Pros at laughter

By KatherineGamby

“Chicago is a place where there is ample parking compared to [other] big cities and average looking people are considered boxy, which is why I love being here,” said Lynda Barry, popular cartoonist and illustrator of the Ernie Pook’s Comeek. Barry and the creator of “The Simpsons” phenomenon, Matt Groening,  spoke at a local university’s campus on Nov. 5 to put a comedic spin on the ups and downs of their private and professional lives.

Some 200 people poured into the University of Illinois at Chicago Forum, 725 W. Roosevelt Road, to listen to Groening and Barry dish about their wild adventures as a part of the Chicago Humanities Festival.

The hour-long session started off with Groening reminiscing about the real Homer Simpson in his life—his dad. He credited his success to  something his father always said to him while he was growing up, “Don’t just do it, overdo it.”

While Groening took a subtle, serious approach when he told stories about his life, Barry kept the audience laughing with her quirky sense of humor.

Groening and Barry met in 1974 at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash.  They worked together at the college’s newspaper, Groening as the editor-in-chief and Barry as a freelancer. He said he remembered when Barry reported an incident on campus where there was a body outlined on the sidewalk outside with the statement “Kill rapists.” She mistakenly changed the word rapists to Baptists.

“I thought that was amusing that Lynda had reported it ‘Kill Baptists,’” Groening said. “We printed a picture of the outline of the body and the phrase ‘Kill rapists’ and I wrote in the caption, ‘And it was reported kill Baptists.’ Lynda got me in so much trouble with Baptists and feminists on campus.”

After college, Groening moved to Los Angeles where he worked in a coffee shop before getting a job delivering papers at the Los Angeles Reader. Barry got her first job at  the Seattle Sun.  In one issue, she did comics about women who had gone through bad break-ups. The men in the comics were displayed as cactuses that smoked cigarettes and tried to ask the women out. Barry said the editor of the paper was not impressed with her work.

“You know people who look like they have a roast on their head; she looked like she had a roast of her head so I was distracted by that and then I realized that she had started screaming at me about how racist my cartoons were,” Barry said. “She thought the cactuses were Mexican and I’m looking at her like, ‘Well maybe I’m not going to be a cartoonist.’”

She said as she was leaving the paper, the man who was in charge of the back page stopped her and offered to print her comics on the back page.

“It turns out he hated her so much and he ran the back page and he says, ‘I’ll print them,’ just to drive her crazy,” Barry said. “That’s really how things work … no matter how good your stuff is, it always comes down to one person hating another person.”

Later in the session, they read some of their earlier comics to the audience, Groening’s were based off of his sons’ interactions when they were young and Barry’s embodied her pre-teen years when sex  was a new and taboo subject for her.

Groening played clips of “The Simpsons,” including a drumming battle between The White Stripes and Bart Simpson. Barry ended the session with a crude joke.

Afterward, the two held a brief book signing where they greeted excited fans, like Cynthia White, whose book Barry signed and agreed to be photographed with.

“I thought it was wonderful, Lynda was a [great] speaker,” said White, a senior English education major at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “I think a lot of people were feeling that they didn’t get to hear from Matt too much but I thought she was entertaining.”

Though some people were expecting the bulk of the conversation to come from Groening, it was Barry who stole the show.

“I thought [Lynda] was very funny and eloquent, she didn’t try and upstage [Matt],” said Bruno Pieroni, a creative with Leo Burnett advertising firm. “I felt like if anything, they were playing off of each other and that was nice.”