Apr 212008
Authors: Madeline Novey

The writer and co-producer of what Time Magazine calls the “greatest television show of the 20th century,” “The Simpsons,” told a crowd of 65 students and community members about his life, his career and even Maggie Simpson’s first words, Monday night in the East Ballroom of the Lory Student Center.

Joel Cohen told students that after he “dispelled the rumor that chicks love bio majors,” in a Canadian college, he realized that he wanted to go into show business.

So he went to Hollywood, where he said everyone makes their start and has since become one of the most famous TV producers of the century.

“I once had to whisper the Hebrew pronunciation of a word into Mr. T’s ear so he could turn right around and repeat it into the mic,” Cohen said. “When you get to do that you know your job is cool.”

Lauren Morley, a student leader who helped organize the event, said she was thrilled with the student response.

“His presence brought a different feel to campus,” she said. “The show is a common household name, and I think that having Cohen here took people back to their childhoods.”

Cohen has won multiple awards, including a Golden Globe, a Writer’s Guild Award and an Emmy.

Born in Calgary, Canada, Cohen did not start his career in the media industry out of high school. Instead, he graduated from the University of Alberta in Canada with a degree in biology.

After graduating, he moved to Los Angeles, Calif. and began working at Turner Broadcasting System, Inc., a major producer of news and entertainment.

After two years, he got “itchy” for something else and decided to pursue a career in writing.

He got his start in show business by chance when he met well-known comedian Kathy Griffin who helped him get his first job writing for the 1990’s work-place comedy “Suddenly Susan” starring Brooke Shields.

Cohen left “Suddenly Susan” in 2001 on good terms with the production crew to join the “The Simpsons” writing crew.

“I work in a creative paradise, I’m really fortunate” Cohen said. “If there is a joke we want to use, we use it, and if there is a story line we want to follow, we follow it.”

The writing staff Cohen works with is made up of 15 “geniuses,” he said.

“Almost all of my colleagues went to Ivy Leagues; the majority of them went to Harvard,” he said. “It makes me feel inadequate having gone to school in Alberta.”

The first episode of “The Simpsons” aired Dec. 17, 1989 and is television’s longest running show at 420 episodes.

The show saw significant lulls in writing quality during the Writer’s Guild of America strike earlier this year, which Cohen participated in. Animators and actors continued to work, but revisions were halted when writers hit the streets with their pickets.

“Some of the episodes aired before we would have liked,” Cohen said. “But if you need someone to waive a sign, I am your man.”

At any point in time, there are 15 episodes of The Simpsons in production. Each episode requires months of work from the initial drafting process and revisions, to the final animation work and voice finalizations.

Jonathan Meyer, a sophomore interior design major, who, like Cohen, came from Calgary, said it was good to get a taste of success from his home territory.

“It was neat to meet someone so successful in what they do, especially someone from such a small area in Canada,” said Meyer.

The Association for Student Activity Programming, the student-led group that brings comedians, speakers and other entertainment to campus, sponsored the presentation.

Staff writer Madeline Novey can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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