‘The Simpsons’ Writer Carolyn Omine Describes Being the Only Woman in the Room

Written by Meliss Arteaga

Four-time Emmy Award-winning producer and writer Carolyn Omine is the only woman on “The Simpsons“ writing staff. She took some time to chat with Ms. about outshining sexism, channeling her inner Lisa and finding the humanity in her characters.

What is it like being the only woman on the writing staff?

 “For the most part it’s pretty good. I would say that 90 percent of the time I think I just feel like one of the guys. I would say that 90 percent of the time, life for me is the same for me as it is for them—but there are times—I think that anytime you are the only thing anywhere, it’s a little lonely. I think for the most part, TV writers are very pro-women rights and they want to see more women. It’s been very hard through my journey with comedy. There just weren’t as many women trying early on, but I feel like that’s changing quite a bit, it’s going to reach a parity. Our show kind of suffers from being an older show where people don’t leave.

Why do you think it’s so uncommon to see female writers in animation TV programs?

The few animation shows that I know of, a lot them tend to be more raunchy. It’s not that women can’t write raunchy, there’s just sometimes a particular male personality—that likes raunchy comedy—that is sometimes very threatened by women. It’s not like they are threatened for no reason. This is a very tough business… It’s very competitive and that contributes to men feeling threatened. Some of it is a male ego being threatened by women, but we are threatened by men too. Everybody is worried about their job. What I always say to women is you know, fight sexism, mentor young women, go to the marches—but when you’re in the room you can’t dismiss everything as sexism. You’ve got to compete as if you’re a man and sexism doesn’t exist. If someone is speaking over you, you’re going to have to figure out a way to wait for a moment where you can speak or find a calm way to just say “can I finish?”

You have to deal with it, because I have never seen a sexist or a racist stop being sexist or racist because they got called on it. Just be so good they can’t ignore you.

Any advice for aspiring writers?

You just gotta keep doing it. They say 75 percent of writing is editing, but you don’t have anything to edit unless you get it out. Put it down, produce, find what makes you funny, find your voice—whatever is interesting about you or is different about you, that’s your point of view. If you want to write comedy, then watch all kinds of comedy, be a connoisseur of comedy. Look around, because the more you know about this world, the more you’re going to have to take on.

What do you find challenging about your job?

When everybody is writing your script it could be a little painful because, oh the thing I love, you’re changing it! It’s just hard because there’s that combination of your precious work but it’s also like it’s hard for you to be useful when you already thought about this over and over again.

What writers inspire you and why?

There was a writer on our show named John Swartzwelder, he was an advertising writer. Now he self publishes these books, you can get them on Amazon, and they’re so dense with jokes, such a unique perspective. Another writer I was inspired by when I first came on the Simpsons was a writer named George Meyer, who was a writer on our show. He’s not on the show anymore, but he had this way of telling a joke.  He had a lot of jokes that would just be one line but it created this whole back story. I used to love Rod Sterling and Paddy Chayefsky. They’re both really great writers and they both thought that TV was going to be much bigger than movies. They thought it was much more intimate medium. I feel like right now, TV is finally coming around to actually being that thing that Rod Sterling and Paddy Chayefsky said it would be.

What is the most important aspect of building a great character?

When we write them, we tend to base them off someone we know. If it’s real, there’s something about it that people will go “I have that exact same relative,” or “I know someone like that.” Building the characters is [just as important as] the actors. Our actors add this humanity, ’cause you give them these lines and they find the motivation and reality and bring it back to you and you go like, “okay—now I see the humanity. I see the kindness of Moe, I see the tragedy of Moe.”

Who is your favorite character?

I love Homer. John Swartzwelder used to say “we never make Homer dumber than a dog”—that’s how smart he is. He could be pretty dumb, but he’s lovable. He just wants what he wants.

Talk to us about Lisa.

It’s funny because Yeardley Smith, who voices her, and all of our actors love Lisa. I remember something didn’t turn out well for Lisa at the end of the episode [and] she was like, it never works out for Lisa, why is that, why do the writers like to be so mean to her? And I you know, I actually think that Lisa is the character that our writers—myself included—that they relate to the most, even though she’s a girl. The struggles that Lisa has—of being the smarty pants in a world where that’s not being appreciated and where everybody thinks that the dude on the skateboard is cooler than the person who knows how the lights work—the reasons why things don’t work out for Lisa, is because the writers are working out their own frustrations.

Our writers are not like Homer, Marge or Bart—they weren’t little trouble makers. They were all Lisas. So it’s fascinating that she’s a female, but she really is embodying the struggle of the intellectual in this world

This post originally appeared on Ms. Magazine.

Photo Credit: Ms. Magazine

53 comments

Anna R
Anna R10 hours ago

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Stephanie s
Stephanie s23 hours ago

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Stephanie s
Stephanie s23 hours ago

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Ellie M
Ellie M2 days ago

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Janis K
Janis K7 days ago

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Ellie M
Ellie M8 days ago

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Clare O
Clare O'Beara9 days ago

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ANA MARIJA R
ANA MARIJA R9 days ago

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Ligia M
Ligia M10 days ago

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Marija M
Marija M10 days ago

Interesting, tks for sharing.

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