'Simpsons' producer is first non-Irish to be feted
He doesn’t exactly speak with a brogue. But James L. Brooks is all Irish as far as the U.S.-Ireland Alliance is concerned.
The group is feting the Oscar- and Emmy-winning multihyphenate during its third annual Oscar Wilde: Honoring the Irish in Film pre-Academy Awards party — the first non-Irish person to capture that distinction. Ireland natives Fiona Shaw and Colm Meaney have also been tapped for honors.
“For someone with identity issues, it’s great to be an honorary anything,” quips Brooks, who describes himself as something of a mutt, with a Russian/Eastern European Jewish pedigree.
So, what makes the Irish so enamored of the Brooklyn-born Brooks, producer of the classic American family comedy “The Simpsons”?
“I’ve been told they have an unhealthy obsession with ‘The Simpsons’ over there,” Brooks says of the long-running Fox series and its bigscreen spinoff.
In fact, “The Simpsons Movie” earned E1.2 million ($1.75 million) when it opened on the Emerald Isle, the best bow in the country in five years. Although the show doesn’t boast an overtly Irish character, the film version introduced a Irishman named Colin — voiced by Tress MacNeille — amping up some Celtic pride.
Trina Vargo, president and founder of the alliance, a nonprofit aimed at fostering ties between Hollywood and the Irish film community, says it’s not such a stretch to claim Brooks as one of its own.
“It’s been said that there are two kinds of people: the Irish and those who lack imagination. So Jim is Irish as far as we’re concerned,” she says.
Like the playwright-poet-author Wilde, Brooks is known for his sharp wit, as evidenced by his classic films “Terms of Endearment,” “Broadcast News” and “As Good as It Gets.” Brooks’ barbed comedic sensibilities mesh well with those emanating from Ireland, which has produced a multitude of literary funnymen, including the great satirist Jonathan Swift.
“I do have a thing for Ireland; I have always felt like a compadre to black Irish,” Brooks explains, referring to his own dark locks. “And anything named after Oscar Wilde is amazing. I stood in front of his father’s house in Dublin and looked at it. I once got into George Bernard Shaw’s nursery. I have a natural kinship (with the Irish writers). Ireland has always been great for writers and great to writers.”
As for the award, Brooks joins a growing pantheon of honorees that includes Jim Sheridan, Neil Jordan, Terry George, David Holmes, Bill Monahan and Van Morrison.
“I love what the evening is about, which is to try and help Irish film and get them over here and to mix it up,” says Brooks. “It sounds like a loose, fun evening.”
Perhaps Brooks could pay back the Irish with a “Simpsons” shoutout to his new brethren. While Homer and the gang have visited a number of foreign locales in seasons past, including Brazil, Japan and Australia, they’ve never touched down in the land of Eire. Could a future Simpsons trip to Ireland be in the cards now?