I’ll bet “old Dan,” the guy who first slapped some peanut butter on one slice of bread, and some grape jelly on another slice, and then put those two very different flavors together in one sandwich, I’ll bet that guy got some weird looks from his wife Martha.
Of course, I’m not sure if that guy’s name was old Dan, nor am I sure if Martha exists, but I am sure of one thing: despite the fact that at one time it was probably considered an odd combination, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are delicious.
I’ll bet old Dan said something like, “Peanut butter is very tasty. Jelly is also very tasty. Eh. Screw it.”
He was right.
Why all this talk about peanut butter and jelly? Because a guy named Rick Miller (who did not invent peanut butter and jelly sandwiches) had a similarly crazy idea nearly 15 years ago to combine Shakespeare’s Macbeth with Matt Groening’s the Simpsons, and the resulting MacHomer production he’s been doing all over the world ever since is considered by many to be equally delicious.
MacHomer is a one man show, in which Miller does impressions of over 50 Simpsons character voices for a modern twist on one of Shakespeare’s most well known tragedies. Machomer has been seen by over half a million people in 130 cities on four continents throughout the world, and has been called a “Comic Tour-de-Force” by the Toronto Star, “Hilariously funny” by the L.A. Times, and a “Peanut butter and jelly sandwich” by the Fayetteville Flyer.
We got in touch with Rick, and he was nice enough to answer some questions for us.
Fayetteville Flyer: What have you been listening to lately?
Rick Miller: The incessant ramblings in my head. To tune them out, I’ve been playing Radiohead’s “In Rainbows” and U2’s new album.
FF: How did the idea to combine Shakespeare and the Simpsons come about?
RM: In the summer of 1994, I was playing the coveted role of “murderer #2” in a touring production of Macbeth. With only six lines or so, I had a little too much time backstage. I dreamed up a cast-party joke where “The Simpsons” would play our roles. Thirteen years later, that silly little idea has come a long way. It has evolved in stages, the current one being the largest in terms of ambition and technical value, but the silly concept has remained the same: one dysfunctional family does another.
FF: The most surprising thing to us is how well it works. Why do you think it works so well?
RM: MacHomer works on a lot of levels. The impressions are, for the most part, … um… impressive. The production is visually entertaining, rich in detail and uses multimedia in an interesting way. But beyond that, I’m dealing with brilliant source material: Shakespeare and Springfield. I think that “The Simpsons” are well-suited to tragedy because the characters have a heart, we care about them. Underneath all the pathos, there is a kind of ‘nobility’ that shines through. We laugh at them (at us!), but we also can sympathize on a deeper level, which helps in the translation into tragedy.
FF: Is it odd to think that you are exposing people to Shakespeare that may never have understood it before?
RM: It’s actually what keeps me going after all these years. Half a million people around the world have seen my play, many of whom would confess to hating both Shakespeare and theater. I often give MacHomer workshops in high schools, and the teachers are blown away because all of the sudden Macbeth is engaging the students in a new way. They ‘get’ it because they have a sense of who the characters from “the Simpsons” are. People often forget that Shakespeare was pop culture 400 years ago. Today’s sedated Shakespeare audiences bear little resemblance to the audiences of his time, who would stand in the ‘mosh-pit’ of the Globe Theatre, and cheer openly and vocally. I personally think he would have preferred the rowdy irreverence of MacHomer to another lame, heavy-handed production of Macbeth.
FF: Have you ever been to Arkansas? What is your impression of the place?
RM: Nope. But it looks great on Google Earth.
FF: Are you familiar with the Jay Z and the Beatles “mashup” Gray album?
RM: Yup. I love cultural car crashes, taking things out of their initial context, and slamming seemingly dissonant themes together to hear/see what happens. The encore to MacHomer has nothing to do with either the Simpsons or Macbeth… it’s “Bohemian Rhapsody performed by 25 of the most annoying make voices in the music industry”. Pure gratuitous mashup fun! You can check out an old version on You Tube.
FF: What’s next? Any future Shakespeare / Simpson mashups in the works? “Bart-let” or “A Mid-Springfield Night’s Dream” perhaps?
RM: Although sequels have been called for, I refuse to do so with MacHomer on the grounds that it is a one-joke concept that has now been ‘done’. I’m lucky that MacHomer is only one part of my career, and I spend the rest of my time working on very different types of projects. I am actually now touring a 9-hour, 9-actor epic play called LIPSYNCH, which has become a global hit. Very different from MacHomer! By the way, here are some Simpsons/Shakespeare mashup titles to go along with your suggestions: “Othell-D’OH!”, “King Beer”, and my personal favorite “Mmm…Ham-let”.
FF: Nice! MacHomer is a one man show. That seems like a lot of pressure. Is it difficult to be up there all by yourself at times?
RM: It’s hard work, but it’s a short show, only 75 minutes. I like to think of it as an intense vocal and mental workout. I’m used to these high-intensity solo shows where I flip between dozens of characters. The pressure is big, yes, but I get to be in total control of the audience, which is a fantastic feeling. There’s nothing like having a 1000 people stand up and clap after you’ve taken them for an amazing ride.
FF: 50 different voices are a lot to keep straight. Ever get them mixed up? Ever forget your real voice?
RM: It’s a pretty schizophrenic experience, and yes, I get a few lines mixed up every night, but the show is so fast no one notices… Other than a few Shakespearean scholars perhaps (who, incidentally, LOVE MacHomer because it’s a fresh take on a well-trod tragedy). As for my real voice, I still wonder if I’ve found it after 39 years.
FF: What’s your favorite Simpsons character?
RM: I love Barney. He’s so pathetic and tragic, yet he has a poet’s heart (remember his art film about alcoholism? “Don’t cry for me, I’m already dead”). MacDuff seems to suit him well (you should hear the audience’s sympathy when he is told that his family is slaughtered!). Ditto Actor Troy McClure as various Thanes, Krusty as the drunken porter, Ned Flanders as Banquo, Mr. Burns as King Duncan, etc… The hardest part was in trying to squeeze 50 characters into what is essentially a 12-character play. Cheap theatrical devices were needed, such as the ‘game show’, the ‘dream sequence’, etc…