Features: Essential life lessons from The Simpsons

Comedian Yianni Agisilaou, with Homer Simpson. Picture: Matt Dawson PhotographyComedian Yianni Agisilaou, with Homer Simpson. Picture: Matt Dawson Photography
Comedian Yianni Agisilaou, with Homer Simpson. Picture: Matt Dawson Photography
WISDOM abounds in the anarchy of The Simpsons, which prompted comedian and fan Yianni Agisilaou to create a show inspired by Bart, Homer, Lisa, Marge and the rest of Springfield's wonderfully eccentric residents

As someone performing a show called The Simpsons Taught Me Everything I Know, people often ask me what, exactly, The Simpsons has taught me. And whilst it’s not EVERYTHING I KNOW, sometimes you need to exaggerate to make your point (Like the man from Nantucket).

1) Small print = big hints

From Krusty promising, “Every time you watch my show, I’ll send you 40 dollars,” (Cheques will not be honoured) to Roger Myers hailing Lisa by saying, “You just saved Itchy and Scratchy!” quickly crowned by his lawyer saying, “Please sign these papers indicating you did not save Itchy and Scratchy,” The Simpsons loves articulating the small print of deals that seem too good to be true.

2) Play to the lowest common denominator

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Michelle Obama said, ‘When they go low, we go high!’ Admirable, but incorrect.

Lisa laments Bart’s populist campaign for class president, watching him incite the crowd by wiping a picture of Martin on his butt whilst screaming, “He says there aren’t any easy answers! I say HE’S NOT LOOKING HARD ENOUGH!” Bart is Donald Trump Mark 1. Sure Bart loses the election, but only because no one remembered to vote. The campaign however, was sound.

An omen of Donald Trump and Brexit campaigns to come, Mayor Quimby distracts attention from his domestic failings by shifting the blame onto immigrants in Much Apu About Nothing.

Time and again The Simpsons shows us that far from crowds being wise, groups of people are often easily led by scapegoating (Immigants! Even when it was the bears I knew it was them!), crappy ads (Mr Plow) or catchy songs (Monorail!!).

We can discuss this and much more after my show, as there’s FREE BEER AND WINE!!*

* Not a guarantee

3) Be economical with the truth

The Simpsons can teach us a surprising amount about economics.

One episode particularly flush with wisdom is Bart Gets an Elephant in which Bart wins an elephant (named ‘Stampy’) in a radio contest.

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When Lisa worries that the person trying to buy Stampy is an ivory dealer, Homer reassures her that ‘a guy who has lots of ivory is less likely to hurt Stampy than a guy whose ivory supplies are low’. Basic supply and demand.

Homer starts a business selling rides to neighbourhood kids for $2 a piece. Brandishing a wad of bills, he boasts, “Look Marge, $58 and all of it profit. I’m the smartest businessman in the world!” Marge replies, ‘Stampy’s food bill today was $300’ teaching us that profit involves revenues AND expenses.

Mention this article when you come along to my show to receive a 50 per cent REFUND OFF YOUR TICKET PRICE*

* Not a guarantee

4) Tell people what they want to hear

In Bart’s Inner Child, self-help guru Brad Goodman implores Springfield to ‘be like the boy’, meaning imitate Bart’s worldview and do what they feel like all the time.

The town’s subsequent ‘Do what you feel’ festival is a disaster. The bandstand collapses because the man responsible didn’t feel like bolting it, then everyone speaks overly frankly about each other and a brawl ensues.

When Homer runs for Garbage Commissioner in Trash of the Titans he makes a bunch of unaffordable promises just to get elected. When he can’t deliver them, garbage piles up and the town has to be relocated five miles down the road.

On a totally unrelated note, I guarantee anyone who comes to my show everlasting happiness, financial security and VIP entry to Heaven, Valhalla or the utopian paradise of their choice!*

* Not a guarantee

5) Check your privilege

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When Flanders, Krusty and Apu band together to pull Homer out of his burning house in Homer the Heretic, Reverend Lovejoy tells him “God was working in the hearts of your friends and neighbours when they came to your aid, be they Christian (Flanders), Jew (Krusty) or miscellaneous” (Apu) “Hindu” interjects Apu, “There are 700 million of us.”

In Lisa vs Malibu Stacey, Lisa laments, “It’s awful being a kid, no one listens to you.” Grandpa concurs, “It’s rotten being old, no one listens to you.” Homer walks by and says, “I’m a white male aged 18 to 49. Everyone listens to me, no matter how dumb my suggestions are!” before opening a tub labelled ‘Gum and nuts. Together at last!’

I’m a white male aged 39. I may not have the best ideas, but everyone who comes to my show will received FREE GUM AND NUTS with every ticket purchased!*

* Not a guarantee

6) The difference between jealousy and envy

In 1994 The Simpsons alluded to the definition of envy in the episode Homer loves Flanders. Rod and Todd Flanders, watching a religious cartoon listen to Jeremiah the lamb lament, “It’s not fair, my brother Joseph has a sin to confess. I wish I had a sin to confess,” to which the wise adult sheep replies “Don’t you see? You do have a sin to confess. The sin, of envy.”

Wise counsel indeed. But it was only 20 years later in 2014 in the episode Covercraft that they added much needed clarification. After Lisa counsels Homer that he shouldn’t be jealous of Apu, Homer states “I’m not jealous, I’m envious. Jealousy is when you worry someone will take what you have. Envy is wanting what someone else has. What I feel is envy,” which, for Season 26 is a standout line*

* Okay, I’m done with these now

7) Who doles out karma

In Homer and Apu, after Homer gets him fired for selling him expired meat, Apu attempts to make amends by visiting the Simpson house. Mistaking the purpose of his visit, Homer enquires on his doorstep, ‘You’re selling what now?’ Apu responds, ‘I’m selling only the concept of karmic realignment.’

In a classic Simpson move of imbuing stupid Homer with far-fetched wisdom, Homer quips back, ‘You can’t sell that! Karma can only be portioned out by the cosmos’ before slamming the door in Apu’s face. Apu, beaten, responds “He’s got me there.”

8) Why, whatever you’re doing, you should quit

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Unquestionably, one of the best quotes in the entirety of The Simpsons from Season 5 episode Burns’ Heir. Having failed to convince Mr Burns to leave his fortune to them, Homer informs Bart and Lisa, ‘Kids, you tried your best and you failed miserably. The lesson is, never try.’

It’s a classic Homer quote, of which there are many if you want to convince yourself of the virtues of resignation. There’s, ‘Trying is the first 
step towards failure’, ‘No matter how good you are there’s always about a million people better than you are’, and, ‘If at first you don’t succeed, give up.’

It is, like many of the best Simpsons quotes, a partial truth. Yes, trying is the first step towards failure, but also success. There are a million people better than you, but by quitting soon there’ll be two million. If at first you don’t give up, you may succeed.

It’s this ability to juggle truth, part truth and cynicism that makes The Simpsons the greatest of all shows, and the one that I chose to write a homage to.

• Yianni Agisilaou: The Simpsons Taught Me Everything I Know will be at The Stand Edinburgh on 26 September and The Stand Glasgow on 27 September, www.ycomedian.com/touring