This has meaning on so many levels.
Long-term relationships are tough. Favourite bands can fade away. Romantic interests, well, they leave you lonely. But for some reason, for many of us, there will always be a place in our hearts for a bunch of bug-eyed, yellow-skinned, four-fingered oddballs, and a little town they call Springfield.
For over twenty years on the television screen, computer screen, and the big screen, The Simpsons have been a constant presence—familiar faces to help us through the turbulent transitions of childhood to adolescence, through university, ending finally at (what we think is) adulthood. We celebrated a birthday with a song sung by a Michael Jackson impersonator like Lisa, resisted the temptation of a seductive bowling instructor like Marge, defeated an arch-nemesis by the fourth grade with Bart, and toured with Lollapalooza, travelled through space, and won the “1st Annual Montgomery Burns Award For Outstanding Achievement In The Field Of Excellence” right along with Homer.
Okay, so maybe being governed by a—er, ah, less-than-eloquent-er, ah, mayor is the most plausible similarity between the world of The Simpsons and ours. Nevertheless, The Simpsons is incontestably one of the most influential pieces of modern popular culture.
This man, dressed as Zutroy, the illegal immigrant power plant worker, won the costume contest.
“I think of it as The Beatles of TV: nothing was the same afterwards,” explains Andrew Ennals, co-founder of Woo Hoo!: Classic Simpsons Trivia, a monthly evening of drinks, doughnuts, and disturbingly detailed questions about the beloved cartoon. “It has really been a constant in our lives, I don’t remember a life before The Simpsons.”
His partner-in-trivia, Amanda Factor—a former Torontoist contributor—agrees. “It’s something you can depend on. You know it’s always going to be there for you.”
The duo speaks about their favourite show with unabashed devotion, admiration, loyalty, even love—sometimes dangling dangerously on the edge of fanaticism. Or, at least it would if they were the only ones reveling in what Kent Brockman’s real name is (Kenny Brockelstein) or what movie Ruth Powers receives in her gift basket when she moves to Evergreen Terrace (Das Butt—”for the man of the house”).
But they’re not. In fact, the Gladstone’s Melody Bar is filled to standing-room-only on a dark, tornado-and-severe-thunderstorm-warning Tuesday night. For this month’s Halloween-themed edition, thirty-four teams, dressed as their favourite characters, have gathered for three classic “Treehouse of Horror” episodes and three rounds of skill-testing queries chosen by Ennals and Factor, designed to keep even the most committed of Simpson-ites on their toes.
Ennals leading the crowd in their trivial pursuits.
Not that they’re not up for the challenge, because while the evening is full of funny, for some, it’s no joke.
Ennals says he’s heard from teams who divide the seasons among their team members (there can be up to six) to spend weeks preparing, and others dispute the answers down to the tiniest line from a deleted scene on a DVD. Woo Hoo! first-timer Luca Gerace says he’s probably spent over one thousand hours watching the show throughout his twenty-one years, while his friend David Novati, also twenty-one, says his magic number is closer to 2,500 hours now that he has episodes on his computer—which Novati admits is both too much and not enough. Because this is a place where reciting jokes word-for-word is not cause for embarrassment (it’s a badge of honour), and the team that can come up with the most obscure reference for a team name (for instance, The California Cheeseburgers) earns serious trivia-cred.
This edition’s victors, Schmos Working In a Box Factory (featuring Torontoist’s own John Semley), scored an astounding fifty-nine out of sixty correct answers, mistakenly answering that Springfield’s expressway was once named The Matlock Expressway, which was technically never finished. But what they claim is much more than the doughnut prize, but the glory that comes from a fair and stiff match of wits.
In its third month, Woo Hoo! already had to move from the Ossington to the larger Melody Bar just to fit everyone in the same room. Ennals and Factor, who started the event for fun out of a Simpsons quote-off over Gmail Chat, have had to make little promotional effort beyond making a Facebook group and a Twitter account. Next month’s event, on November 16, should continue the trend.
“I’m not surprised it’s popular. I’m actually more surprised no one has done it before. It’s kind of a no-brainer,” Factor says, because no matter how serious the competition can be, the main draw to Woo Hoo! Classic Simpsons Trivia is to be a kid again. Though some dress in suits, when the episodes hit the screens, those in the audience instantly grin like they’re eight years old, seeing them for the first time. Only now, they can watch it with a beer in hand, undoubtedly the way that Homer always intended.
It’s nice to know that after all these years, the love is still going strong, so that even when the world seems as dark as when Mr. Burns blocked out the sun, there is still some comfort to be found in the feats, frights, and fools of our favourite middle-class cartoon clan.
As Bart and Milhouse insist: Springfield, Springfield, you’re a hell of a town.
Photos by Remi Carreiro/Torontoist.