HOLLAND PATENT — From Stewart’s Shop to Moe’s Tavern, Holland Patent native Daniel Furlong will put his hometown on the map this Sunday for writing an episode of “The Simpsons.”
Now a struggling writer in Los Angeles, Furlong said he hopes penning a script for the longest running sitcom in history will help embiggen his Hollywood dreams. It’s already garnering a little hometown fame.
“When you actually sit down to write the script, it is a little intimidating,” Furlong, 33, revealed in a recent interview.
“People seem to be excited. A lot of friends from high school are reaching out. It’s fun, because a lot of people who know me know that I’m a huge Simpsons fan.”
Furlong’s episode will air at 8 p.m. Sunday on local Fox cable stations — channels 8 and 12 on basic Spectrum Cable in Rome. The episode is entitled “King Leer,” a parody of the William Shakespeare play.
Instead of an old English king and his three daughters, Furlong’s episode will delve into the family of classic “Simpsons” character Moe the Bartender, voiced by Hank Azaria.
The Simpsons family discovers that Moe’s father is the king of a sleazy mattress empire. The father — voiced by actor Ray Liotta — is retiring, and seeks to split his remaining mattress stores between his three children, including the estranged Moe.
“Moe always was a favorite of mine, and to get to write a Moe episode, that was really a dream come true,” Furlong said of the infamous proprietor of Moe’s Tavern.
“He’s kind of a funny character in that you get those dark, depraved jokes out of him, but you also have a sweetness. He’s almost like a stray dog. He’s rough around the edges, but he’s sweet when it comes down to it. That lends itself to a nice story where you can get both aspects.”
Furlong said the steady stream of furniture store commercials from a youth spent in Oneida County helped prepare him to write funny mattress jingles for Ray Liotta in his episode.
“I was always trying to think of funny local commercials that we saw growing up, trying to tap into that local flavor,” he stated.
And keep at least one eye open, because Furlong said he also tried to slip in some local references into his episode. Freeze-framers might be able to spot the “Utica Wild Thighs” restaurant in one of the backgrounds, which Furlong says is his parody of Buffalo Wild Wings.
It’s a regional dialect
Furlong grew up in the Village of Holland Patent, the Maggie of four children to Tom and Nancy Furlong. His father is the current mayor of Holland Patent, his brother, Jamie, is a Rome Police officer, and his sisters, Lauren and Karen, moved out and settled down.
As a young ragamuffin, Furlong said he was glued to the boob tube watching reruns of “The Simpsons”, which debuted in 1989.
“I was a huge fan growing up. They reran them on TV twice a day, every day, and I pretty much watched it twice a day, every day,” Furlong stated. “I could quote any episode, I knew all the writers.”
Furlong graduated from Holland Patent High School in 2003, then attended Boston University for film and television studies. He said he knew he wanted to be a writer and he would need to move to Los Angeles to make that happen — but he didn’t have any money.
“I knew I wanted to write, more movies than TV, but I just wanted to write comedy. I’ve always been interested in comedy and have been a sarcastic smartass my whole life,” Furlong said.
After college, Furlong worked at the Utica College library, before taking a job as a doorman in Manhattan. The father of his college roommate ran a ritzy apartment building in New York City, and offered Furlong both a job and a couch to sleep on. For eight months, he said he worked seven days a week, saving money and living the strange life of a Manhattan doorman.
“Even when I wasn’t writing stuff, I was always making notes of things. Working as a doorman, it’s kind of an interesting profession that most people don’t experience. It was a weird world. I was working with these doormen, who were all people from interesting backgrounds, and the tenants in the building were all super rich people. It was kind of a weird mix of people,” Furlong described.
“Everything I kind of did, I’m always thinking, ‘how could this be a script or a story, or what kind of jokes could I get out of this.’”
Even as a doorman, he said he never lost sight of his favorite show. Several of his fellow doormen were immigants from the Dominican Republic, and they told him that they learned to speak English by watching “The Simpsons.”
