On Friday the 8th of September, Yianni Agisilaou brings his show The Simpsons Taught Me Everything I Know to Firebug. We caught up with him and desperately tried to avoid using the word “cromulent”.
The Simpsons is a cultural phenomenon larger than almost anything else of its sort. It’s the longest-running prime time TV series in the US, having first aired in 1989, but the characters themselves have been around since 1987 after appearing as shorts on the Tracey Ullman Show. That means that a non-zero number of Great Central’s writers – and, indeed, editors – have never known a life without the Simpsons. And that’s kind of insane.
I was lucky enough to be in a household that had Sky TV when the Simpsons first aired in the UK, in 1991 (“and people complain about a five-day wait for Game of Thrones,” Yianni quips) I was five years old. We had a weird dial on the wall that changed the channel, and both I and my parents would watch The Simpsons and enjoy entirely different shows – I would appreciate the bright colours, the silly voices and the slapstick comedy; they would appreciate the irreverent take on sitcom clichés made possible by animation, the subtle adult jokes phrased to escape the notice of children and the snappy, witty writing.
The point of this reverie is that for a significant portion of the western population, The Simpsons is not just a TV show, but a touchstone – it’s been around for such a long time and made such a huge impression that it still lumbers on like a comedy juggernaut long after what people see as its “golden age”. The chances are that if you meet someone new, you will be able to bond easily over a mutual appreciation of the Simpsons. My friends and I used to say that there’s “a Simpsons quote for every occasion”, so when I heard that Yianni Agisilaou was coming to Firebug to do a story from his life through the eyes of the world’s favourite yellow family, I had to find out more.
The Simpsons Taught Me Everything I Know is a show about how Yianni almost became a voice on the Simpsons, but simultaneously it isn’t. He tells his tale through a mixture of stand-up comedy, stories from his life and impressions of the residents of Springfield. “I started out doing a few political impressions when I was younger,” he tells me in his relaxed Australian tones. “I used to do a John F Kennedy impression, and I basically realised that it sounded exactly like [and here he slips into the voice] Mayor, ah, Diamond Joe Quimby”. There was a point where it looked as though Harry Shearer was going to be leaving the cast of the show, and so Yianni uploaded a video to YouTube of himself doing a selection of Harry’s voices in tribute – and that’s where the show originated.
“You’re actually going to see two shows,” he explains. “I wanted the show to be funny and accessible to everyone, so you don’t have to have ever actually seen an episode of the Simpsons for it to be funny. On top of that there’s a second layer for people who love the show – full of in-jokes and references, and the more you know about the show the more you’ll get. But it’s not critical that you’re a fan at all.” The fact that his approach to writing his show so mirrors the two-level experience that I had while watching with my parents as a child immediately fills me with confidence: this guy gets it.
Part of that confidence comes from the quality that’s shown by Yianni’s stand-up career – he took his debut hour show on the road in 2006, but has been performing comedy “since January 22nd 2000, so however long the millennium is, that’s how long I’ve been doing it”. In that time, he’s earned award nominations from Perth Fringe and Amused Moose, as well as winning the Editor’s Award from Three Weeks. The Simpsons Taught Me Everything I Know is his tenth solo show, garnering an array of 4- and 5-star reviews from the press. I couldn’t help but bring up that the number ten has some significance to fans of the Simpsons – for the uninitiated, season ten is seen as the last “truly great” Simpsons series, with season eleven being widely recognised as where the quality began to decline.
“I’ve got a joke about that in the show,” says Yianni. “I decided to focus my show on seasons one to ten for two reasons: firstly, they’re the ones people are most familiar with, and secondly, they’re just the best! It’s kind of understandable – how do you write 29 seasons at 20+ episodes per year without hitting bad ideas? But it’s tough, even in good seasons there are bad episodes.” He references the season 9 episode The Principal and the Pauper, which is seen as almost non-canon by a good number of Simpsons fans. “At the end of the episode Judge Snyder just randomly shows up and decrees that nobody can ever mention it again. It’s like they’re apologising for what they just did!”
The Simpsons is currently undergoing a second life as a source of material for some of the more bizarre and fascinating memes that you’ll find online – Simpsons-based meme pages such as Rock Bottom (hailing from Yianni’s own Australia) and Four-Finger Discount (who also have a Simpsons review podcast) take scenes from the show and mash them together with other, entirely unrelated scenes to create strange, Dadaist jokes which only make sense to people with an encyclopaedic knowledge of the show. “I had a post on Rock Bottom,” Yianni reveals, “about [short-lived White House Press Secretary] Scaramucci being exactly like Poochy the dog. He was super in-your-face, he didn’t last, and his name rhymed! It was perfect. People have taken the Simpsons and repurposed it in this really postmodern way, and that’s great. It lends itself to it really well – in my show I talk about Brexit and Trump using the episode Much Apu About Nothing – that was released 20 years ago, but it’s so spot on now. Everything comes back around!”
Yianni Agisilaou’s The Simpsons Taught Me Everything I Know comes to Firebug on Friday 8th September at 7:30PM. Tickets are £12, available via SeeTickets.