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Professor Frink Is Real, And Strong, And My Friend, With Matt Selman

3:36 PM EST on December 7, 2023

A man wears a bootleg Bart Simpson t-shirt—black, with the words Ay Carumba (sic) in heavy metal font over an image of Bart displaying GUD and BAD finger tattoos—on the streets of Bangkok, in 2018.
Photo by David Silverman/DPSimages

For people in my demographic cohort, I would say that I have roughly an average relationship with The Simpsons. That is, I can't imagine what my brain, personality, sense of humor, or life would be like without it, and also that I turn into a total raving goofus whenever given the opportunity to talk about it. There are only a few cultural figures or institutions that that I actually revere in a non-ironical way, and while we've had a startlingly large number of those people on the podcast in the past, it hadn't occurred to me that anyone having to do with The Simpsons would be willing to have anything to do with us.

I think of them as being eight or nine feet tall, and living in parts of Southern California that do not appear on maps, and I hold them in this reverence despite not having watched the show regularly in many years. But it turns out Matt Selman, who has been with The Simpsons since 1997 and is currently its executive producer and co-show runner, and who joined us on this episode, is a delightful and pretty normal-seeming guy. Just as part of his job, he had a decent hand in making my brain the way it is, but other than that.

I've joked in the past, fairly seriously as jokes go, about fighting the impulse to slip into The Chris Farley Show-mode as an interviewer. I don't know that I've ever fought it as hard as I did in this one, and I know that Drew, fellow Simpsons sicko/product that he is, was probably white-knuckling it there to some extent as well. I am happy to report that we got through this without, like, demanding to know where Springfield really is, or why it was the fashion for Grandpa Simpson's peers to wear an onion on their belt at the time, or asking any of the other deep lore questions that were absolutely scrolling through our minds the entire time. It helped that Selman was an accessible and pleasant conversationalist on topics both having to do with the show and how it gets made and how television writers rooms work both as workplaces and as actual rooms full of actual people. I also learned that Professor Frink is based on a real person, and we unpacked the semiotics of 1980s-vintage exercise equipment.

So I enjoyed all that, and I hope that you all will enjoy it, too, but I want to devote special attention to the back half of the show, which is where we keep the sports. While Selman was insightful and patient with us when we were talking about television, he absolutely went off when we started talking about football. This, as much as talking to my actual idols, is one of my favorite things about doing this silly show of ours. I wouldn't exactly call it "dragging them down to our level," although the fact that I went there first probably means something. But there is something both leveling and energizing about realizing that someone whose work you admire is, despite all that or because of it, exactly as much of a freak about sports stuff as you are.

And so it was when we got Selman going on the shameful-funny dunning of Florida State in the College Football Playoff, the airport-esque experience of attending a flagship game at Los Angeles's SoFi Stadium, and especially the grim way in which gambling has permeated not just the XFL but all of sports over the last few years. This is how a good episode of The Distraction works, whether the guest is a peer or an icon—it begins with some insights, and it ends with everyone hooting "they're all working for the bookies" in ever-increasing volume. The system works.

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