“Steamed Hams” at 25: The Simpsons Cast and Crew Try to Decipher the Extraordinary Cult of Classic Moment
Hank Azaria, Al Jean, Bill Oakley and many more retrace the 1996 episode, revealing why “22 Shorts About Springfield” was groundbreaking, how it nearly led to a spinoff called “Springfield” and how it finally gave in the place to perhaps the series. the most popular meme.
It is an expression of Albany.
On April 14, 1996, “22 Shorts About Springfield” premiered. The 21st episode of The simpsonsThe seventh season was notable at the time as it shattered Fox’s iconic cartoon story form by exploring – albeit in snippet form – the lives of Springfield’s many beloved secondary characters. “The was right at the time Pulp fiction came out, so we thought about weaving it with music and intros, ”recalls Bill Oakley, who reflected on the episode with his counterpart Josh Weinstein.
A nod to Thirty-two short films about Glenn Gould, where all Simpsons the writers chose characters in a hat (the Oakley mastermind claimed Skinner and Chalmers), “22 Shorts on Springfield” was nice. It was unique. He almost spun off a spinoff series. And then it was largely forgotten. That is, up to two decades later, when the Internet dipped its creative hooks into one particular segment: “Steamed Hams”.
“I don’t know why this captured people’s imaginations or what it is meant to represent or what it means beyond face value. But I appreciate that, ”notes Hank Azaria, who voices Superintendent Chalmers across from Harry Shearer’s main skinner.
About three minutes long, the chapter officially titled “Skinner & the Superintendent” (later a fan dubbed “Steamed Hams”) in which a baffled Principal Skinner tries to impress his boss, Superintendent Chalmers, via a lunch at his home that quickly sinks into a series of ridiculous lies and chaos, would go on to become one of the most popular moments in the show’s 32-year history.
In the mid-2010s, “Steamed Hams” memes started popping up. Most were meticulously crafted videos, with several having totaled over a million views on YouTube, such as “Steamed Hams but there’s a different host every 13 seconds,” posted in 2018, which counts nearly of 10 million views. (“I don’t know if there is a segment that has had as much reuse as this one, ”marvels current showrunner Al Jean). The fan obsession – who understands make the burgers – was as undeniable as it was confusing to those who created the original.
Now, 25 years later, Simpsons the cast and crew unbox the segment’s creation, share their favorite fan creation, and theorize why the track took on such an extraordinary life Hollywood reporter return to Springfield for the oral history of “Steamed Hams”.
Bill Oakley, former co-showrunner, editor-in-chief: I wrote it all down one afternoon. Once I got the premise it came out pretty quick because all I wanted was rhyming food. Everything logically followed: Chalmers continues to ask questions and Skinner continues to lie. The lie becomes more and more baroque until Chalmers thinks it is the Northern Lights rather than the house is on fire.
Josh weinstein, former co-showrunner, editor-in-chief: It was a perfect comedy that I didn’t think should be rewritten at all. It would have destroyed the hilarious beat written by Bill.
Jim reardon, director: It was the salad days of the show. The scripts were basically bulletproof and it was our job not to mess everything up.
Al Jean, vsshowrunner urrent: I found the episode to be very clever. I remember the most that I laughed at was at the “Steamed Hams” part.
Hank azaria, Superintendent Gary Chalmers: Growing up on sitcoms, I love the ridiculous trope of bringing the boss home for dinner. Oh, the happy confusions that ensue! I remember taking a big kick, the boss doubting the employee’s silly little lies, but then being deceived by it.
Weinstein: Back then, we liked to make fun of classic, active sitcoms.
Oakley: The first draft is almost exactly what you see on the air. On paper it doesn’t sound that funny, but we put it down and thought some people might like it.
Reardon: I had already watched pulp Fiction, but we reviewed it with the storyboard guys. One of our layout guys, his name was Sarge Morton, always had an affinity for scenes with Skinner and Chalmers. So I gave him pretty much this entire sequence to stage himself.
Azaria: It was very early in the life of Superintendent Chalmers. The voice was different back then. It’s totally oblivious of me. I think I was trying to make a direct impression of Skinner’s voice from Harry Shearer. Over the years he has gotten higher and a bit closer to Tony Randall for some reason.
