in a synagogue on Yom Kippur – if anyone was watching.”
He was also the master of the dish, revealing that the worst Simpsons guest star ever was a female celebrity he can’t name but whose first name is “Oprah;” his frustration over Paramount’s insistence he remove a Tom Cruise joke from Queer Duck: The Movie; and that if this veteran of Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show writing staff couldn’t write comedy, he’d probably write for Jay Leno.
When “Jews in Toons” ran over, there was only time left for one question in an audience Q&A, a woman who wanted to know if Simpsons‘ bartender Moe Szyslak was modeled after Reiss.
“I get that a lot,” he crumbled, insisting Moe was based on no human at all.
“We started with an ape and we shave some fur,” he said, adding, “Chief Wiggum is a pig. Ralph Wiggum is a lamb fetus.” – Pam Grady
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