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‘The Simpsons’ writer Johnny LaZebnik discusses landmark Smithers gay love story

"To just keep being able to add to that legacy, and to that story, is awesome”

By Grace Almond

Smithers and his love interest kiss on ‘The Simpsons’
‘Portrait Of A Lackey On Fire’ sees Smithers fall in love with fashion designer Michael De Graaf, played by Victor Garber. Credit: 20th Television

Following the broadcast of a landmark episode of ‘The Simpsons’ last week (November 21), writer Johnny LaZebnik has spoken about the importance of the episode.

The episode, entitled ‘Portrait Of A Lackey On Fire’ sees Waylon Smithers fall in love with a man. His love interest, fashion designer Michael De Graaf, was voiced by Victor Garber (‘Titanic’, ‘Milk’, ‘Argo’).

LaZebnik is the son of longtime ‘The Simpsons’ writer and producer Rob LaZebnik, who wrote the episode in which Smithers comes out as gay, entitled ‘The Burns Cage’. The episode was broadcast in 2016.

Johnny LaZebnik told The AV Club“When we, my dad and I, talked about writing this episode, something that was important to me was to see his relationship grow and flourish and to get those intimate moments of two gay people on screen talking about being gay or dating.” 

He continued: “To have a gay romance be the A-story of a Simpsons episode, I don’t think has ever happened. And that’s what was so exciting to me.”

The storyline adds to an arc that began in the 2016 episode ‘The Burns Cage’ in which Smithers came out as gay. Credit: 20th Television

LaZebnik also spoke about Smithers’ storyline so far on the show: “I think in many ways, he was really an impressive gay character to have early on, because he’s not sort of the stereotypical, flamboyant gay that you see in so many of these late ’90s cartoons. He’s probably the most competent character on the show.”

“To just keep being able to add to that legacy, and to that story, is awesome. And I think we did a really good job in this episode of keeping true to his character while simultaneously fleshing out his existence as a real person.”

In the lead-up to the episode’s broadcast, Rob LaZebnik told the New York Post: “To be able to work with Johnny on this was, like, such a dream and to be able to see how truly funny and talented he is was just, you know, super fun and rewarding.”

Garber, who married longtime partner Rainer Andreeson in 2015, told the New York Post about the episode’s significance for himself: “[the role] was kind of a reminder of how much things have changed and also how I’ve evolved.”

He added: “In my journey to find self-acceptance, self-love, it’s a definite significant part of it.”