It’s largely agreed that prior to shitting the bed while backflipping over a shark that was slapping a dead horse with its tail, The Simpsons was arguably the funniest show on TV. Amongst the pantheon of legendary comedy writers who’ve cut their teeth working on the show, one man stands above the rest, John Swartzwelder. A writer so funny many fans initially refused to believe he was real.
An intensely private and reclusive individual, Swartzwelder has never given an interview or appeared in any piece of official Simpsons behind-the-scenes media save for a single staff photo he presumably had to pose for before the enormity of his humor-penis was made common knowledge.
Now you probably think we’re being hyperbolic with that last statement, so we should clarify. While Swartzwelder was an active writer for The Simpsons (he’s technically still considered to be writer on the show but hasn’t penned an episode since 2003) around the show’s 6th season he was given unique permission to submit any scripts he wrote from home and didn’t have to attend meetings discussing re-writes. While the given reason for Swartzwelder being given permission to do this by writers who worked alongside him was that his habit of smoking during these meetings was disruptive, the fact of the matter is that he just didn’t want to be around people and Matt Groening decided to just let him do his own thing if it meant he kept pumping out episodes.
Speaking of which, if you have a favourite episode or moment from The Simpsons there’s a good chance that Swartzwelder wrote it because he pretty much wrote every awesome episode in the show’s first dozen or so seasons. Noteworthy episodes of the show credited to Swartzwelder include the first ever Simpsons Treehouse of Horror, Homer’s Enemy and You Only Move Twice. AKA, the episode with Hank Fucking Scorpio in it.
On top of this, Swartzwelder penned less famous but still fondly remembered episodes of the show including the Whacking Day episode, the episode where Homer changes his name to Max Power and the episode where Homer buys a gun. The latter of which we’re mentioning because it’s the only episode Swartzwelder wrote that he he’s ever known to have given his opinion of.
By the show’s 9th season the sheer number of episodes credited solely to Swartzwelder compared to other writers began to confuse fans who noticed that despite being the show’s most prolific contributor, that he never appeared in staff photos. While today we know this is because Swartzwelder simply submitted all his work from home, fans back then weren’t privy to this information and thought they smelled a rat.
The theory then was that Swartzwelder didn’t exist and that all of the episodes he wrote were the work of multiple writers who worked on the episode in tandem. A key piece of “evidence” for this was the sheer number of episodes credited to Swartzwelder compared to other writers and the consistently high-quality of his work, suggesting that the episodes were being worked on and polished by several writers on the Simpsons writing team at once.
When other Simpsons writers caught wind of this theory they attempted to prove that Swartzwelder existed by having him appear on a commentary track for an episode he wrote. After trying and failing to convince him to do this, another writer suggested that they make a nod to his reclusive nature by asking him, on mic, if he wanted to record a commentary track for an episode he wrote and have him simply respond “no”. Even this was too much for Swartzwelder who told the writing team to kindly fuck off and leave him alone. It’s at this point we should also probably note that it’s rumored that the character of Ron Swanson was supposedly based on John Swartzwelder with fans pointing to Swartzwelder’s purported habit of eating steaks for breakfast and his intense dislike of being recorded as especially Swanson-esque character traits the writer possesses.
Getting kind of desperate at this point, during the commentary track for The Cartridge Family one of the writers decided to just fucking call Swartzwelder and put him on speakerphone. After speaking with a man they assumed was Swartzwelder for about a minute (nobody in the studio had physically met Swartzwelder so they had no idea what his voice sounded like) the guy on the end of the phone says “Too bad this isn’t really John Swartzwelder, though” and hangs up.