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Excerpt: 'My Life As a Ten-Year-Old Boy'

By Nancy Cartwright
Autobiography
Hyperion
224 pages

Nancy Cartwright is the ultimate Simpsons insider. Her raspy, childlike voice is immediately recognizable as none other than Bart Simpson the most precocious, irreverent, and intriguing ten-year-old ever to enter the American consciousness. In this behind-the-scenes story Nancy Cartwright tells of "The Simpsons"' early days, when the cast was given a closet-sized space to record commercial bumpers for "The Tracey Ullman Show." She traces the show's rapid rise to wild popularity, offers hilarious anecdotes about cast members and guest stars including Mel Gibson, Meryl Streep, and Elizabeth Taylor, and explains what goes into making the half-hour animated series. And she reveals what it's like to be at the center of an American institution, one that reinvented the sitcom, rocked the networks to the core, and changed forever the face of American television.

EXCERPT

T.S.O.P. (The Sound of Phil)

JUNE 29, 1990

I got to the studio a little early today. No particular reason. It is always a crap shoot whether or not the freeway is jam-packed and backed up to another county or whether it is just bumper-to-bumper. I guess my timing was pretty good. The production assistants were bringing in trays of carbohydrates. It was only 9:40 ... plenty of time to grab a sesame seed bagel and dollop it with a gob of cream cheese.

I was reaching for a plate when a semi-familiar voice said, "Is this the home of 'The Simpsons'?" I turned and walking into the room was Phil Hartman! I had read his name in the List of Characters and was told that he was going to be there, so that was not really a surprise. What really was a surprise was to actually have him walk in on me, unannounced. And ... we were alone! All of a sudden my heart-rate kicked up to about 120 b.p.m. -- I hoped I wasn't turning some unattractive shade of splotchy-red. Hopefully, all those years of aerobics were about to pay off and I wouldn't drop dead as I stepped over to say "hello" to the "funny man." I don't know what I was so freaked out about!

Clean-cut and unassuming, he had such a casual, no-nonsense way about him. It was that quality that we all find so hilarious, his delightful ability to poke fun at himself and at life, with a tongue-in-cheek attitude comparable to, say, Tim Conway or Mel Brooks or Carol Burnett. I had been a big fan of his ever since I had seen him as Kap'n Karl on "The Pee-Wee Herman Show," over-the-top but grounded in reality. Now, that takes talent. I don't know that anyone knows just exactly what it is that makes us laugh. But I believe that unless there is a certain honesty and a heightened reality, you ain't got bupkus! Phil has that magic. It's the well-deserved pie-in-the-face that makes you want to keep on watching. Leave us not forget his work on "Saturday Night Live" ... Bill Clinton--ha! And his Ted Kennedy! He had always been hilarious and he was hilarious today, standing there grinning at me, and all he said was, "Is this the home of 'The Simpsons'?"

I started over toward him. Breathe, Nancy, I told myself. (I think I share this absurd quality with many: Faced with any funny man, I try to act very casual, but my heart thuds away while my mind desperately gropes for something clever to say.) Hey, Nance, I joked to myself, trying to calm my racing heart, if you can keep this up for another twenty minutes you'll burn off the cream cheese at Phil's expense. Hah, hah! Not funny. I thought -- You're funny. You'll think of something funny to say!

I am not a comedienne. I love to tell stories, but I am horrible at telling jokes. Phil must be the life of the party. This guy must have everyone in stitches around the punch bowl. I would just stand back and enjoy the show. My mind spun at the thought of a competition or a talent show, where I'd be expected to do some sort of stand-up routine ... I would be a nervous wreck!

So, he stood there, his eyebrow raised and I was in awe. "Awe," definition-wise, contains a certain element of fear. It isn't just a reverence or a respect. There is a little dread and wonder thrown in at no extra charge. So when Phil entered the room, the feeling that overwhelmed me, sending my heart into the stratosphere, was awe.

Omygod! Call 911! The pressure. I don't know if Phil thought I was wiping cream cheese onto the napkin or if he realized that my palms were sopping. I guess my palms were just as excited to meet Phil as I was! Now, why didn't I just say that? That's funny. Isn't it? Just be cool, Nancy, I kept telling myself.

Walking over to him, moist hand extended, I said, "Yeah, 'The Simpsons.' You got that right. I'm Nancy Cartwright. I'm a big fan of yours."

His face suddenly brightened. "Oh, you're the kid, aren't you?"

Interesting. He didn't ask me if I was Bart. He asked me if I was "the kid"! I didn't for one second think he didn't know Bart's name. It was a term of respect. "Kid." I was now classified with all the other great "Kids": Billy, Opie, Andy Hardy, Jackie Cooper, Macauley Culkin, Dennis the Menace. I liked him instantly. When you meet Phil, you want to be his best friend.

He was in today to play the character of Lionel Hutz, Springfield's most prominent shyster. He suddenly took on the whole persona of an attorney, standing there with his back perfectly straight, briefcase in hand.

He went on, "I'm a big fan too."

My heart began to ease up: 120, 118, 115, 110 ... Mustering up my best Bart, I replied, "No way, man!"

He had a laugh. Score again! Ooops! 115, 133, 137 ... The pressure is back. Funny once, must ... be funny ... always!

I fumbled forward. "Wow, it is so cool you're on our show."

Again, a la Lionel Hutz, "Yeah, well ... someone's got to do it."

This time, I had the laugh. The ice was officially broken and I was able to breathe. He didn't expect me to keep this up. He didn't need me to be funny. Then he did a "change-up" that took me off-guard again. He dropped Lionel and the character's shysterishness (Say that fast three times!) vanished. He just looked me square in the eyes and I got the straight-poop: the sound of Phil.

"So, how many people show up for the records?"

"Well, because you're here, it'll probably be everyone on the whole lot."

He was taken aback, the fear I had felt showing momentarily in his face! Nancy to the rescue! "I'm just kidding. Actually, it starts out pretty full, with all the actors, writers, producers, their assistants, the production assistants, and no kidding, there will probably be a few people who heard you were coming that wouldn't typically be here."

Lionel resurfaced. And Phil said, with his classic expression, one eyebrow lifted, "Rupert?" Rupert, as in "Murdoch," the Monarch of Fox News Corporation.

"Yeah, right," I said laughing.

"Just checking. Gotta make sure the batteries in my tape recorder are still working. I'm wired, you know."

Pure Phil. What a cool guy.



RELATED SITES:
Hyperion Books
The Simpsons

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