‘The Simpsons’ Writer John Swartzwelder Reveals How They Got Away With Violent ‘Itchy & Scratchy’ Cartoons

The Simpsons has a cartoon show within its own cartoon. Bart and Lisa have watched The Itchy & Scratchy Show since season 1. Now they’re in season 32 with seasons 33 and 34 in the works. Itchy and Scratchy are a cat and mouse spoof of Tom & Jerry, but way more violent. One of the show’s original writers, John Swartzwelder, recently explained how The Simpsons got away with it.

Itchy & Scratchy fans Bart, Milhouse and Lisa
L-R: Bart, Milhouse and Lisa | 20th Television

Swartzwelder gave his first ever interview to The New Yorker. The New Yorker published the interview May 2 including Swartzwelder’s secrets of Itchy & Scratchy.

‘The Itchy & Scratchy Show’ was ‘The Simpsons’ take on their own controversy

It’s hard to remember after 30 years, and people under 30 would never know, that The Simpsons was controversial when it came out. Parents and teachers were freaking out over Bart Simpson T-shirts that read, “I’m Bart Simpson, who the hell are you?” and “Underachiever and proud of it.” That would wane once Beavis and Butt-Head, South Park and Family Guy pushed the boundaries even further. 

The Simpsons friends Milhouse and Nelson come over to Bart and Lisa's house
L-R: Milhouse, Nelson, Bart and Lisa | 20th Television

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Being the irreverent satire that The Simpsons was, they created their own idea of a controversial cartoon. Bart and Lisa’s favorite TV show was The Krusty the Clown Show. Krusty would show animated shorts beginning in the season 1 episode “Krusty Gets Busted.” By season 2, baby Maggie Simpson was copying the cartoon cat and mouse’s violence and Marge led a campaign to tone it down in “Itchy & Scratchy & Marge,” an episode Swartzwelder wrote.

Satire allowed ‘The Simpsons’ to make ‘Itchy & Scratchy’ as violent as they wanted 

Being a satire of violent cartoons, The Simpsons would make Itchy & Scratchy extreme. Swartzwelder said the fake cartoon was one thing for which never got in trouble.

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“We could show horrendous things to the children at home, as long as we portrayed them being shown to the Simpsons’ children first,” Swartzwelder said. “Somehow this extra step baffled our critics and foiled the mobs with torches. We agreed with them that this was wrong to show to children. ‘Didn’t we just show it being wrong? And, look, here’s more wrong stuff!;”

Jon Swartzwelder was an ‘Itchy & Scratchy’ guru

Itchy & Scratchy shorts appeared every season. There were even segments of their movies in the episode “Itchy & Scratchy: The Movie” and another at the beginning of The Simpsons Movie. Swartzwelder said every Simpsons writer had their turn, but he took many himself.

The Simpsons: Bart and Lisa on the street
Bart and Lisa Simpson | 20th Television.

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“Everybody did Itchy & Scratchy cartoons, but I certainly did more than my share,” Swartzwelder said. “They were fun for me. I didn’t create them. But I did, along with Sam Simon, create the nice Itchy and Scratchy, as seen on ‘Itchy & Scratchy & Marge,’ which still makes me laugh every time.”

Source: The New Yorker