It took 712 episodes and 33 seasons, but it’s finally happened. Waylon Smithers, the hapless personal assistant to the evil Montgomery Burns on The Simpsons, has a boyfriend…and no it’s not Mr. Burns.
Smithers, who has long harboured an unrequited love for the crusty nuclear plant owner, has found love at last, with a billionaire fashion designer Michael De Graff, voiced by Victor Garber.
Episode co-writer Johnny LaZebnik tweeted, “I can finally come out of the closet as a d’ohmosexual. Watch a very gay episode of The Simpsons on November 21, written by me and my dad.”
— Johnny LaZebnik (@jlazebnik) October 30, 2021
Smithers Is One of The Simpsons’ Longest Running Characters
The character of Smithers, who came out in the 2016 episode The Burns Cage, has been voiced by Harry Shearer for more than 33 years. Simpsons writers have been known to refer to the character of Smithers as “Burn-sexual.”
In The Burns Cage, Smithers declares his love for Mr Burns only to be told “Don’t take this the wrong way. You mean nothing to me. Someone I give less thought to than the little piece of popcorn stuck in my tooth.”
It’s All In The Family
Rob LaZebnik, who has been a co-executive producer on The Simpsons since 1999 and written 21 episodes, told The New York Post in 2016 that The Burns Cage, which generated worldwide headlines, was inspired by his relationship with his son Johnny.
“I am a Midwestern guy, so I don’t tend to wear my emotions on my sleeve, but I thought, ‘What better way to tell my son I love him than to write a cartoon about it?’ ” LaZebnik said. “Sometimes TV can have a real impact on people’s thinking.”
“He’s unbelievably accepting. We’re as close as a straight dad and a gay son could be,” Johnny said of his father at the time.
Speaking with The New York Post, Johnny LaZebnik, who co-wrote The Portrait of A Lackey On Fire with his father, said: “So often, gay romances are a subplot or alluded to or shown in some kind of montage or as a punchline. And what I think I was really excited about, with this episode, we get to see – without spoiling too much – the beginning, middle and who knows how it ends of a gay relationship, of really getting into the nitty-gritty of how gay people date, how they meet, what it’s like.”
“That was really special to me to get to highlight characters who are not punchlines, who are fully formed,” LaZebnik said.
Writing Brings Family Together
Working on the episode together was “spectacular and fulfilling,” Johnny LaZebnik said. “We now have this piece of content that we put into the world together that is a combined brainpower of the two of us.”
“I know my dad is a comedy writer. I grew up with him – obviously, I know he’s a funny guy. But actually getting to sit down and write jokes with him was so much fun. And there were some moments where I was like, ‘Dad, that’s disgusting, we can’t put that on television,’ which I didn’t expect to be saying because I’m usually the disgusting one.”
The elder LaZebnik agreed working together with his son on the new episode was special. “To be able to work with Johnny on this was, like, such a dream and to be able to see how truly funny and talented he is was just, you know, super fun and rewarding,” Rob LaZebnik told The New York Post.
Not Everybody Is Thrilled With The Gay Romance
Out actor Victor Garber, who plays De Graaf, told The New York Post, it is “crucially important that these stories are acknowledged.”
“It brings back certain feelings I had as a young actor where I couldn’t be gay,” said Garber, whose extensive credits include Argo, Titanic, and Alias.
“It was kind of a reminder of how much things have changed and also how I’ve evolved,” said Garber, who married Rainer Andreesen in 2015. “In my journey to find self-acceptance, self-love, it’s a definite significant part of it.”
Response to the upcoming episode has been mixed with one person on Twitter saying, “So the Simpsons is going woke. Surprise, Surprise,” while LGBTQIA+ activist Dane McFadhen, tweeted “You would think since its debut in 1989, and 712 episodes, poor Waylon would have found love in 32 years of programming.”