Mr. Furlong goes to Hollywood
Once he had enough money to make the move, Furlong said he packed his bags and drove across the country to Los Angeles in 2009. He said he had an unpaid internship with a production company waiting for him, where he spent time as a script-reader for some higher-ups in the company. He would read mountains of scripts and let his bosses know if they were worth pursuing.
It was at this internship that Furlong met New Jerseyan Zach Posner, future writing partner and general well-wisher, in that he didn’t wish Furlong any specific harm.
“We were just both screwing around with this internship and making each other laugh. We kind of have the same sense of humor,” Furlong said of his new chum.
“It was more fun to write with a partner than to be holed up in my apartment writing by myself in the middle of the night.”
To get his first gig with “The Simpsons”, Furlong said he reached out to fellow Oneida County native John Frink, a writer and executive producer with the show since 2000. Frink grew up in Oriskany, and he lends his name to the show’s resident brainy scientist, Professor Frink.
Furlong said he used their home county connection to ask Frink for some advice on writing in Hollywood, and Frink invited him to a “Simpsons” table read, where the voice actors read through a new script in character. Frink also told Furlong that the show was looking to hire a new production assistant, so Furlong applied.
But he didn’t get the job.
A year later, the show was looking for another production assistant, and they remembered Furlong well enough to offer him the gig. He started out fetching coffee and making copies, then eventually got bumped up to writer’s assistant, which put him in the show’s legendary writer’s room.
He said it was his job to keep notes of all the jokes and gags the writing team pitched for each script. He described it as a “Hall of Fame” of Hollywood comic writers, some of whom had been with the show since the beginning.
“I was always very aware that this was a great environment to learn how to write. I was like a sponge, always soaking up how they worded the jokes,” Furlong said.
“After a little while, I sort of mustered up the courage to start throwing out a joke here and there. And I’d get a laugh here and there. So I would slowly start to pitch more jokes, and a few of them got into a script,” he said, adding, “I think the writers started to sort of realize that, ‘oh, he’s a funny enough guy’.”
Dan vs. the Monorail
Alongside his job at “The Simpsons”, Furlong said he and his writing partner, Posner, were making some money on the side writing scripts for small projects on the internet. The pair were eventually approached by Furlong’s boss, executive producer Matt Selman, to write the episode about Moe the Bartender. Selman had come up with the idea the year before, and offered Furlong and Posner the scripting duties.
Working under Selman’s supervision, the writing duo banged out a couple outlines and a couple drafts before their finished story was turned over to the writer’s room.
“At that point, the whole staff just goes through it line-by-line. ‘Oh, this could be funnier. Oh, this is a little unclear, how can we fix that?’. It just gets worked over for weeks and weeks until it’s in shape to be recorded,” Furlong said of the process. He remained in the writer’s room during this time, helping to refine his script.
“Turning in the script for the first time was a little bit nerve-wracking, just because your’e writing for these historic characters that everyone in the whole world knows. It’s kind of crazy.”
Furlong said he plans to join Posner and his family for a Sunday viewing party, complete with donuts and beer in honor of Homer Simpson. He said his parents and sisters are planning their own viewing parties, and he has had a lot of old friends reaching out to congratulate him.
After nearly 30 years on the air, Furlong said “The Simpsons” still resonates with audiences.
“The Simpsons are just an average family. They reflect most people. You’ve got that funny dad who’s trying his best, but occasionally he’ll slip on a banana peel. And you’ve got the mom who’s caring and the three kids, who all have their own thing. I think every character has their own take on a classic America that most people can relate to.”
As for whether or not he’ll get to write any future scripts for “The Simpsons”, Furlong said it was a “miracle” to just get offered the one.
Furlong said he and Posner continue to write their own scripts in their attempts to get discovered in Hollywood. He said having a “Simpsons” writing credit on their resume will definitely open some doors.
“In my experience, it’s a lot of hard work. You think it’s just sitting around cracking jokes, but my writing partner and I, for years and years, we really worked hard on writing better,” Furlong said.
“Every script, we try to write better. You try to make it seem effortless, but so much work goes into it.”