Out Writer of Gay Romance 'Simpsons' Episode Opens Up

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Thursday November 25, 2021
Originally published on November 24, 2021

Johnny LaZebnik — the openly gay son of "The Simpsons" producer and writer Rob LaZebnik — talked about how his dad brought him into the writing of the episode that gives an iconic character a same-sex romance, and why the Season 33 installment marks a significant step forward for the long-running comedy.

The episode, titled "Portrait of a Lackey on Fire," "saw the character [of Smithers], who has spent much of the series' timeline in the closet, fall in love with Michael de Graaf (Victor Garber) — having come out on the show a few years ago," DigitalSpy said.

It wasn't the first time Rob LaZebnik had turned to his out son to gain perspective on LGBTQ+ issues. Johnny LaZebnik had "served as a sort of unofficial consultant when his father penned the season 27 episode where Smithers officially came out of the closet," The AV Club said.

According to AV Club, LaZebnik recalled getting an email from his father that took him by surprise, recalling that "in classic dad fashion, it was one of those e-mails where it's just a subject line and no body — and that line was, 'Do you swipe on Grindr?' From my dad. I was like, "Perfect. This is objectively funny, getting this email."

Moving beyond such minutiae to the deeper mechanics of LGBTQ+ romance, LaZebnik said, "when we, my dad and I, talked about writing this episode, something that was important to me was to see his relationship grow and flourish and to get those intimate moments of two gay people on screen talking about being gay or dating."

It was a focus that carried importance, because, as LaZebnik noted, "To have a gay romance be the A-story of a Simpsons episode, I don't think has ever happened. And that's what was so exciting to me."

Asked about how Smithers' often-intimated sexuality was treated as a source of "cheap laughs" in the show's early seasons, LaZebnik admitted to The AV Club that "I love a lot of those jokes," and imitated a computer saying the punchline, "Smithers, you're so good at turning me on."

"Jokes like that are like some of my favorite content in the show," LaZebnik said, before adding that Smithers "was really an impressive gay character to have early on" in the series. "He's probably the most competent character on the show," LaZebnik added. "He's fully his own person and has a life that's not just being gay, which is so impressive and so much more than a lot of shows depicted in that era."

The writer went on to opine that the series has managed an "impressive job at maintaining the core of what makes the show the show, while still aging with the times."

"I think it's so cool to watch the show transform and change as it gets older and evolve and grow," LaZebnik went on to add, "and I'm just really happy to be a part of it, honestly."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.