Swartzwelder The Great

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In the Simpsons rewrite room, the biggest compliment you can give to a joke is to call it “Swartzweldian.” Meaning, in the style of legendary Simpsons writer John Swartzwelder. Meaning (to me) uniquely dumb and smart at the same time. Meaning, great.

John Swartzwelder wrote fifty-nine episodes of The Simpsons, including such classics as “Homer the Great” (the Stonecutter’s show) and “Itchy and Scratchyland.” But now, Swartzwelder has left television and written five novels. Four novels about a really dumb detective, and one about a really dumb Old West Town.

John Swartzwelder is immensely private. He would not want to be blogged about. The only personal fact about him I will share is that he claims to own the first baseball ever made. Swartzwelder self-published his work, so there’s no big corporation buying huge ads and shoving his books on reviewers. There is no machine telling the public what they need to know about John Swartzwelder, so I will do my best:

John Swartzwelder is one of the greatest comedy minds of all time. He is the comedy writer whose words makes the best comedy writers in the world laugh out loud. And it’s about time people found out about it. He’s not a wit, or a satirist, or a humorist. These terms are weak, and John is strong. Swartzwelder is a Comedy Writer. He writes funny stories full of great jokes. Line for line, John’s books have more great jokes in them than anything else you can read.


Or, to quote another underappreciated Simpsons genius, Dan Greaney: “Years ago, I described John Swartzwelder to a reporter from The New York Times as the greatest writer in the English language in any form. Now, having finally made it through one of his novels, I am pleased to say I was right. Swartzwelder combines a nearly double-Borgesian density of imaginative invention with the unpretentious readability of dime novel.”

John doesn’t write to the tastes of the literary world. He writes for himself. He writes about time machines and fist fights and carnies and aliens and gangsters and explosions. If you don’t like these things, then head right over to the David Sedaris aisle. Swartzwelder’s latest book, Dead Men Scare Me Stupid, just popped up on Amazon. I haven’t read it yet, but as soon as I post this, believe you me, I’m a-gonna. So join me in the battle to get this guy the recognition his talent deserves. Let’s get John Swartzwelder his own aisle.


The Simpsons influenced my comedy more than anything else.  It's the most brilliant TV show in history, in my opinion, and a close examination reveals that John Swartzwelder is the man who is most responsible for that.  I've been going back through all of the older episodes lately, and I'm amazed at how many of the most memorable and classic episodes came directly from Swartzwelder.  If you listen to the DVD commentaries, it's obvious that John was one of a kind.  He seems to have been the only writer on staff whose scripts were nearly perfect upon delivery and required very little rewriting from the rest of the staff.  So yes, 5 years after this article was published, I'd like to join the movement to get this man his due recognition.  John Swartzwelder wrote 59 of the best episodes of the best TV show ever.  The scripts were essentially solo projects.  That would make him, in my estimation, the most prolific and prodigious comedy writer we've ever seen.  I understand why he wouldn't want to further engage himself in the Hollywood system that can quite frankly destroy anyone's love for art, but it kinda sucks that we haven't gotten to see more from this guy in TV and movies.  Either way, thank you, John Swartzwelder.