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Not My Job: We Quiz A Simpsons Writer On Wallis Simpson

BILL KURTIS: And when we were in Portland, we interviewed a special guest - a Portland resident and an unspoken giant of American culture - "Simpsons" producer Bill Oakley.


And now the game where we ask talented people to do something without drawing on any of their talents. It's called Not My Job. Twenty-five years ago, Bill Oakley was an out-of-work comedy writer living off unemployment benefits. Then a script he wrote came to the attention of the staff of a new TV show called "The Simpsons," and he was asked to join the staff and write a script. A few years later, he and his partner were in charge of the show. And they created some of the greatest half hours of comedy ever seen. We are delighted to have him here. Bill Oakley, welcome to WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME.


BILL OAKLEY: Thank you, Peter.


SAGAL: So the story I just told is true, that you were pretty much out of work and...

OAKLEY: Yes, in fact, I was just - I had applied for and received the foreign service exam for the State Department. And I just looked at it and I was, like, no, no way. I'm going to have to write a comedy spec script because I'm not going to be able pass this exam.

SAGAL: Really?


SAGAL: So you're not so much an incredibly successful comedy writer and TV producer as a failed foreign service officer...

OAKLEY: Foreign service officer, yes.


SAGAL: Yeah. I'm sorry about that.


SAGAL: That's terrible. And - but by season - was it six or seven? - you were actually running the show with your partner...

OAKLEY: Yes, by season seven.

SAGAL: How did that happen?

OAKLEY: Well, it was a great stroke of luck because the guy who was in line to run the show in front of us...

SAGAL: Yeah...

OAKLEY: ...Was Conan O'Brien.

SAGAL: Oh, I think I've heard of him.


SAGAL: Now, you left the show. And you've done some other things. You wrote on "Portlandia."

OAKLEY: That's right.

SAGAL: Do you ever get nostalgic for your days in "The Simpsons" because you've done a lot of things in TV since?

OAKLEY: No. Like I said, I mean, I felt like the last couple months we were there, we were running on fumes. I was like, we got to get out of this thing before it ends, and that was 20 years ago. And it's still on the air.


SAGAL: I want to talk to you about something you did recently, which is that last year you seemed to, quite sincerely, try to save McDonald's.

OAKLEY: Oh, my God. I'm so glad you brought this up.


SAGAL: Oh, excellent. Let's get to it. So this was a series of tweets. And tell me about it. What happened?

OAKLEY: OK. I want to say that, to some of us, we love on McDonald's. I mean, like, back in the '70s and '80s, that was the place to go. And I didn't get to go there. We lived out in the country, and I only got to go there maybe once a year and it was a big, big deal.

SAGAL: All right. So...

OAKLEY: So, yeah, nostalgic McDonald's.

SAGAL: So you love McDonald's. And what inspired you to go on this rant?

OAKLEY: All day breakfast. They brought up this...


OAKLEY: Yes, of course. OK. Many of us would love to want to go to McDonald's.


OAKLEY: OK, maybe not all of us.


OAKLEY: Many of us.

SAGAL: For those at home, 3,000 people are staring at us blankly right now.


OAKLEY: I know. All right.

SAGAL: So - but assume that there are people, like you, who would want to go to McDonald's, if that were possible.



SAGAL: So proceed.

OAKLEY: Well, just look at the competition these days. I mean, when was the last time you ate it? You know, you probably go to - sometimes you go Shake Shack or Five Guys, places like that.

SAGAL: Yeah, more upscale, hip, fast food places...

OAKLEY: It doesn't even have to be hip, but the food - the quality of the of the hamburgers is terrific.

SAGAL: All right.

OAKLEY: We're going to say that.

SAGAL: Let us stipulate that and move on.

OAKLEY: Yeah, but McDonald's really hasn't improved the quality of their hamburgers, in my opinion, since probably the '70s.


OAKLEY: And it would be great if they were able to just take that step. And I was - every time they announced some new thing from McDonald's, I'm really excited. And I go over there and it's some - I don't know, it's terrible. All day breakfast is the same old food in the middle of day.


SAGAL: I just want to point out that you are, like, three times as animated talking about McDonald's...


SAGAL: ...Than you were talking about your seminal role in the greatest television series of all time. I just want to establish that and move on.

OAKLEY: Well, I know. You saw my face light up when you brought it up.

SAGAL: I understand...

JESSI KLEIN: What's your - I need to know, what's your order at McDonald's?

OAKLEY: It really depends on what...

KLEIN: I'm sure it does.

OAKLEY: I try, well...


OAKLEY: The - OK. The last really good thing I had at McDonald's was the McDLT. Maybe like...

BURBANK: Of course...


BURBANK: ...Hot side hot, cool side cool.


SAGAL: So what?

OAKLEY: Yes. McD for McDonald's, L-T for lettuce and tomato.

