“The Good, The Bart, and The Loki” is the latest Simpsons short to arrive on Disney+, this time roping in Loki star Tom Hiddleston to voice his villainous Marvel alter ego as he squares off against Springfield’s most famous family.
Longtime Simpsons executive producer Al Jean spoke with IGN about the benefits of working on these shorts, how The Simpsons has survived for three decades, and more:
IGN: This is now the third short you’ve done for Disney+, and other than the obvious benefits of corporate synergy, what is the appeal of working in the short format?
Al Jean: There’s a few things for me. Starting with the first short we did –– “The Longest Daycare” in 2012 –– I just love the medium. An episode is nine months, and that’s great, I’ve worked on 700 of them, pretty much, but it’s great to be doing something where it’s a little shorter, and a little more on the fly. The Star Wars one, we got the go-ahead in January for May the 4th.
This one, we were finishing that in April, and we said, “Well, Loki comes out in June, early-July, we’ll be able to hit that too.” So we really, we’re doing them as they went along, and with this one we actually parodied the first episode of the miniseries in one of our many post-credit sequences. Probably the most ever post-credit sequences in a four-minute short.
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IGN: The short starts and there’s the voice of Tom Hiddleston (as Loki). With the show having been around so long and being able to get any guest you want, do you have any white whale where you’re like, “Oh, I’d really love this person to be on the show”?
Al Jean: We never have had a U.S. President on the show. We’ve tried pretty hard –– we got a nice rejection letter from Reagan when he was alive, and Bill Clinton considered it. But we finally gave up and used an actual recording of Theodore Roosevelt. He was a good president, so that was our default. (laughs)
So, we never had them, and I would say that’s the biggest –– we did have Tony Blair when he was Prime Minister. But with Tom Hiddleston, I believe he was a fan. He definitely seemed really happy. Really nice, incredible actor, but genuinely happy to be on The Simpsons and hear his voice next to Homer’s. I think that was the biggest aspect of it for him. That always blows me away, when someone you think is talented is a big fan of The Simpsons.
IGN: When The Simpsons started (in 1989), you guys were the young rebels. Now you’re a cherished institution. When you look at the way comedy has changed, what do you see as the impact of the show over the last thirty years in shaping the comedy discourse?
Al Jean: As you say, in the beginning, we were considered a bad role model. The President of the United States spoke out against us. But we were popular from the start. I think somebody pointed out there was a campaign to get The Simpsons off the air, that’s one of the least successful campaigns ever. (laughs)
With us, the bigger change was that there was no primetime animation existing when we started. There had been a couple of shows that had succeeded before us, but now it’s an overwhelming explosion. It’s funny because in comedy there are certain things you can’t do, which you used to be able to do, and there are certain things that were –– sex jokes that you’d never be able to make in the ‘90s that are now totally commonplace. And we’ve just tried to take our own path, to be the same thing that we’ve always been, not really trying to be dependent on the standards.
I’ll give you an example: When the Janet Jackson incident –– or I would call it the Justin Timberlake incident –– happened at the  Superbowl, they said you can’t show Homer’s naked behind anymore on the show, and I was like, “I don’t see the connection.” The reruns would still have it, so you could see it Sunday at 6, but not Sunday at 8? That’s the kind of silly thing that happens in terms of standards and mores. You just try not to overreact to it or lose your sense of who you are.
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IGN: Conan O’Brien just ended his late-night tenure, and you’ve been on record saying Conan is the funniest guy you’ve ever met [from his time writing for The Simpsons’ early seasons]. What do you think is the legacy of Conan O’Brien when we look at the late-night landscape?
Al Jean: The thing I would say for people to see what we always saw in Conan: When he was hired, and everybody was going, “Who is this guy?” I said, “No you’re going to be surprised how great he is.” And he was for all of his shows. But one thing is, when I was not feeling great in the pandemic I would look at his TBS things –– like his trip to the American Girl store, or he visited the Israeli army, or went on Grindr and Tinder –– those things are as fall-down funny as anything anybody has ever done. Funny as any late-night host, but funny as anybody anywhere. And you can watch one after another –– there’s one where he goes to see Magic Mike XXL with his staff –– and he’s a genius. He lasted 28 years in late-night, which is only exceeded by the two best: Carson and Letterman.
The Simpsons’ short “The Good, The Bart, and The Loki” is streaming now on Disney+.