An animated conversation

At left: 'Simpsons' creator Matt Groening's representation of Ian Maxtone-Graham, a writer for the show. At left: "Simpsons" creator Matt Groening's representation of Ian Maxtone-Graham, a writer for the show. (Twentieth Century Fox)
By Mark Shanahan & Meredith Goldstein
Globe Staff / July 22, 2009

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Adam Sandler didn’t write the “Chanukah Song’’ all by himself. The guy who helped him was Ian Maxtone-Graham, a comedy writer and Brown University graduate, who worked on “Saturday Night Live’’ before moving on to “The Simpsons,’’ where’s he’s penned some of our favorite episodes and helped with the movie. Lucky for us, the Boston native will be in town next weekend as part of the Woods Hole Film Festival. We recently e-mailed Maxtone-Graham some questions, and he responded. What a nice guy.

Q: You went to Brown University.

A: You can’t prove that.

Q: We thought everyone on “The Simpsons’’ went to Harvard. Do your colleagues ridicule you? Have you been sufficiently ostracized?

A: They do half an hour of ostracizing every morning, then 15 minutes after lunch. [“Simpsons’’ writer] Dan Greaney went to Harvard and Harvard Law School, so he calls me on the weekends and ostracizes me for an extra two hours. And [“Simpsons’’ writer] Joel Cohen has an MBA, but then again he’s from Canada, so we take turns ostracizing each other. I wrote an episode called “Lisa gets an A,’’ in which Lisa is mortified that she failed a test and might have to go to (shudder) Brown instead of Harvard. A few weeks before it aired, the president of Brown, Gordon Gee, visited Fox studios and told me he was looking forward to Brown being mentioned on the Simpsons. I kind of cringed, and wanted to warn him: “Listen, don’t get your hopes up.’’ But I didn’t. Then he saw it, and a few months later he quit the job and went to Vanderbilt. Coincidence? You tell me. Anyway, I love our new president, Ruth Simmons, so all’s well that ends well.

Q. What’s the episode you’re most proud of writing?

A. My writing partner Billy Kimball and I wrote an episode last season called “Gone Maggie Gone.’’ It was filled with puzzles - the Harvard geniuses on the staff, especially Mike Reiss, Brian Kelley, Stewart Burns, and Jeff Westbrook - were very helpful with those. It was kind of a loose parody of the “Da Vinci Code’’ and the “National Treasure’’ movies. It started with an idea Billy had: that Homer accidentally leaves Maggie at one of those “abandoned baby’’ shelters, and she’s adopted and they have to get her back. Then we turned that into the steps of a convent, which seemed a little more romantic, and then came up with the idea of Lisa going undercover in the convent, and then the mystery-puzzle thing grew out of that. We had a great director, Chris Clements, who made it look like a movie, and Alf Clausen wrote some great music, and we got a 16-woman choir to play the nuns.

Q: Is there a “Simpsons’’ episode you wish you had written?

A: Yes, the one I’m supposed to be writing right now.

Q: What’s your take on the new “SNL’’ personalities? Are you an Andy Samberg fan? A. I’m a huge Andy Samberg fan. He’s a great performer, and his songs are brilliant. After I heard, “Cool Guys Don’t Look at Explosions,’’ which is such a clever observation, as well as a catchy tune, I couldn’t get it out of my head for weeks. . . . And what a great idea to play Cathy from the comic strip. I think the cast and writing at “SNL’’ right now are outstanding. Kristen Wiig is one of the funniest people ever to have been on television.

Q: You’re a local guy. Sort of. But do you know Woods Hole?

A: I was born in Boston, and my grandmother lived in South Yarmouth, and I love the Cape. When I was in college I was interested in marine biology, and the Woods Hole Marine Biological Lab was always spoken of in reverent tones. I really wanted to study there. I never did that, but I have been admitted to the Woods Hole Inn, which is a close second.

Q. What’s the funniest show on television right now (besides your own, of course)?

A: I’m a big fan of “South Park,’’ as are most of us at “The Simpsons.’’ I like anything Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant do, and I think the American “Office’’ is great as well. Also “Curb Your Enthusiasm,’’ and anything Sacha Baron Cohen does, and “Flight of the Conchords.’’ And it isn’t a comedy, but Mary Lynn Rajskub and Janeane Garofalo were incredibly funny on last season’s “24.’’

Q: Do you watch much TV?

A: No, I never watch any TV, except for all the shows above, plus Conan and Letterman and Jon Stewart and Colbert, plus basketball and football. And occasionally baseball. And the Winter Olympics. And also the Summer Olympics.

Q: Another “Simpsons’’ movie? Pretty please? With more lines for Ralph Wiggum?

A: Boy, I’m the wrong guy to ask. But I’ll put a word in.

Maxtone-Graham’s Wood Hole Film Festival talk is Saturday, August 1, at 4 p.m. Visit for more information.

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