SAGAL: So enough complaining, Bill Oakley. What is your solution for the woes of McDonald's? And I remember, you offered McDonald's - said call me up. I will consult with you...

OAKLEY: I did and they didn't even reply to my tweets, believe it or not.


SAGAL: All right, I can't believe that. But tell me what you would do to - they might be listening.

OAKLEY: OK. Let's just, OK. They got to have a burger that can compete with the good hamburgers and they don't.

SAGAL: Right.

OAKLEY: That's really what it comes down to.

SAGAL: So basically, your ingenious solution...


SAGAL: ...To the woes of McDonald's is make the food better?


OAKLEY: Oh, my God. I really hope that someone from McDonald's is listening to this.

SAGAL: That's...

OAKLEY: Yes, I mean...

BURBANK: It's simple, make McDonald's great again.

SAGAL: Exactly.


SAGAL: Well, Bill Oakley...


SAGAL: Bill Oakley, we are delighted to talk to you. But we have asked you here to play a game that this time we're calling...

KURTIS: Do Not Have A Cow, My Lady.


SAGAL: So you helped create "The Simpsons." So we're going to ask you about another Simpson, Wallis Simpson, the woman for whom King Edward VII of England famously abdicated the throne.


SAGAL: Answer 2 out of these 3 questions about her, you'll win our prize for one of our listeners - Carl Kassel's voice on their voicemail. Bill, who is Bill Oakley playing for?

KURTIS: Axel Aerden (ph) of Brussels, Belgium.

SAGAL: Brussels, Belgium.


SAGAL: Ready to do this?

OAKLEY: Can I get some help with this?

SAGAL: You can - you can try.


SAGAL: I'm sure the people of McDonald's will be thrilled to help you, now.


SAGAL: Call them up. They'll have suggestions for you. Make your answers better, Bill.


ALONZO BODDEN: You know, Peter?

SAGAL: (Laughter) Yeah?

BODDEN: In Bill's defense...

SAGAL: Yeah...

BODDEN: ...There is a chance that that advice has never come up at McDonald's.


SAGAL: That's true.


SAGAL: All right, here's your first question, Bill. In addition to causing a crisis in the British royal family right before World War II, Wallis Simpson will go down in history for doing another remarkable thing. What did she do? A, she popularized chewing tobacco among British high society; B, she coined the phrase, you can never be too rich or too thin; or C, she held the world record for most cigarettes smoked at once, female division.




OAKLEY: Two, two.

SAGAL: You're going to go for too rich or too thin? That was that.


SAGAL: And that - they are right. You are right. She did in fact - she is credited with being the first person to say you can never be too rich or too thin. All right, that's one. Second question, Wallis Simpson, after a life in America and in China, moved to London with her second husband and quickly became the mistress of the Prince of Wales, the future King Edward. How did she meet him? A, she was introduced to him by his current mistress; B, she artfully threw herself in front of his car, forcing him to stop; or C, she walked up to him at a party and said, I'd like to see your scepter.


OAKLEY: I'm going to say one.

SAGAL: You're going to say one - she was introduced to him by his current mistress. You're right.


OAKLEY: All right.

SAGAL: That's what happened.


SAGAL: She was introduced to the Prince of Wales by the married woman the prince had been sleeping with. He quickly upgraded to Mrs. Simpson.


SAGAL: All right, last question. You can go for perfect here. It was well-known that King George's wife, Queen Elizabeth, that's the mother of the current Queen Elizabeth, really did not like her sister-in-law, Wallis Simpson. What did Queen Elizabeth say about her? A, quote, "the two people who have caused me the most trouble in my life are Wallis Simpson and Hitler..."


SAGAL: ...B, quote, "if she were the last woman on earth it would be wonderful because I'd be dead and would not have to speak to her..."


SAGAL: ...Or C, quote, "there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever."


OAKLEY: Two, two, I'm going to go two.

SAGAL: You're going to go with two - if she were the last woman on earth it would be wonderful. No, she didn't say that. She said...

OAKLEY: Darn...

SAGAL: ...The two people that have caused her the most trouble...


SAGAL: ...In her life were Wallis Simpson and Hitler.


SAGAL: Bill, how did Bill Oakley do on our quiz?

KURTIS: Well, 2 out of 3, and in our book, that's a winner, Bill.



SAGAL: Bill Oakley helped bring us both "The Simpsons" and "Portlandia." You can find him at any nearby McDonald's looking disappointed.


SAGAL: Bill Oakley, thank you so much for joining us on WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME. Bill Oakley, ladies and gentlemen.


SAGAL: Coming up, eat now because we are going to ruin your appetite. Plus, a crazy ex-girlfriend so charming she'll make you reconsider that restraining order. We'll be back in a minute with more of WAIT WAIT DON'T TELL ME, from NPR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.