Oakley: Chalmers was my favorite character. Chalmers is the only sane man in town. He knows everything around him is crazy and people are lying and he doesn’t care enough about chasing him.
Jeans: I had nothing to do with it. Credit goes to Bill and Josh. It was one of the few episodes I first saw when it aired. At that time, I had a contract with Disney. I came back full time at the end of season 10.
Reardon: The episode was fun to do because there were so many different songs and styles of humor. It gave you more interesting challenges because, for a lot of episodes, it’s like how to stage a scene on the couch, living room, or dining table that’s interesting because we’ve done it 50 times. So getting something like “22 shorts” prompts you to try things, stylistically, that you wouldn’t normally do.
Jeans: I believe [creator, executive producer] Mast [Groening] wanted to use the episode as the basis of a spinoff for the show’s supporting characters, but we couldn’t get it off the ground.
Oakley: It was going to be called “Springfield”. And it wouldn’t just be about the minor characters, there would be other things coming out of the normal Springfield universe. And the episodes would be freeform.
Weinstein: Each episode would have been a secondary character not involving the Simpsons. We never knew exactly why, but I think back then [executive producer] James [L. Brooks] did not.
Jeans: And like many Simpsons things – although this is the biggest example – he has a huge afterlife on the internet. It’s crazy.
Oakley: The first time I heard anyone talk about it was this thing on Facebook where there was this grocery chain in Australia called Woolworths. And people were making jokes calling, asking for steamed hams. I think it was in 2016. And Woolworths played along in a good mood and made a little video and put up some signs.
Azaria: I had a fondness for the song, but a few years ago someone pointed out how this popular thing on the internet had become. I went to the rabbit hole one night, and found it extremely confusing. I was like, “What’s all this ?!” It was one of those things that made me feel old.
Reardon: I didn’t even know the mania for “steamed hams” until my daughters brought it up to me a few years ago. I saw a few of the videos, but since I’m not really an internet person, I just gave it up.
Oakley: My favorite is not a video, but a series of photos, which is the sad day Skinner dies. This is an eight panel cartoon where Skinner dies in fire. There is a funeral. And then Chalmers is camping, there is the Northern Lights and he sees Skinner in the sky. It is really moving.
Reardon: These things reproduce with each other, and you say, “OK, very good.”
Oakley: I like the homemade stuff that the fans do, and I like some of the really weird stuff.
Reardon: I’m glad it gives people pleasure after all these years. As an artist, this is the best compliment you can get.
Weinstein: I love Lego video (1 million views, published in 2020).
Oakley: The best video is the A-ha “Take On Me” (1.3 million views, posted in 2020). Green day video (1.6 million views, posted in 2019) is also amazing.
Azaria: My assistant recently mentioned to me that she thought maybe one of the deepest meanings behind this has become, these days people are just telling the lie they feel like telling. So pretending that the Northern Lights are in the kitchen makes as much sense as people are claiming. And ask, “Can I see it?” just sums up the moment we’re in, where it’s like, “Can you to prove for me, is it true? “
Weinstein: This is perhaps one of the best explorations of lying in our culture.
AZaria: We are approaching 800 episodes of The simpsons. Each episode conservatively has 20 bits in it. Then that one would be chosen, and that is this a? It’s just very random.
Oakley: It’s one of my most favorite things I’ve ever written and it’s definitely the most famous. It’s gonna be on my gravestone, there’s no doubt about it.
Weinstein: When we started doing the show, the internet was still in its infancy, so we had very little contact with the fans. We were writing for ourselves. So it was great to see all the memes that blew up. We love it and I know Matt Groening loves it too.
Oakley: If you go to Etsy you can find hundreds “Steamed ham” things, like shirts. I don’t own the rights to anything, but I don’t blame the fans for making their own things. Disney might have a different opinion.
Azaria: I like to think that these things don’t just happen by accident.
Oakley: It’s a two-word thing, like Monty Python’s “Dead Parrot”. It serves as a business card that does not pay any money but allows me to have a little bit of fame.
Azaria: I guess in a way it keeps this comedy tradition alive. The fact that it’s such a comedy trope and has become a staple of every 50s, 60s, and 70s show making a version of the boss comes home for dinner. Maybe that’s why this track, in particular, is more deeply embedded in our comedic subconscious. Memes have become a kind of torch of passing comedy.