ED2016 Columns ED2016 Comedy

Yianni Agisilaou: The Simpsons is basically Esperanto… and here is why

By | Published on Tuesday 2 August 2016

Yianni Agisilaou

ThreeWeeks Editors’ Award winner Yianni Agisilaou – whose show this year declares that ‘The Simpsons Taught Me Everything I Know’ – reckons that if you can just get yourself fluent in all things ‘Simpsons’ you’ll have an eternal bond with millions of fellow devotees all over the world. Because ‘The Simpsons’ is basically Esperanto…

The Simpsons and quotations go together like fish and chips, Wimbledon and Pimms… piety and Ned Flanders. Every night I begin my show ‘The Simpsons Taught Me Everything I Know’ with a party trick. I ask the audience to yell out their favourite Simpsons quote. Unlike most requests for audience interaction I’ve never been left hanging. I then identify which episode it’s from and add a fun fact or story if I have one.

During this year’s Melbourne Comedy Festival someone yelled out “Tibor!”, one of my favourite and lesser known Simpsons quotes. When Marge gets a job at the power plant, Homer advises her, “If anything goes wrong, ALWAYS blame the guy who doesn’t speak English. Ah Tibor, how many times have you saved my butt?”

Funnily enough, my Dad’s ex-business partner’s name is Tibor. Ex, because Tibor led my Dad into a business venture where they both lost a lot of money. Funnily, because one night my parents were arguing about this, and Mum said “But you agreed to put the money in” to which Dad responded “Don’t blame me, it was that idiot Tibor’s fault!”

In the midst of my parent’s heated discussion I broke up laughing. My parents both turned on me and asked “What’s so funny?”, to which I could only splutter “Tibor!” They stared back with Ralph Wiggum faces, blank and uncomprehending.

I told my friend Pete who laughed heartily because, like so many of us, he’s fluent in Simpsons. Painting it as a language isn’t overstating things. There’s a searchable website (www.frinkiac.com) which has indexed every line of dialogue and its associated screenshot and it’s now officially the most quoted text since Shakespeare.

That’s a big comparison considering it’s only been around for 27 years, but if any show promises to be this generation’s Shakespeare in 400 years time then it’s ‘The Simpsons’. 27 years after Shakespeare’s debut people were probably saying “I think he’s struggling for ideas. How many Henry reboots can you do?! Bring back the Monorail song in ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’”.

‘The Simpsons’ is a two way postmodern cultural hoover, quoting and being quoted. Name any medium, genre, author or text and they’ll have covered it: Edgar Allen Poe, Ayn Rand, Steinbeck and Dickens, ‘The Jetsons’, ‘Star Trek’, ‘Batman’, ‘The Shining’, ‘2001’, ‘Citizen Kane’ and ‘The Godfather’.

Fluency in The Simpsons bonds people. Only last weekend I found myself at the Nozstock festival joining in with a stranger singing the Flaming Moe’s theme song. Uppity sophisticates might malign our bond. “Don’t strangers know any references that aren’t ‘Simpsons’ quotes?”

Afterwards he showed me his ‘Dignity’ tattoo and we shared a toast to the genius of a show which straddles both high and pop culture, family and public life, joy and cynicism, and crystallises them all into wise nuggets of modern genius.

Then I moved on. I didn’t want to get too caught up with some weird ‘Simpsons’ freak. I had a show to write.

Yianni Agisilaou performed ‘The Simpsons Taught Me Everything I Know’ at PBH’s Free Fringe at the Voodoo Rooms at Edinburgh Festival 2016.