David X. Cohen


David X. Cohen spent five years as a writer on
The Simpsons and is currently executive producer on Futurama. Sci-Fi Online recently discovered what it takes to be the creative talents behind two of the funniest animated shows...

Sci-fi Online: What's with the "X" in your name?

David X. Cohen: Are you implying that the "X" isn't cool? 'Cause I'll have you beat up! Actually, the truth is that I am unable to use my real middle initial, "S", because the Writer's Guild (the TV writers union) will not let any two members use the same name. I had used the "S" on The Simpsons because we weren't in the union at that time. But when Futurama started, we joined the union and I found out that some other David S. Cohen had the nerve to join before me. How rude! I had to change to something, so I picked "X" because is seemed to go well with the sci-fi nature of Futurama. As you know, aliens' names always start with "X" or "Z".

SFO: What was your largest contribution to The Simpsons?

DXC: An episode I wrote called Lisa the Vegetarian, in which, as you might guess, Lisa becomes a vegetarian. That had the most influence of anything I wrote there, because it led to a permanent change in a character - something that seldom happens on The Simpsons.

SFO: What sort of training did you undertake before working on The Simpsons?

DXC: I was a graduate student at U.C. Berkeley studying theoretical computer science. Toward the end of that time, I also wrote a couple of episodes of Beavis & Butthead - quite possibly the furthest conceivable activity from studying theoretical computer science. I actually remember the first joke I ever made at age 3 or so. My father had just grown a beard, and we were at a family get-together. A relative asked me if I thought the beard made him look more "distinguished". I said yes. Then they asked me if I knew what 'distinguished" meant, and I replied, "ugly". I got a big laugh (much bigger than most I have gotten since), and my comedy career was underway.

And in the years that followed I have been influenced by a great many sources. Some that spring to mind are: the late Don Martin of Mad Magazine ("poit!"), Steve Martin and his album, A Wild and Crazy Guy, and the comedy/sci-fi writer Stanislaw Lem.

SFO: Whose the funniest person you know?

DXC: George Meyer, a great writer at The Simpsons who has and continues to be a major influence on the show.

SFO: Was there ever a moment when you felt like giving up on writing?

DXC: Yes. A few months into the production of Futurama, I got so exhausted that I couldn't do the job anymore and I actually quit.for about 4 days.

SFO: So since you have been working in entertainment who would you say has completely awed and humbled you?

DXC: Al Gore. Last spring, Matt Groening and I went to the Vice Presidential residence in Washington, D.C. to record him for his appearance on Futurama. As you can imagine, it was completely surreal to see the Vice President of the United States screaming about the universe collapsing - especially since he really got into his performance, and was throwing himself down on the couch as he acted out his desperate lines. Luckily, he was a great sport about the whole thing and made us feel very much at ease.otherwise, it would have been overwhelming.

SFO: Futurama is still fairly young, but so far, what would you say was your fondest memory from working on the series?

DXC: When I literally cried with laughter while watching the rough version of the episode in which Dr. Zoidberg goes back to his home planet for the mating season. It reminded me of how lucky I am to be working on a show I truly love. But, you are right Futurama is still in its infancy. We would eat our shorts to be on a timeslot better than our current one, Sunday at 7 PM (or worse, 6 PM in some parts of America).

SFO: Which is your favorite Futurama character?

DXC: Bender. Because when he wants to do something, he does it, without hesitation, worry, or guilt. I aspire to be more like him, with the exception of the crime sprees. Or maybe just the occasional spree.

SFO: Who would you go on a date with? Leela or Amy?

DXC: Leela. One of my favorite quotes is, "These is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion." (written by Francis Bacon in 1625, according to my dictionary of quotations.)

SFO: If you had the chance, would you be cryogenically frozen so you could wake up in the year 3000?

DXC: No. I'm too chicken to get laser eye surgery, let alone undergo full-body cryogenic freezing. If I did get the nerve to be frozen, the main thing I'd like to see when I awoke is that the world, and humanity, had managed to survive that long. Also, no 30-foot spiders with gorilla heads.

SFO: Name an unsung hero of Futurama's success.

Paul Calder, our editor. Viewers would be amazed at the sort of things he can do. As an example, we often change dialogue lines in an episode at the very last minute, close to when it will go on the air. Paul can cut up the characters' mouths and paste them back together to make the lip-sync for the new words. And he can do this by eye, without referring to any sort of chart or breakdown of the syllables, as would normally be required. And he can do it FAST - as in, a minute or two. It's a truly amazing thing to watch. We would not have nearly the flexibility to improve the show right up until the last minute were it not for him.

SFO: When did you realise that you were somebody?

DXC: When Lucy Liu recognized me at a movie. Woo-hoo!

SFO: Thanks for your time.

With thanks to Louise at DSA

Series one of Futurama is available on DVD and video from 20th Century Fox

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